I keep finding new examples of 1970s TV detective dramas with aging actresses playing aging actresses who, a la Sunset Boulevard, watch their own old movies. After I wrote about Columbo episodes starring Janet Leigh and Anne Baxter (Baxter’s actually not the one doing the watching), reader Ronald Landri clued me in to an episode of Cannon with Joan Fontaine in the aging siren role.
Great idea but hard to execute for the blog, since I needed to see (and post) the scene, and episodes of Cannon — which starred William Conrad as a portly private eye — are quite hard to come by. They’re not streaming anywhere, and I couldn’t find a copy of the DVD on Amazon or Ebay. Fortunately, nineteen libraries worldwide own the DVD set of Cannon, season five, and I was able to order one through Interlibrary Loan.
The episode was called “The Star,” and it aired on December 10, 1975. The date is important since the Janet Leigh Columbo episode, “Forgotten Lady,” aired barely three months before, and “The Star” is a pretty clear rip-off of it.
Fontaine plays Thelma Cain, who (of course) lives in the past. She’s engaged Cannon because her wayward son is missing. But some rough characters are also on the chase, and Cannon barely escapes from their clutches. He heads back to Cain’s mansion, which she shares with her (suspiciously) young husband.
Yes, it’s Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940); Fontaine, as the second Mrs. de Winter, is having her classic confrontation with the diabolical Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson). It probably wasn’t the best idea for the Cannon director (William Wiard) and writer (Margaret Armen) to include this scene. Even in black and white and projected on Cannon’s capacious body, it is so much better than “The Star” that one wants to avert one’s eyes. As even Cannon says, “I like that performance better.”
I came away from the episode with one question. It was done pretty much on the cheap, and so, in contrast to “Forgotten Lady” or (for that matter) Sunset Boulevard, the mise en scène doesn’t include lots of framed pictures of the star’s early days. With one exception. This portrait is in Thelma Cain’s parlor:
It’s clearly of the young Fontaine, sort of in the style of Renoir, and I’m quite curious as to how it was procured. But I can’t find it via Google search. I wonder if the Cannon folk commissioned it, and it’s now resting in someone’s attic. Probably one of life’s unanswerables.