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Alternative Casting - The Classic Era (1 Viewer)

Beckford

Stunt Coordinator
Joined
Oct 15, 2021
Messages
143
Real Name
Ken
I often find it fun to imagine alternate casting in old Hollywood films. Almost all of the following are pictures I like. But I keep thinking I’d have enjoyed them even more with a little bit of cast tweaking. I’ve restricted my choices to films from the classic era (for me, that’s pre-60’s). In most cases the original performers did fine jobs. Their acclaim and their awards remain unchanged. What if’s don’t affect any of that. But here are some golden age casting what if’s that continue to intrigue me. For each picture, I mention one or more performers - and in brackets the name of the actor whose role I’d have loved to see them tackle.

A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS(1937)
Jessie Matthews (Joan Fontaine)
At this point Fontaine still hadn’t developed much of a screen personality and she definitely couldn’t dance, a bit of a liability when you’re partnering Fred Astaire in a musical. Matthews, Britain’s “Dancing Divinity” had it all. It’s a crime she was never teamed with Astaire.

LOST HORIZON(1937)
Iris Meredith (Jane Wyatt)
Meredith, a beauty with a haunting presence and marvelous speaking voice spent almost her whole career at Columbia in B westerns. This would have been the ideal vehicle to catapult her into A’s. I’ve always thought the vibes Jane Wyatt gave off were far too practical to inspire Ronald Colman’s passionate eloquence.
Clara Bow (Isabel Jewell)
Bow turned up at a couple of Hollywood events around this time, still beautiful and apparently considering a script or two. Wish she’d been offered this one. Perfect casting as a seemingly tough but actually vulnerable cookie.
Frank McHugh (Thomas Mitchell)
Mitchell was a fine actor of course but I think he’d have photographed a little too old for a part where romantic sparks were implied with Bow (still in her twenties at this point)
Rita Hayworth (Margo)
Like Iris Meredith, right there on the Columbia lot. And they never thought of her? This part could have kick-started her ascent to stardom a couple of years earlier.
Philip Ahn (H.B. Warner)
William S. Hart (Sam Jaffe)
Though he made his name in silents, Hart was a seasoned and commanding stage actor. He did a lovely spoken intro for a 30’s reissue of his silent “Tumbleweeds”. This would have made a memorable screen return in a substantial supporting role. Might have even got him an Oscar nomination.

THE GREAT WALTZ(1938)
Marta Eggerth (Meliza Korjus)

BALALAIKA(1939)
Jeanette MacDonald (Ilona Massey)
I guess Jeanette couldn’t be in every Nelson Eddy film. But this one really cries out for her vivacious presence. Ilona Massey’s like a beautiful waxwork.

GONE WITH THE WIND(1939)
Laurence Olivier, Jeffrey Lynn, William Lundigan or Randolph Scott (Leslie Howard)
Scott was – of course – a real-life southern gentleman. Tyrone Power would have worked too but I can’t see Fox loaning him out at this point, especially to play what’s basically a subordinate role.

I MARRIED A WITCH(1942)
Joel McCrea (Fredric March)
Paulette Goddard (Veronica Lake)

KINGS ROW(1942)
Tyrone Power (Robert Cummings)

LAURA(1944)
George Reeves, Farley Granger or Richard Denning (Vincent Price)

THE CORN IS GREEN(1945)
Angela Lansbury (Joan Lorring)

ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM(1946)
Anna Neagle (Irene Dunne)
Anthony Quinn (Rex Harrison)

FOREVER AMBER(1947)
Patricia Roc (Linda Darnell)
Tyrone Power (Cornel Wilde)

GOOD NEWS(1947)
Gene Nelson (Peter Lawford)
Dona Drake (Joan McCracken)
Peter Lawford had no business being in musicals. Case closed. Gene Nelson, on the other hand, was one of the greats in the field. Just imagine how terrific he’d have been as June Allyson’s beau in this one.
Joan McCracken and Dona Drake looked alike. They were both firecrackers onscreen. With topnotch comedy instincts. And both were fantastic dancers. Joan McCracken wasn’t much of a singer, though, And Drake could warble with the best of them. So - as far as I’m concerned - this gives her the edge. I’d have loved to see her singing and dancing up a storm at the center of that “Pass That Peace Pipe” number.

IVY(1947)
Patricia Roc (Joan Fontaine)
Fontaine was too transparently wicked in this one; I think Roc would have brought more nuance.

RAMROD(1947)
Nancy Coleman or Ida Lupino (Veronica Lake)
A very strong female role in an excellent western and Lake just didn’t seem equal to it. Joel McCrea is good in the lead but Don DeFore - of all people - steals the picture.

THE LUCK OF THE IRISH(1948)
Peggy Cummins (Anne Baxter)
I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t originally designed with Irish actress Cummins in mind. But when she fell out of favor at Fox after being fired from “Forever Amber” that probably scuttled her chances of co-starring with Tyrone Power in this whimsical comedy – which featured Cecil Kellaway as a leprechaun. Baxter did well but I think Cummins would have been a more perfect fit. An entertaining film with its extensive Irish sequences tinted a beguiling green.

ROPE(1948)
James Mason (James Stewart)

THE SWORDSMAN(1948)
Louis Hayward (Larry Parks)
Evelyn Keyes (Ellen Drew)
As marvelous as this Technicolor swashbuckler (set in Scotland but filmed in California) is, I think Hayward and Keyes could have elevated it to an even higher level.
Directed by the great Joseph H. Lewis.

THREE DARING DAUGHTERS(1948)
Nelson Eddy (Jose Iturbi)
There was some talk of making this a screen reunion for Jeanette Macdonald and Nelson Eddy. I can’t help thinking that would have been magical. Both stars still looked and sounded great. But Louis B. Mayer was in love with the idea of making classical pianist Iturbi into a film star. So in the end we got a glorious Jeanette MacDonald (in Technicolor) paired with Iturbi as her decidedly low-wattage screen lover. MacDonald and Jane Powell play mother and daughter and do very nicely. If only Nelson Eddy had been asked on board. And they’d kept the original title, “The Birds and the Bees”. It would have been a great last screen hurrah for a beloved team. Especially since – a year later – Metro struck box-office gold reuniting Astaire and Rogers in “The Barkleys of Broadway”.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS(1948)
Margaret Lockwood (Lana Turner)
Stewart Granger (Gene Kelly)
James Mason (Van Heflin)
Patricia Roc (June Allyson)
Phyllis Calvert (Angela Lansbury)
Michael Rennie (Gig Young)
Most of the above Brits were exploring Hollywood possibilities at the time. And – of course Margaret Lockwood (of “Wicked Lady” fame) was born to play Milady DeWinter. It’s a shame MGM didn’t corral the whole lot of them for this film. "The Three Musketeers" was a big hit – but with this cast it would have been a better picture.

ALL ABOUT EVE(1950)
Nancy Olson (Anne Baxter)
William Lundigan (Hugh Marlowe)

ROYAL WEDDING(1951)
Moira Shearer (Sarah Churchill)

AARON SLICK FROM PUNKIN CRICK(1952)
Doris Day (Dinah Shore)
Donald O’Connor (Alan Young)

HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN(1952)
Moira Shearer (Zizi Jeanmaire)

THE MERRY WIDOW(1952)
Rhonda Fleming or Arlene Dahl (Lana Turner)

BRIGADOON(1954)
Moira Shearer (Cyd Charisse)
Donald O’Connor(Van Johnson) and it should have been filmed on location in Scotland

OKLAHOMA!(1955)
Jane Powell (Shirley Jones)
Shirley MacLaine (Gloria Grahame)

THE KING AND I(1956)
Maureen O’Hara (Deborah Kerr)
Dorothy Dandridge (Rita Moreno)

SOUTH PACIFIC(1958)
Doris Day (Mitzi Gaynor)
Robert Horton (John Kerr)

TOUCH OF EVIL(1958)
Ricardo Montalban (Charlton Heston)
Rita Hayworth (Marlene Dietrich)
 
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Bert Greene

Supporting Actor
Joined
Apr 1, 2004
Messages
950
Sure is a shame Iris Meredith never really got a nice spotlight role in an 'A' film. There is such a calming loveliness about her which always made her a favorite of mine. Not entirely sure of the extent of her acting chops for major-league fare (her films rarely tested her much), but she indeed could have fit into Wyatt's role in "Lost Horizon" (1937) quite nicely. Might have even allowed me to like the film. Not that I didn't enjoy "Lost Horizon" quite a bit the first time I saw it, when I was a teenager. Always loved just about anything with a 'lost civilization' theme, and it really grabbed me. But on second viewing a few years later, I found myself wholly identifying not with Colman, but with brother John Howard's character, anxious to vamoose the suffocating Shangri-La and get away from Colman's offputtingly starry-eyed visions of central planning. Even the most podunk small-town in Depression-hit 1937 would be a comparative heaven to me, versus that starchy hell. Providing, of course, I had enough silver change in my pocket to afford the latest issues of "Dime Western" and "Argosy," while making twice-a-week trips to the bijou in hopes of perhaps catching Dorothy Lamour in a sarong. Sam Jaffe's 'Shangri-La?' Ugh. He and Colman can keep it.

To be honest, I've rarely pondered much about imagining different casts in old classic films. I've been more apt to contemplate over charismatic, talented figures who seemed to have all the qualities to make it into the big-time, but didn't. Where the breaks just didn't occur. But I also have to sometimes separate this from my own tastes in actors/actresses, because stardom often seems to require larger-than-life characteristics, whereas I'm usually drawn to more low-key personalities. Hence my strong affection for leading men like Bruce Bennett or Richard Denning, and leading ladies with a kind of demure femininity like Jean Rogers or Nan Grey. But back to alternate casting choices, I really, really like the mentioned idea of Paulette Goddard and Joel McCrea replacing Lake/March in "I Married a Witch" (1942). The film itself is okay, but never really seemed to click for me. But I can see it working so much better with the spritely, upbeat Goddard playing off a befuddled-mode McCrea. Lake/March just didn't really have chemistry, and neither seemed all that comfortable with the innate whimsy of the story.
 

Beckford

Stunt Coordinator
Joined
Oct 15, 2021
Messages
143
Real Name
Ken
Enjoyed reading your response. And hearing that you, too like Iris Meredith. I remember reading an old review (Variety maybe?) of a 1939 Columbia film called "First Offenders" with Walter Abel and Beverly Roberts. I've never seen it but apparently Iris M. has an effective supporting role in it. And the reviewer noted that Columbia really had someone with star quality here - implying that the studio should consider giving her a real buildup. Alas, it never happened.
She did show up in a Paramount A in '41, the Bob Hope comedy "Louisiana Purchase". It's a blink and you'll miss her bit at the beginning of the film. She's a stenographer or something; I don't even think she gets to speak. The film itself I find pretty lousy - except for a a couple of lively moments when irrepressible Dona Drake sings and dances to the title tune. But it does seem to represent the one and only time Iris Meredith ever appeared - and appear is about all she's required to do here - in Technicolor.
I second your fondness for Richard Denning and Nan Grey. Always look forward to their appearances. Bruce Bennett and Jean Rogers regularly communicated something special as well. I sometimes find myself thinking of Rogers when I'm watching the marvelous Diane Lane at work.
Glad to see that the McCrea/Goddard casting in "I Married a Witch" resonates with you. Goddard's mischievous sense of merriment and that delicious cracked-ice voice of hers would have made her so much fun as a sorceress. And of course McCrea's early 40's persona - forever trying to process the chaos/insanity around him in Preston Sturges pictures - would have been a perfect fit in "I Married a Witch" .
 

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