ABOUT MRS. LESLIE, a 1954 soap opera based on a novel by Viña Delmar, is worth seeing for the great Shirley Booth, in the 2nd of just four films she appeared in. A later generation knew the stage actress from her 1961-66 TV run as Hazel, but diligent movie fans recall her wrenching performance in her debut movie, earning a surprise Best Actress Oscar for 1952’s Come Back, Little Sheba. Despite good reviews, this drama, directed by Daniel Mann, didn’t fare as well; it’s hampered by too much stilted dialogue (script by Ketti Frings and Hal Kanter), and a central relationship that’s just not convincing. Robert Ryan was a fine actor, but his character here is unrealistic. It’s the fault of the writing, as the quiet, intellectual ‘Mr. Leslie’ was a much closer fit to the actor’s real persona than the hard types he usually enacted: the contrived dialogue undercuts him. The normally effective Victor Young did the music score; here he lays it on a bit heavy in the florid style of the era. Despite those weaknesses, Booth’s warm performance is rewarding and there is interesting counterpoint from two of the supporting players.
‘Vivien Leslie’ (Booth) manages a rooming house in Beverly Hills. As she sees to the needs of her variously trouble tenants she recalls her earlier life as a nightclub entertainer, dress-shop owner and “companion” to ‘George Leslie’ (Ryan), a wealthy, rather mysterious industrialist.
Booth’s instinctively honest delivery is made more affecting by realizing that she was 55 at the time, notably (and nobly) defying, by a good fifteen years, the movie industry’s unstated but resolute age ban concerning leading ladies. Young featured players Alex Nicol and Marjie Millar have some good scenes as two of Mrs. Leslie’s tenants who find solace in each other as their respective career efforts are stymied. In the roles he was usually offered, Nicol was one of the era’s “troubled young men” types who didn’t break through as a lead. Millar was an interesting 22-year-old starlet whose private life and entertainment career (just three films) dissolved through accidents and alcoholism; she died at 34. They share a sadly prescient scene with their characters lamenting their flailing chances; it includes the loaded line “Whatever happened to ya? You just sorta disappeared!”
In 1954, the movie only made it to 153rd place at the box office, grossing $900,000. 104 minutes, with Harry Morgan (a sleazy agent), Philip Ober, Gale Page, Ray Teal, Ellen Corby, Ian Wolfe, Percy Helton, Amanda Blake, Joan Shawlee, Benny Rubin, Marla English. That snazzy convertible coupe Nicol drives is a 1953 Chrysler New Yorker; one of only 950 made.