Haughty Hoyt and Diva Darnell

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John Hoyt steals Everybody Does It, as far as I’m concerned. The film’s a 1949 Paul Douglas vehicle, and Douglas does his usual lumbering-bear performance in it. He’s awkward and appealing, I’ll grant that (Bosley Crowther raved about Douglas in his review), exhibiting a kind of rhino-at-the-Ritz quality. Which is how Douglas was often cast: the mud-flapped Mack Truck among the polished Lincoln Continentals. Joseph Mankiewicz brilliantly used this quality in Douglas’s first major film, A Letter to Three Wives; Douglas is so clearly ill at ease trying to keep up with the swank set that he’s endearing—striking chords with what’s probably a widely shared discomfort with dress clothes and brittle-stemmed cocktail glasses.

His performance in Everybody Does It refers back to the one he gave in the Mankiewicz film, but now it’s a bit monotonous. Douglas overplays his dumb-happy-kid grin and Average-Joe persona; he barks out his lines as if selling hot dogs to the bleachers. And his character, a man who tries to keep his wife (Celeste Holm) from pursuing a professional singing career while becoming a singer himself, is unlikable. Granted, his spouse has a small, unimpressive voice, but I disliked his paternal manner towards her; I wanted to dump a brittle-stemmed cocktail on him. The film also reunites Douglas with his Wives co-star, Linda Darnell, who plays an opera singer taking an interest in his talents, vocal and otherwise. My guess is that the studio, 20th-Century Fox, was trying to sell the now-hot actor as a leading man, and was setting him up for vehicles to attract female audiences. Which seems a misunderstanding of Douglas’s I’m-just-a-regular-mug appeal.

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But to get back to John Hoyt. Whom no one would ever mistake for a mug. His role is that of an acerbic piano accompanist to both Darnell and Douglas, and he drops acid at every turn (the vocal, not the hallucinogenic, kind) whenever he speaks. In his scenes with Douglas, Hoyt’s a haughty Ariel to the latter’s clueless Caliban, urbane and aloof, as if not deigning to touch the ground the other fellow clomps on with his size-12 boots. Accompanying Douglas at a song recital, Hoyt has to instruct him in stage manners: “Bow, stupid, bow,” he prompts. The line isn’t funny in print, but Hoyt’s reading of it had me shrieking with laughter (it even made Douglas seem funnier). He doesn’t snarl or growl it, he says it naturally, with just the barest kink of sarcasm, his voice rising in controlled half-tones on each enunciated syllable. Right there you see Douglas’s character as Hoyt’s character sees him, a crude clown who doesn’t know how to behave—which is precisely how I saw him. It’s always nice to have an ally and I was on Hoyt’s side from that moment on.

Unlike Douglas, Hoyt onscreen seemed at home with white ties, tuxedos, and tiny finger foods. As an actor, his temperament fell between the effete elegance of Otto Kruger and the bitchy snootiness of Clifton Webb (Hoyt played a Webb-like character in Winter Meeting, which I wrote about here). And his voice, like polished sandpaper, a smooth surface overlaying a rough, gravelly base, was strange and distinctive. He could wield this instrument like a diamond glass-cutter, etching out words with sharp, angled cracks at the edges. I could never place his accent, which sounds vaguely Euro-trash-pean (though Wikipedia says he was born in Bronxville!). That slightly out-of-this-world superiority he projected makes you curious about him; like Michael Rennie, he seems to have stepped out of a spaceship, only a temporary visitor to our realm (one of his best-known roles was as a supercilious Martian). That’s probably why he played so many aristocratic villains. I’ve liked him in everything I’ve seen him in.EVERYhoyt

I also liked Darnell in the film, though she was underused. She looked good in her opera scenes, moving well on a stage, her gestures coming out naturally, but with the stylized look of singers. She also did well in a recital sequence, where she held herself the way a professional classical singer does, straight up and down, hands held down low in front, but the shoulders and torso relaxed (you need to be, to produce such volumes of sound). She’s lip-syncing, of course; her soprano was supplied by a Helen Spann, who sang for the San Francisco Opera. Not bad. Otherwise, Darnell has a blah part. Her character is attracted to Douglas even before she discovers he has a voice, but what piques her interest in this uncouth man isn’t clear, and nothing much develops between them. Her character is unfortunately one-note, not interestingly written, and the script and direction, by Edmund Goulding, don’t give her much to do. And, outside of the singing sequences, Darnell doesn’t do much with what she does have.

I think Darnell needed a good part that could play to her strengths, in tandem with a director she could respond to, as she did with Mankiewicz in Wives and No Way Out. Or maybe even a bully; one of her best performances is as the sluttish waitress in Fallen Angel, under Otto the Terrible’s direction (I wrote about her in that film here). Darnell hated working with Preminger, but he seemed to have prodded and pushed her into pulling something out of her gut; everything she does in that film—her walk, her speech, even how she curls a lip—is dead on. And when Darnell is dead on—as in Wives or Fallen Angel, or as a showgirl-trollop with a heart of pyrite in Hangover Square—she’s stunning: a witchy-bitchy brew of contemptuous sex and sneering come-ons whipped together into a package of cool, heartless beauty. She could have done the same in Everybody Does It (the title seems meant to refer to singing, not to, uh, other activities), but circumstances seemed to work against her. A loss for the film audience and for us fans.

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14 Comments

  1. Good read. Might have to catch this one at some point.

    Reply
    • Thanks! The film is a mild little comedy at best, I can’t say that I found anything remarkable about it, except for John Hoyt’s performance. For Hoyt fans, it’s required viewing.

      Reply
  2. This movie and I have yet to cross paths, but I’m in ecstasy over your description of John Hoyt’s bit. My daughter is just beginning to recognize him when he pops up in another of our shared movies. “Hey, it’s that guy!”

    Reply
    • Thanks so much! There’s just something about John Hoyt onscreen that catches your eye (and ear). Even in some of those drecky sci-fi films he made during the 50s (such as Lost Continent; or the really awful Attack of the Puppet People), he makes an impact (a positive one). Everybody Does It is sometimes shown on TCM, so do watch it for him.

      Reply
  3. Vienna

     /  June 30, 2016

    Must catch this movie.
    So glad you like JOHN HOYT! He stands out in any film he is in. You describe him so well.
    He is an alien in an episode of Twilight Zone!
    Celeste Holm has a solid singing voice and created the part of Ado Annie in Oklahoma .
    Maybe meant to sound poor in this film?

    Reply
    • I wondered about Celeste’s singing in the film, if she was deliberately singing that way (since she had starred on Broadway). The film makes her character look a little foolish. But Hoyt stood out in the film for me — he always had a way with a line that makes you notice him!

      Reply
  4. When I first saw the title of your post, I thought, “Could it be possible that this is about John Hoyt!?!” (Or words to that effect.) And it was! I’m a big fan — and I’ve never seen this movie, but greatly enjoyed reading about Hoyt and the film. I’ve had it in my collection for years — now I have an incentive to check it out!

    Reply
    • I’ve had an idea about a John Hoyt post for a while, mainly from seeing him in Everybody Does It. Hoyt’s role isn’t large but you remember him. My feeling is that he would stand out in the film for today’s audiences rather than Paul Douglas; I think it’s a matter of changing tastes, in how people today prefer the more understated playing of Hoyt’s acting style. He was ahead of his time!

      Reply
  5. My personal favorite John Hoyt role is his understated Swede in “The Big Combo,” a movie usually discussed for its lighting, not its performances. But, as they say, he’s good in anything, even “Attack of the Puppet People” and “The Lost Continent”!

    Reply
    • Odd you should mention Lost Continent and Attack of the Puppet People – I mentioned both those films in a reply to another commenter, as how Hoyt could stand out even in dreck! The performance of Hoyt’s I always remember is that of the wheelchair-bound rich man in When Worlds Collide, who tries to buy his way aboard the spaceship. He played a chilling, cynical, desperate character with ice-cold precision. Even in b-movies, he always gave well-thought-out, incisive performances.

      Reply
  6. Great post. I so agree about Darnell. Especially glad you mentioned No Way Out as one of her best.

    Reply
    • Yes, I think she’s excellent in No Way Out (especially cast against type), and she doesn’t get much attention for it, probably because Richard Widmark is so over the top in his own performance. Darnell had a spotty career, which petered out in the early 50s; she unfortunately never quite found her niche. But she definitely had an aura. Thanks for visiting and subscribing!

      Reply
  7. I really adore this review! This film is definitely being filed into the ‘must-see’ category for me, as I’m a big fan of both Darnell and Douglas.

    Also, I’m sorry for commenting here for this, but I just wanted to let you know that I nominated you for a Liebster Award from my classic film blog, Musings of a Classic Film Addict! You can find the post and the questions at https://annsblyth.wordpress.com/2016/07/07/my-first-liebster-award/ . I hope you have time to participate!

    Reply

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