After years of toiling in B-movies and supporting roles at Warner Brothers, Jane Wyman finally got her chance in the 1940's to prove herself as a dramatic actress, winning an Oscar for Johnny Belinda (1948). After that, she was able to move easily between drama and comedy. Following a secondary role in Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950), and another critically acclaimed dramatic turn as the gentle, crippled Laura in the film version of Tennessee Williams' play The Glass Menagerie (1950), Wyman returned to comedy on loanout to MGM in Three Guys Named Mike (1951). |
The film is a lighthearted and lightweight story of a flight attendant - or, as they were called in those days, "airline hostess," or "stewardess" - learning the ropes in the air and choosing among the eponymous Three Guys Named Mike. According to the credits, the screenplay was "based on the story by Ruth Brooks Flippen, from suggestions made by Ethel 'Pug' Smith." According to contemporary publicity, Smith was a "hostess" for American Airlines (she also has a bit part in the film). As the New York Times critic Bosley Crowther noted, "for services rendered in the advertising line, that company should award her a gold star (its advertising is all over the film), but if she's still hostessing, it should keep an eye on her. We suspect she spends too much time reading those leather-bound slick magazines rather than attending to the business of serving her real-life passengers." That was a comment on the glamorized version the flight attendant's life presented in the film.
Wyman's star stature meant she got one of MGM's top leading men and two of its up-and-coming actors to play the Three Guys Named Mike. Van Johnson is an aspiring scientist who works as a bartender; Howard Keel is a pilot; and Barry Sullivan is an advertising executive. Johnson had become the studio's favorite boy-next-door during World War II, and was a very popular star by 1951. After only one bit part, Keel had become a star the previous year when he played Frank Butler in the film version of Irving Berlin's musical, Annie Get Your Gun (1950). He had followed that with another musical, Pagan Love Song (1950). The part of Mike the pilot in Three Guys Named Mike was Keel's first non-singing co-starring role, and he was so appealing that many wondered why he didn't get the girl (answer: because Van Johnson was a bigger star). Sullivan had recently moved to MGM after playing supporting roles at Paramount throughout the 1940's. While he would continue to play second leads and supporting parts at MGM, his most memorable role is probably the b-movie director in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952).
Highbrow critics like the Times' Crowther may have sneered at Three Guys Named Mike, but more plebeian ones liked it fine. Variety called it a "pleasant-witted comedy," adding that "direction by Charles Walters deserves a nod for keeping the humor moving at a fast pace." The pace at the box office, unfortunately, was more sluggish. But Wyman would rebound quickly with a much bigger hit, Here Comes the Groom (1951), as would Keel with Show Boat (1951). And Three Guys Named Mike remains a quaintly entertaining time capsule of an era when "stewardesses" became "kiwis" (i.e., non-flying birds) when they got married.
Additional Trivia: The plot involves the romantic lives of pilots and flight attendants. Airplanes can be
very expensive props, however, so the producers made a deal with American Airlines to
use their planes at no charge. American Airlines also provided advertising to support the
release of the film. Not only were American planes used, but some of the early scenes
show the type of training that stewardesses received at the American Airlines school.
Director: Charles Walters
Producer: Armand Deutsch
Screenplay: Sidney Sheldon, based on the story by Ruth Brooks Flippen, from suggestions made by Ethel "Pug" Smith
Cinematography: Paul Vogel
Editor: Irvine Warburton
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, William Ferrari
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Cast: Jane Wyman (Marcy Lewis), Van Johnson (Michael Lawrence), Howard Keel (Mike Jamison), Barry Sullivan (Mike Tracy), Phyllis Kirk (Kathy Hunter), Anne Sargent (Jan Baker), Jeff Donnell (Alice Raymond), Barbara Billingsley (Ann White).
BW-91m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri