Joel McCrea Edit Profile
After being the only boy at the Hollywood School for Girls, he was educated at Pomona University, worked on the stage, and had a bit part in A Self-Made Failure (24, William Beaudine) several years before his proper debut in The Jazz Age (29, Lynn Shores).
After a spell at MGM, where he made The Single Standard (29, John S. Robertson), De Mille cast him in Dynamite (29), and he went to Fox for the Will Rogers movie Lightnin (30, Henry King). But he settled at RKO for The Silver Horde (30, George Archainbaud) and Kept Husbands (31, Lloyd Bacon). He made several romances with Constance Bennett and, on loan to Paramount, Girls About Town (31, George Cukor). He then earned his pay as a robust, athletic adventurer in The Lost Squadron (32, Archainbaud); pursuing Dolores del Rio in Bird of Paradise (32, King Vidor); pursued by Leslie Banks in The Most Dangerous Game (32, Ining Pichel and Ernest Schoedsack).
Although McCrea was genially unpretentious and generally ignored by critics, he accumulated a highly creditable list of films, and a surprising variety of parts: Business and Pleasure (32, David Butler); Rockabye (32, Cukor); The Silver Cord (33, John Cromwell); Bed of Roses (33, Gregory La Cava); Chance at Heaven (33, William A. Seiter); Gambling Lady (34, Archie Mayo); and Private Worlds (35, La Cava). Most of these were romances, but Goldwyn saw McCrea as a fit hero for rougher work: thus Howard Hawks’s Barbary Coast (35), as well as the conventional Splendor (35, Elliott Nugent) and These Three (36, William Wyler). This mixture of parts continued, although McCrea seemed to thrive best out-of-doors: slapping his wife, Frances Dee, in Come and Get It (36, Hawks and Wyler); Banjo On My Knee (36, Cromwell); Dead End (37, Wyler); Wells Fargo (37, Frank Lloyd); with Barbara Stanwyck in Union Pacific (39, De Mille). He then made Espionage Agent (39, Bacon); He Married His Wife (40, Roy del Ruth); Primrose Path (40, La Cava); rather “too easygoing,” as Hitchcock thought, in Foreign Correspondent (40); Reaching for the Sun (41, William Wellman); as the movie director in Sullivan’s Travels (41, Preston Sturges); The Great Man’s Lady (42, Wellman); the pursuing husband in The Palm Beach Stony (42, Sturges); The More the Merrier (43, George Stevens); as Buffalo Bill (44, Wellman); and as the Boston dentist in The Great Moment (44, Sturges)—a consistently enjoyable body of work.
After the war, McCrea settled into conventional Westerns and he worked steadily for the next fifteen years, weathering well and never losing his relaxed sense of the genre. The most notable of these autumnal movies are: Ramrod (47, André de Toth); South of St. Louis (49, Ray Enright); Colorado Territory (49, Raoul Walsh); Saddle Tramp (50, Hugo Fregonese); Frenchie (50, Louis King); very good, with Dean Stockwell, in Stars in My Crown (50, Jacques Tourneur); Stranger on Horseback (55, Tourneur); as Wyatt Eaip in Wichita (55, Tourneur); as Sam Houston in The First Texan (56. Bvron Haskin); Fort Massacre (58, Joseph Newman); and The Gwifight at Dodge City (59, Newman).
It was appropriate that McCrea should bow out in Sam Peckinpah's nostalgic tribute to the orthodox Western: in respectful but lethal rivalry with Randolph Scott in Ride the High Country (62).
McCrea was a sweet, modest man, not in the least starry. The one flaw in Sullivan’s Travels mav be that MeCrea’s movie director is, from the outset, someone you might trust and go to a ball game with. But just because he seemed so grateful for a long career in which he felt lucky at all the good roles, good directors, and actresses he had known, it was easy to miss how much McCrea himself offered.
He was not comic, like a Cary Grant. And he seemed rather shy about his own sierralike handsomeness. But he had a rare gentleness, a great way of listening to women (like an umbrella he was sharing with them), and a knack of underplaying key moments. Consider The More the Merrier: all through that film, he has an absent- minded gruffness or stillness, as if amid the romantic overcrowding he’s heard what the war will be like. It becomes more intriguing as the film lasts, an audacious offhandedness—maybe he was just doing director George Stevens. Still, it is proof that McCrea repays close attention.