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




(director: Robert Stevenson; screenwriters: Leopold Atlas/Marion Parsonnet/from the novel Carriage Entrance by Polan Banks; cinematographer: Harry J. Wild; editor: George Shrader; music: Frederick Hollander; cast: Robert Mitchum (Dr. Mark Lucas), Ava Gardner (Barbara Beaurevel), Melvyn Douglas (Paul Beaurevel), Lucile Watson (Aunt Eula), Janis Carter (Corinne Lucas), Gordon Oliver (Clay Duchesne), Will Wright (Luther Toplady), Jack Briggs (Cousin Phillipe); Runtime: 71; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Polan Banks/Sid Rogell/Robert Sparks; RKO; 1951)

“That this stodgy nonsense production is mildly entertaining is mildly surprising.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A steamy old-fashioned Southern soap opera that tells of unrequited love and skeletons in the closet. The bitchy melodrama is set in the white high-class society of New Orleans in the 1890s and features love-sick vixen Ava Gardner trying to chase down married research scientist Robert Mitchum (the bad-boy is fresh off his prison stint in 1949 over marijuana charges). Writers Leopold Atlas and Marion Parsonnet adapt it from Polan Banks’ novel Carriage Entrance. Director Robert Stevenson (“Walk Softly, Stranger”/”Jane Eyre”/”King Solomon’s Mines”) keeps the period piece atmospheric and filled with simpering respect for bloodlines and family pride; that this stodgy nonsense production is mildly entertaining is mildly surprising.

Impoverished New Orleans blueblood Barbara Beaurevelle (Ava Gardner) misses her date to marry her headstrong lover, Tulane University medical researcher from upstate New York, Dr. Mark Lucas (Robert Mitchum), on board a boat bound for South America, because her scheming cousin Paul Beaurevel (Melvyn Douglas) impresses upon her that their dear Aunt Eula (Lucile Watson), in whose house Barbara dwells with Paul, would have a heart attack if she married beneath her station in life. Paul never delivers Barbara’s letter of explanation to Mark of why she was a no show, as promised. When Mark returns to New Orleans two months later, Barbara discovers he married pretty but vain Corinne (Janis Carter) on the rebound. At the same time, California lawyer Luther Toplady (Will Wright) arrives to tell Barbara her grandmother Carrie Crandall’s brother has died and left his fortune to her (close to a million dollars in mining gold). Because Carrie is known as leading a sinful life (which the film never reveals, but hints at being a loose woman), Barbara’s relations have considered Carrie a pariah and not part of their family. Luther agrees to transfer the money to Barbara without mention of Carrie’s name, and thereby ease the family’s shame with their stuffy society friends.

Barbara plans to use her new wealth to lure Mark, and starts by jilting her wealthy suitor Clay Duchesne (Gordon Oliver), her wealthy suitor–a trustee at Tulane. She then schemes to bribe the money-hungry rascal Paul with $50,000 if he can get into an assignation with the upward-mobile Corinne. Telling Mark of the seduction backfires, as he finds what she did repulsive. At the boathouse tryst, Paul insultingly laughs at Corinne begging him to marry her and after she slaps him he pushes her away and she takes a fatal fall against the beach rocks. Mark falls under suspicion, and the weepie hokum that transpires will bring the star-crossed lovers together.

Ava is ravishing and gives a lively performance, Mitchum is stiff and gives a wooden performance–but not one that doesn’t have enough charm to snare Ava. Whatever … it’s still soapy claptrap.