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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

'The Girl He Left Behind' DVD: Awesome "Before He Was a Star" Tab Hunter/Natalie Wood Film

Girl He Left Behind
The Warner Archive DVD release of the 1956 drama "The Girl He Left Behind" allows watching dreamy clean-cut all-American boy Tab Hunter in a tailor-made role as a privileged BMOC/golden boy that predates his well-deserved fame from the uber-uber-uber-uber-awesome film version of "Damn Yankees" by two years.

"Girls" also showcases the rare talent and charm of Natalie Wood a year after she hits in big in the uber-uber-uber-uber classic "Rebel Without a Cause."

As an aside, Jim Backus of "Gilligan's Island" co-stars in both "Rebel" and "Girl" and is marvelous simply marvelous in both productions.

The following (complete with Spanish subtitles) clip, courtesy of the trailer for "Girl" covers most of the themes of the film and particularly highlights the star quality of the leading man.

On a more general level, "Girl" is part of a trilogy of Unreal TV reviewed Archive releases over the past few months that have featured miscreants who find themselves at odds with the military after joining a branch of the service under less than ideal circumstances. This site ran a post on the wonderful James Cagney film "Here Comes the Navy" in March 2014 and offered thoughts on the equally terrific Andy Griffith project "Onionhead" earlier this month.

Common themes in "Girl" and "Onionhead" are that Hunter's Andy and the character whom Griffith plays respectively end up in the Army and the Coast Guard after breaking up with their best girl. A primary difference is that Andy is sliding by on his dreamy looks, charm, and mother's generosity with father's money. Conversely, Griffith's character is a blue-collar Okie who is working his way through school.

The incident that causes a washout (of course, pun intended) regarding the relationship between Andy and Wood's Susan is a particularly irresponsible act by the former that prompts the latter to have the brainstorm (of course, pun intended) both that her beau has a chronic case of Peter Pan syndrome and that marriage to an over-grown boy is not an option.

This breakup sets a series of incidents in motion that lead to the aforementioned enlistment in the Army. The facts that Andy has avoided hard work all his life and does not want to be a soldier creates a conflict that pits him against his superiors and fellow grunts alike.

Wonderful entertainment ensues regarding the stubbornness of both Andy and his nemeses using Army regulations as a weapon, and the general depictions of military life.

Narration that prompts memories of the educational films that were a popular element of the American educational system from the '50s at least through the early '80s adds to the fun of "Girl." One almost expects a scene in which Andy the soldier contracts a painful and embarrassing medical problem after succumbing to the charms of a "loose" woman.

"Girl" further offers especially awesome scenes that revolve around Susan and Andy's mother separately visiting the base where Andy is stationed. The mix of humor and drama related to these visits is highly memorable.

A scene in which Andy undergoes his Army physical is amusing because it is shamelessly inserted to provide a pretext both for Hunter to appear on-screen shirtless for several minutes and provide the related thrill of seeing him turn his head and cough.

"Girl" additionally does a good job depicting the nature of peacetime military service (and general life in the '50s). This is the era of trying to train men to be good soldiers despite no real enemy being in sight and in which well-off housewives spend their afternoons attending lectures at ladies' club while their full-time maids are preparing the evening meal for the family.

All of this well-mixed awesomeness results in a film that literally has something for everyone and will make you want to get every other film in which Hunter appears.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Girl" is welcome to email me. Connecting on Twitter via @tvdvdguy is another option.