August 3, 1957 – “Band of Angels” at the Bijou

On August 3, 1957, Robert Penn Warren’s novel about slavery and the Civil War in the American South came to life on the silver screen.  Directed by the legendary Raoul Walsh (White Heat, They Died With Their Boots On), Band of Angels featured Yvonne De Carlo as Amantha Starr, a privileged white plantation heiress who discovers after her father’s death that the plantation is mortgaged to the hilt, her mother was a slave, and she herself will soon hit the auction block to help pay off daddy’s debts.  On the way to New Orleans, Amantha’s slave trader tries to sleep with her, she resists and threatens to kill herself, and the trader backs off because he doesn’t want to lose his valuable merchandise.

In New Orleans, big man Hamish Bond (Clark Gable, age 56, still gamely playing romantic leads) takes pity on Amantha and buys her out of the clutches of a too-eager-to-inspect-the-merchandise slave-auction bidder and takes her home to his mansion.  Hamish treats Amantha like a lady, they fall in love, the Civil War breaks out, and their futures end up depending on the kindness of Rau-Ru (Sidney Poitier), Hamish’s well-treated but conflicted ex-slave who fled to join the Union Army.

Variety noted in their review that, “Clark Gable’s characterization is reminiscent of his Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind.”  According to the Internet Movie Database, Clark disliked the comparisons to his twenty-eight-year-earlier performance, and told his agent, “if it doesn’t suit an old geezer with false teeth, forget about it.”  IMDB also reports that Band of Angels gained the less-than-complementary moniker, “The Ghost of Gone With the Wind.”

De Carlo played the romantic partner to an intriguing variety of leading men.  In addition to heating up the screen with Gable, she toyed with the affections of Charleston Heston in The Ten Commandments, Burt Lancaster in Criss Cross, Alec Guinness in The Captain’s Paradise, and finally, in one of those wonderful twists of fate, Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster) in the television series The Munsters.

Image Credit: Warner Brothers

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