Dean Martin was nicknamed the King of Cool, and quite rightly too. Although the former Dino Paul Crocetti of Steubenville, Ohio (the late, incredibly great Don Rickles was not impressed!) is best known for his laid back, easy breezy style and Rat Pack membership, his talents as an actor are overlooked. There will be lots of tributes to Dean Martin the singer on the 100th anniversary of his birth, but we should honor Dean Martin the actor as well.
Ada, a political drama from director Daniel Mann, mostly belongs to Susan Hayward, who received top billing and played the title character. I love Susie so much, she’s one of my absolute favorite actresses and her performance in this film is nothing short of utter brilliance. But this doesn’t mean she overshadows Dean Martin. His performance is just as worthy of recognition and praise.
Bo Gillis (Martin) is a candidate for governor in a southern state. He’s a folksy guy with a guitar who sings to the voters. A down to earth man with little education but a will to do right by the people, it’s clear that Bo will either be corrupted or used as a pawn by the scheming politicians. Although his crooning is used as a gimmick, he’s a rarity; an honest and sincere politician. He goes to a nightclub and spends the night with Ada (Hayward), who’s very interested in his political career. Bo and Ada both come from poverty and neither is very educated but their knowledge of the world isn’t so limited. Ada however, is an immediate contrast to Bo, because she’s a lot more shrewd and wise. You wonder if maybe she’ll take advantage of his innocence. The two see a lot of each other and Bo confesses his love to her. He asks her to marry him. He’s so simple and unassuming, something she marvels at, but the two elope.
Their sudden marriage doesn’t please Bo’s speechwriter Steve (Martin Balsam) or Sylvester (Wilfrid Hyde-White), the man who plucked Bo and his guitar from obscurity and made him a politician. Sylvester is the one pulling the strings, an ignoble man with a veneer of class to hide his sordid deeds. He demands that the newlyweds get an annulment, but they refuse. Ada for one, isn’t easily intimidated. Sylvester doesn’t know anything about her or her family, which is why he’s so wary that she’s now the governor’s wife.
Ada proves to be the perfect politician’s wife. She conducts herself in a dignified way, which belies her humble background as a sharecropper’s daughter and what makes her defiance of Sylvester so remarkable. Ada also holds her own with snobby society ladies. She’s unrelenting, and it’s this quality that has helped her rise to become a governor’s wife. But Ada isn’t merely Bo’s wife. She’s ambitious and is climbing to the top. When Bo’s lieutenant governor is forced to resign by Sylvester, Ada asks for the job herself. Bo is appalled. Like Ada, he too is dissatisfied, because his job consists of him only signing whatever Sylvester puts in front of him. He’s frustrated by the lack of responsibilities. And once his eyes are opened to the corruption, he begins to defy Sylvester and doesn’t want Ada to be involved. But Ada is determined to help Bo fight corruption and take Sylvester down.
This film is an inverse of A Face in the Crowd (1957). Unlike Lonesome Rhodes in that film, Bo’s folksy charm isn’t exploited. He really is honest. This is a film about a woman getting into the muck of politics without getting her hands dirty. She wins out against the twisted patriarchal and political systems.
Susan Hayward shines yet again as the hardened, brassy, ambitious woman she was born to play. She and Dean Martin are so wonderful together, with a rich and genuine chemistry. This is a much more serious side to Dean Martin, proving just how adept he was at drama. (See also 1963’s Toys in the Attic).
I wrote this post for Musings of a Classic Film’s Addict‘s Dean Martin Centenary blogathon. Click the banner below for more posts celebrating the King of Cool on his big 100!
Happy birthday, Dino!