Directed by Charles Lamont
Starring: Yvonne De Carlo, Rod Cameron, David Bruce, Walter Slezak
Our story begins on “April 9th, 1865, somewhere in Virginia just after the Civil War when Lee surrendered to Grant.” Confederate soldiers have a hard time getting used to the news that the war is over, most notably in regards to the newfound silence is now present after years of constant gunshots and firing cannons. As General Lee makes his way from the Appomattox Court House, he is greeted by his men as well as by war correspondent Jim Steed (Rod Cameron). Still in shock over the surrender, they ask Lee what will happen next to which he responds that they should go home. One soldier in particular, Cleve Blunt (David Bruce), confesses his worries about being able to just go back and live an ordinary life to which both Lee and Steed respond by reassuring the young man. A little later on, Steed encounters Prussian Count Erik Von Bohlen (Albert Dekker) who needs information about Lee’s fatal mistakes in order to report back to his superior, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Count Otto Von Bismarck. Essentially, Von Bohlen wishes to use the Intel to help Prussia in eventually declaring war upon Austria. Steed learns from Von Bohlen that Von Bismarck will be attending the Berlin Opera to see the famous Viennese ballerina Anna Maria (Yvonne de Carlo) who is best known under her stage name, Salome. He heads there with a mission.
Once in Berlin, Steed manages to access Salome’s dressing room where he speaks with her about Prussia’s plans for war and Von Bohlen who has taken a fancy to the dancer. Hoping to entice her with the prospect of saving her fellow countrymen, Steed asks Salome to act as a spy and “play nice” with Von Bohlen in order to get important information about when, where, and how they plan to attack the Austrians. In exchange for her assistance, he promises to hand deliver her correspondence instead of risking it getting intercepted by the Prussians. Since Salome is in love with a Prince from the House of Habsburg and has plans to marry him, her fidelity to the man she loves and her homeland facilitate her choice. From then on, her love letters to the Prince also include details about the impending battle. When the actual war begins, the Austrians are as prepared as they can be thanks to Salome’s help but it is not enough to overtake the Prussians. In a tragic turn of events, Salome’s beloved Prince is killed and the letters she wrote to him are confiscated by Von Bohlen who is extremely angry about having been betrayed. With Steed’s help, Salome and her friend, Professor Max, are whisked off on the next boat to the United States.
Destination: San Francisco
With their limited funds, the trio makes it as far as a small town called Drinkman Wells which is located in an unnamed western state. Its location puts them in a safe zone from Indian attacks but not out of danger when it comes to robberies/hold-ups. As Salome and the others are in the process of putting on a show so to raise money for their voyage, bandits appear and rob everyone at gunpoint. The gang’s leader is none other than Cleve Blunt; the young soldier who kept his promise about continuing to fight after the war and who is now known as the notorious outlaw “Stagecoach Cleve”. Annoyed with the interruption, Salome demands that she be able to continue her dance so that she can give the now–penniless audience what they paid for. Cleve obliges her request and ends up making a connection with Salome, who clearly performs the dance for his pleasure. As the bandits leave town, they kidnap Salome and take her back to their camp where she and Cleve get to know each other better. She convinces him to return the money to the townspeople and as a mark of gratitude, they rename the town Salome, Where She Danced.
Finally arrived in San Francisco, the trio is now accompanied by Cleve with whom Salome has fallen in love. When the wealthy Russian Col. Dimitrioff (Walter Slezak) enters the picture, it spells trouble because not only does he have eyes for Salome, he also comes with the warning that there is $10,000 reward for the capture of Stagecoach Cleve. Not only that, Von Bohlen shows back up and he’s hellbent on extraditing Salome back to Europe. Now only time will tell what fates lie ahead for this melange of characters.
Thoughts & Discussion
As is often the case with blogathons, the films I chose to write about are blind picks because it is a good way to discover an unknown player or to move out of your comfort zone with a player with whom you are already familiar. I have been lucky to not have many stinkers amongst my choices but, as I have noted many times before, perhaps I am just partial to these cinematic discoveries. 🙂 It so happens that Salome, Where She Danced was a critical failure though it fared well enough with audiences to end up being a moderate success. Unfortunately, there are not many sources out there to pinpoint exactly why critics dismissed the film or even why it fell into the Public Domain.
The chilly reception it received baffles me because I really enjoyed it and could not wait to see where the story went, particularly in regard to the romance between Salome and Cleve. Yvonne de Carlo and David Bruce have wonderful emotional and sexual chemistry, making their characters completely come to life. From the moment the two lay eyes on one another, you know that something significant is happening. Even Jim Steed cannot deny the electricity that exists between Salome and Cleve, which is much to his dismay because he, too, had strong feelings for her. In fact, only moments before Salome and Cleve come face-to-face, Jim declares his love for her via a marriage proposal though he was unable to put it in exact words. Luckily, Salome was there to decode his jargon! (It should be said that it was hardly the first time someone had talked about sweeping her off her feet, as she was a prize beauty.) When Salome is taken back to Cleve’s camp, the two have a profound discussion about life under the full moon. The intensity of their honesty combined with the glow of the moonlight makes them seem angelic and their budding love so pure. It is by far my favourite scene of the film next to Salome’s dance for Cleve.
Had I not known that this was Yvonne de Carlo’s big debut, I would have thought she was a seasoned actress. She had total confidence in the leading role of Salome in both her dramatic and musical scenes, even nailing a very convincing Austrian accent à la Hedy Lamarr. De Carlo was a trained dancer, having attending a special school from a young age and having worked up to performing in nightclubs. Her singing and dancing abilities were not always featured in her more mainstream roles, so this is a side of her with which many people remain less aware. The character of Salome was loosely based on the life of Lola Montez, an Irish-born dancer/actress who was very famous in Europe before moving to the United States and eventually Australia. The events in Salome, Where She Danced were surprisingly set a good 10-15 years after real life events took place. Montez had a relationship with Bavarian King Ludwig I which perhaps paved the inspiration the inclusion of fictional Von Bohlen and the factual Von Bismarck.
(Left) The real Lola Montez; (Right) De Carlo would play Montez once more in the 1948 film Black Bart. Pictured with Dan Duryea.
The Pride of Lotusland: Yvonne de Carlo
Born on the 1st of September 1922 in Vancouver, B.C., Yvonne de Carlo was a first generation Canadian with a diverse, multicultural background. Her mother was Scottish-Italian and French-born while her father hailed from New Zealand. They lived in Alberta for a time before Yvonne’s birth. Yvonne’s grandparents hailed from Europe and moved to Canada sometime after the turn of the 20th century with their four children in tow. The mother-daughter duo would be based out of Vancouver until they decided to head to Tinseltown in the very early 1940’s.
Yvonne was actually her middle name and her first name was Margaret but to friends and family, she was Peggy. The surname De Carlo was her mother’s maiden name and after her father abandoned the family when she was a toddler, Yvonne decided to change it from the one she was given at birth: Middleton. De Carlo’s looks were as exotic as her name. This raven-haired beauty had a flowing, wavy mane and large, expressive eyes that some say were green. Her naturally milky skin tone was sometimes bronzed for more ethnic roles and her hair dyed to a more chestnut colour, making Yvonne seem like a Mediterranean princess.
The role of Anna Maria/Salome will forever be considered Yvonne’s breakthrough as an actress. Before being cast in the leading role, Yvonne had worked in a total of 20 films in which she had either been uncredited or had her scenes deleted from the final cut. Salome, Where She Danced was the first time the public would really take notice of this beautiful young woman who had turned 22 only two weeks before filming commenced in September 1944. Yvonne’s star rose quickly after the film’s 1945 premiere and she had a healthy film career until the mid-1950s when she stopped working in pictures for a period to raise her children. She would occasionally appear on television programmes but would not return to her career full-time until the early 1960s, at which point her husband had a debilitating accident at the workplace. Making ends meet became a priority and Yvonne started taking any screen jobs that she could in addition to performing in nightclubs and dinner theatres. Nowadays, most people remember Yvonne from her role as Lily Munster on TV’s The Munsters rather than her tenure during the Golden Age of Hollywood. It is likely that Yvonne would be tickled pink with the recognition, however, as she was proud of the projects with which she was involved, not to mention her admirable work ethic.
On a personal level, I have always been enchanted with Yvonne and think she is one of the most naturally beautiful women to have appeared on the big screen. To say that she deserved meatier, more prominent roles is an understatement because more than being just a pretty face, Yvonne was a woman of many talents.