My Forbidden Past (1951) with Robert Mitchum and Ava Gardner

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She’s the kind of woman that made NEW ORLEANS famous!

By 1951 RKO had seen better days but under Howard Hughes it still turned out product.  Among these later films is 1951’s My Forbidden Past, which starred two of the stalwart stars of the 1950s, Ava Gardner and Robert Mitchum. Robert Mitchum particularly is a favorite.  And while this is neither’s best work, it isn’t their worst either.

My Forbidden Past is set in the heart of class conscious upper crust New Orleans back in the day. Ava Gardner plays Barbara Beaurevel, a presumably adopted daughter of the Beaurevel family. Melvyn Douglas comes in as her cousin, Paul Beaurevel. It’s never made clear exactly what the family’s source of income is, but they enjoy the life of luxury and ease for the most part, although later on this will change.

Robert Mitchum plays Dr. Mark Lucas, who is having a secret relationship with Barbara. Early on Dr. Lucas must depart to South America and Barbara jilts him at the dock- she was to go with him but her father dissuades her.

Lucas returns a bit later with a new bride on his arm, his service in South America complete. About the same time we learn that young Barbara has come into some money from her birth family. However, this is where the “forbidden” comes in during My Forbidden Past.

You see, Barbara’s grandmother evidently isn’t spoken of due to some unspecified reason. Reading between the innuendo and suggestions my guess is that she was a prostitute or tramp and that Barbara may trace her parentage through that. It’s clear the Beaurevel’s know the truth but the audience isn’t allowed to share in the secret.

Barbara rebels against the Beaurevel’s initial advice to refuse the money and accepts it. Her cousin Paul is keen to share in the spoils but daughter Barbara refuses unless Paul can seduce Dr. Lucas’ new wife, thereby (presumably) returning Dr. Lucas’ attention to Barbara. This all unfolds with a nice twist which I won’t share with you- I’ve already shared enough.

This is a very tight little film at a mere 70 minutes so there is little time for the depth of detail which would have made this a better film. Unlike most, I do like this film, although it surely wouldn’t rate among the best of any of the stars. None of them are bad, more likely sleepwalking, although Ava Gardner does have some nice dialogue. Robert Mitchum is completely unbelievable as a Doctor and should have been given a different (and more applicable) profession.

What does really succeed here is the direction of erstwhile director Robert Stevenson. He creates a wonderful atmosphere of New Orleans in the late 1800s. If you look behind the action you will see an entirely different level of activity.  And its done with the realism that you forget these were (presumably) extras.

Both Robert Mitchum and Ava Gardner would continue their careers to greater success, although poor Ava seems to have been cursed with a plethora of dire films, of which many would include this one. A little more depth in characterization would have helped her tremendously here, although the short run time permits little time.  In addition, more believable roles for Robert Mitchum and clarity on the true nature of this mysterious past would be beneficial.

As opposed to most, I enjoy this one and for my dollar your time wouldn’t be spent watching it. However, it isn’t one that makes the rounds often and is only available on a rare VHS release or even rarer television airings.

In my mind, this would be a very strong candidate for release through one of the current MOD programs like Warner Archives. Actually it would be Warner Archive since they have the rights to the RKO pictures.

Why would this not get a MOD release ahead of the slew of TV movies which tend to dominate at times the Archives release schedule?

My only guess is perhaps print availability or quality.

3 comments… add one

  • Pretty Clever Film Gal May 20, 2011, 3:58 pm

    I’m a big fan of Mitchum, but I’ve never seen this. As detached, but raw sexual aggression with a hint of menace seems to be his thing, I really can’t imagine him playing the role of doctor. One note, the film is also title “Carriage Entrance” (for foreign release?) and is available as a Region 2 French import on Amazon. But your lukewarm reaction probably means it’s not worth jumping through the hoops.

    Reply
    • Orson DeWelles May 20, 2011, 7:37 pm

      Check it out if you are a fan of Mitchum- he isn’t bad, just miscast as a would be doctor. As something else a home run!

      Reply
  • Cllr Chris Burke November 18, 2014, 7:59 am

    I came across this by chance this morning and enjoyed it on Virgin TV Catch Up. Until I read the reviews on the Internet I assumed about 1938, in fact its 1951 I see. Ava Gardener looks stunning in a variety of costumes and you can imagine the inhabitants of the drab and run down early 50’s (at least here in England) loving her. The story is simple but good fun with an excellent twist at the end. Robert Mitchum is a bit robotic but he is good enough. Melvyn Douglas as the baddy and Eva’s brother plays probably the best role with Robert Mitchum’s new wife a considerable piece of eye candy who turns in a good performance too. I think its worth an hour of your life as a piece of innocent fun with a good moral thought were you least expect it.

    Reply

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