Robert Montgomery

  1. James Hall, So This Is Heaven, 1928.     After four Broadway plays, producer Samuel Goldwyn announced Bob among  the support of Vilma Banky, then changed  his mind.  “His neck is too long, his collars too small.”  Yet the  same  test  led  to MGM signing him for $350 a week, kicking off with the similarly titled So This Is College.
  2. Buster Keaton, The Passionate Plumber, 1931.  A porno title and a bizarre casting switch – the suave leading man Montgomery dropped for Keaton!  Based on a Broadway play, from a French farce, the movie was designed  as an MGM  vehicle for the new double act of Keaton and Jimmy Durante.  That stupid idea (the comic  genius and the burlesque schnoz )  died after two  more attempts:  Speak Easily and What-No-Beer?
  3. John Barrymore, Arséne Lupin, 1931.     Montgomery and John Gilbert were also in the suggestions box but when the film opened, Barrymore and brother Lionel were on Time’s cover. This was the first time they’d acted together since The Jest play in 1919. John was the gentleman thief (a French take on the UK’s AJ Raffles), Lionel was Guerchard. They made three other films as a unit.  
  4. William Haines, Are You Listening?, 1931.  Change of on-the-run hero from Montgomery to Haines in this odd anti-radio  thriller. Or, “half comedy/half drama/half who the hell knows,” said the (fascinating) site. 
  5. Gary  Cooper,  Design For Living,  1932.      Coop in a Noel Coward  piece…  Oh,  Hollywood!
  6. Franchot Tone, Moulin Rouge, 1933.  Head Fox Darryl F Zanuck wanted Montgomery as the tunesmith caught between his wife, her twin sister and a Broadway revue.  MGM would only agree to a 24 day loan. Fox needed 15 more.  “But you can have Tone for 39 days, OK?”    Poor DFZ. He also lost Paramount’s Charles Laughton that year for The Affairs of Cellini.
  7. Franchot Tone, Dancing Lady, 1933.    . Change of Tod Newton as  Montgomery was still shooting Another Language  .The musical is best remembered for  (a) Clark Gable being forever  ill – or “ill” – so MGM punished him by sending  him to Columbia for what, of course, proved an Oscar-winning turn in  It Happened One Night and (b) Fred Astaire’s debut – yes, in top hat and tails. (Joan Crawford was his first movie dancing partner).
  8. Clark Gable, It Happened One Night, 1934. “It’s the worst script I’ve ever read,” Montgomery told director Frank Capra.  To get the kind of stars he lacked for his film,  the crude  olumbia chief  Harry Cohn offered MGM the use of Capra.  “But Herschel,” LB Mayer told him, “Montgomery says there’s too many bus pictures. And, Herschel, no offence, stars don’t like changing their address from MGM to Gower Street. But Herschel,  you caught me in a good mood.  I got an actor here who’s being a bad  boy.  Wants more money. And I’d like to spank him.  You  can have  Clark Gable.”  Result:  Gable, who had taken far too long to recover from appendicitis (asccording to Mayer) won an  Oscar. Some punishment! Seven years later,  Montgomery clung tight to  Capra’s Here Comes Mr Jordan
  9. Franchot Tone, Mutiny on the Bounty, 1934.  Once Paramount refused to loan the “too busy and too valuable” Cary Grant, Montgomery became  Midshipman Roger Byam (based the real Midshipman Peter Heywood). of, not HMS, but His Majesty’s Armed Vessel Bounty – opposite Clark Gable’s Fletcher  Christian and  Charles Laughton’s Captain Bligh. But George was  – busy shooting No More Ladies and sticking to the letter of his new MGM contract about  three months summer vacation, thank you veryh much.  Tone had an affair with the Tahitian leading lady, Movita, who later wed Marlon  Brando, the Tahiti-loving star of the 1961 re-make. He also married Movita’s successor, Tarita. And had a son and a daughter with each of them.
  10. Joel McCrea, Private Worlds, 1935.     Producer Walter Wanger did not want McCrea in Charles Boyer’s Hollywood debut. “I can get Montgomery. McCrea isn’t as good an actor as Montgomery or Fairbanks Jr.” “He will be with me,” boasted director Gregory La Cava. Joel started shooting minus a contract. “Don’t worry,” said La Cava. “If they don’t pay you, I’ll pay you out of my salary.” Wanger paid –  double. And producer Sam Goldwyn signed McCrea for five years.

  11. Ronald Colman, A Tale of Two Cities, 1935.   For the fourth version of the Charles Dickens classic (the others were dated 1910, 1917, 1921 producer David O Selznick searched for his heroic Sydney Carton among Montgomery, Warner Baxter, Leslie Howard and Clark Gable. Whether they were also due as Carton’s lookalike saviour, Charles Darney, was never mentioned. Colman refused, due said DOS, to“a dread of dual roles.”     Yet he doubled up the  following year in MGM’s Prisoner of Zenda!
  12. Robert Taylor, Small Town Girl, 1935.   Montgomery and Jean Harlow suddenly became Taylor and Janet Gaynor in the MGM rom-com from William A Wellman and an uncredited Robert Z Leonard. Z is right. Taylor took over when Montgomery was being considered for Shakespeare.  
  13. Leslie Howard, Romeo and Juliet, 1935.   Nobody’s perfect! MGM’s production genius Irving Thalberg thought Montgomery should play the young Montague. This was Thalberg’s last film before his shock death at 37 – the premiere was being staged the night he died. As a swansong, this was one ugly duckling. With Shakespeare’s teenage lovers farcically played by Howard and Norma Shearer (Thalberg’s widow) – aged, 42 and 33! Montgomery was 31.
  14. Joel McCrea, These Three, 1936.     “You know, I didn’t want you,” director William Wyler told McCrea after a week. “Yeah, Goldwyn told me.”  “He did? I didn’t tell him to tell you. But now that I’ve worked with you, I want you –  you’re great!”
  15. Clark Gable,  Love on the Run, 1936. MGM bought the short story, Beauty and the Beat, because it was  like a new spin on Clark Gable’s It Happened One Night.  Myrna Loy and  Montgomery were set as the runaway bride and undercover reporter. Then, Jean Harlow and Montgomery, or Harlow and Robert Taylor, and finally: Gable and Crawford… on-off lovers during 30 years and several marriages.
  16. Errol Flynn, Green Light, 1936.  Howard and Robert Montgomery were also up for the young doctor ruining his life by taking the blame for his boss’ fatal error during an operation – and then falling for the dead patient’s daughter.  As this emanated from a Lloyd C Douglas book. redemption was at hand.    This was Flynn’s first Warner film in civvies. He soon had a rapier back in his grasp   when prince and paupering that year.
  17. Cary Grant, Suzy, 1937.     All the MGM big boys – Clark Gable, Montgomery, William Powell, Robert Taylor, Spencer Tracy, Robert Young – were  too big to play third fiddle to Jean Harlow and Franchot Tone. So Metro went shopping at  Paramount’s superstarmarket.
  18. Cary Grant, Bringing Up Baby, 1938.   The Three Ms – Fredric March, Ray MIlland, Robert Montgomery – passed on paleontologist David Huxley. Likewise, Ronald Colman and Leslie Howard – who -preferred Alexander Korda’s production of Lawrence of Arabia, which never happened. Cary wasn’t sure he  could  play an intellectual. “Hah,” said director Howard Hawks., “Cary was right on on from  the first day.  This was his kind of role and he  just took to it naturally..”  The trouble, he added, was Katharine Hepburn. Unlike Grant, she was not naturally funny.  Christopher Reeve said he based Clark Kent in his four Superman films on the Huxley role. Grant and Hawks made four more movies, the most Hawks  ever made  with the same actor.
  19. Melvyn Douglas, Arséne Lupin Returns, 1937.      Having lost the first Lupin film to John Barrymore, Montgomery was short-listed again for the second. Plus Douglas and William Powell.
  20. Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Gunga Din, 1937.     Arriving at RKO, Howard Hawks – The Silver Fox – wanted Montgomery,Spencer Tracy and Robert Donat (or Roger Livesey) as his three Kipling heroes. However, the director’s RKO screwballer, Bringing Up Baby, flopped. He was out, George Stevens was in. According to critic Pauline Kael, he made it “one of the most enjoyable nonsense-adventure movies of all time” – second only to Gone With The Wind in 1939.

  21. Walter Pidgeon, Stronger Than Desire, 1938.   Montgomery was set for the lead but, well, director Leslie Fenton was wed to co-star Ann Dvorak. Like who’d get the best close-ups, lines, breaks… MGM squashed that issue by switching to its Society Lawyer duo: Pidgeon and Virginia Bruce.
  22. Melvyn Douglas, Ninotchka, 1939.  “Garbo Laughs!” Grant was MGM’s first choice for  Leon.  In fact, shooting began without Garbo having found a leading man.   And shecombed through Cary, Robert Montgomery, William Powell and Spencer  Tracy before agreeing to Doiulas. Two years later, he was second choice for her trite finale, Two-Faced Woman, 1940. (Her laughter was dubbed by another actress revealed the Hollywood Reporter in 1980).
  23. Ronald  Colman, The Light That Failed, 1940.      Gary Cooper also refused Kipling.

  24. Cary Grant, Suspicion, 1941.      
    RKO had the Before the Fact book since 1935.  It became  “Alfred Hitchcock’s film with no name.” No ending, either – until the very last minute. (Same for the title, chosen just days before the premiere although Hitch had been calling it that for months; he actually preferred Fright). The ultimate problem was not Cary earning so much more than Hitchcock’s weekly contract salary, but the censor. Cary Grant could not kill his wife. OK, said Hitch, so she’s just thinking he’s going to kill her?  Or better still , have her write to her mother,  naming him as her murderer, drinking the milk he’s poisoned and then Grant posts  her letter! They  settled for a Hollywood ending. RKO  had first wanted Louis Hayward, Robert Montgomery, Laurence Olivier, George Sanders or the Welsh Emlyn Williams,   Except no one saw any of  them as a killer. (Hitch might have obliged, he hated Joan Fontaine’s unprofessionalism). With his new confidence about drama, from  Penny Serenade, Grant won  good reviews as  “the smiling villain without heart or conscience”  ( New York Times). But Fontaine won an Oscar. Grant was furious and vowed never to work with Hitch again. Fortunately,  that row was cleared up in time for  Notorious, To Catch A Thief and North by Northwest. Hitch,  the only director he grew to trust 100%),  had surely said: It’s only a movie, Cary…
  25. Joseph Cotten, Journey Into Fear, 1941.  Universal  planned the WWII thriller for Michèle Morgan and  Montgomery, Fred MacMurray… or even Fred Astaire (!) as the Nazi-hunted US businessman.    At RKO, Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten rewrote it for themselves, several back-room staff at Mercury Productions (including Welles’ secretary. Herb Drake) and Orson’s lover, Dolores Del Rio. He also produced and possibly directed some scenes. Rapidly. Before shooting off to Brazil to make It’s All True, while still editing The Magnificent Ambersons. He lost control of them all – and the  affair. Soon as the film opened, Dolores was gone. It was that bad – even at a low 68 minutes. “I designed the film but can’t properly be called the director,” said Welles, adding that the ledge climax was directed by… whoever was closest to the camera.
  26. Rex Harrison, Anna and the King of Siam, 1945.   After musing about three Brits, Harrison, James Mason and Ralph Richardson, plus Hollywood stars Montgomery anc William Powell, the smooth Frenchman inherited King Mongkut’s throne – opposite Dorothy McGuire as his children’s governess.   Before being de-throned by Harrison and Irene Dunne. 
  27. Robert Mitchum, Desire Me, 1946.     “Nobody desired anybody,” said Mitchum of this MGMess. It was bad enough when Montgomery was Greer Garson’s husband betrayed by Mitchum, but when  Montgomerydee-deed (to play Phillip Marlowe in Lady in the Lake – and direct it, utilising the subjective camera technique) .and  Mitchum was moved into his place, opposite an unknown (still)  Richard Hart in Bob’s old role, it was completely askew. Director George Cukor quit, Mervyn LeRoy took over (followed by Jack Conway) and it became Metro’s first film without a director credit. That’s when  Mitchum gave up being serious about movies… “around the time Greer Garson took 125 takes to say:  No.”

  28. Gregory Peck, Twelve O’Clock High, 1948.    
    The greatest Hollywood fiction of USAF WWII pilots, often unfairly compared to the  weaker  Command Decision – which js why Peck nearly passed.  “Duke told me he’d turned it down,” recalled Peck.  “And I seized it!”   Just not that fast… Clark Gable was extremely keen on General Savage (he made Command Decision, instead). Peck read it again and  was also won over by director Henry King’s empathy for the subject. King was a pilot, himself, and he would helm five more Peck  films). “A fine film,” said Peck, “much honoured  and  respected,  about the psychological stress of total involvement of these men.” Too honest for such a gung-ho movie-hero as John Wayne. This was Peck’s finest hour; forget To Kill A Mockingbird.   Seeing him glued to his chair in a catatonic state of battle-fatigue made one helluva impression on me when I saw it in, hell, I was 11 years old!  It marked me for life.  It also affected Rian Johnson, who called it an influence on his Star Wars:  Episode VII – The Last Jedi, 2016. Others in the Savage loop were Dana Andrews, Ralph Bellamy, James Cagney, Van Heflin, Burt Lancaster, Edmond O’Brien – and three-bobs-worth of  Roberts: Montgomery, Preston and Young.

  29. Richard Todd, The Hasty Heart, 1949. Fifth film and  first starring role (and Oscar nomination) for the Irish-born Todd – beating off Hollywood’s Montgomery and John Dall to the Scottish corporal Lachlan MacLachlan.  Dying in a  1945 British military hospital in Burma, Lachie rejects all compassion from fellow patients like Ronald Reagan’s Yank. Dall was Lachie in the first TVersion, 1953.
  30. Arthur Kennedy, Bright Victory, 1951.    Baynard Kendrick’s best-seller moved from one producer another until Montgomery  paid $50,000 for the rights in order to direct himself as  the  war-blinded hero. But delays Mark Robson became the director.  With Kennedy (in black contact lenses) winning critical kudos – plus an Oscar nomination  – as Sergeant Larry Nevins, blinded by a WWII German sniper’s bullet, in rehabilitation at a military hospital.
  31. Ray Milland, The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing,1955.  Montgomery was first choice (but not the last) for the  elderly architect Stanford White – killed by young (and insane) millionaire Harry K Thaw  for assaulting his wife, the voluptuous showgirl Evelyn Nesbitt in 1906. It was suggested that Montgomery did not appreciate the adjective: elderly.
  32. Peter Finch, Network, 1976.   After tenuous thoughts about real TV News anchors (John Chancellor and the venerable Walter Cronkite),  the film’s Oscar-winning writer Paddy Chayefsky wrote to Paul Newman. “You and a very small handful of other actors are the only ones I can think of with the range for this part.”  The others were Cary Grant,  old pals Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart, Gene Hackman,  Sterling Hayden – for the  “mad prophet of the airwaves,” Howard Beale. (“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore”). Oh, and Montgomery – who  doubled as  President Eisenhower’s  image consultant. “If Nixon  had  used him,” said Ike, “he would have beaten Kennedy.” Finchey won the first posthumous acting Oscar. Ironically, the second was also for an Aussie, Heath Ledger, for The Dark Knight… 33 years later.


 Birth year: 1904Death year: 1981Other name: Casting Calls:  32