By 1950, Rex Harrison’s Hollywood career was considered, in the words of Hedda Hopper, “dead as a mackerel.” His last film, Unfaithfully Yours (1948) from writer/director Preston Sturges, was well reviewed but a box-office disappointment. He was married to Lilli Palmer but had an affair with actress Carole Landis, which became a public scandal after her suicide. He compounded it all by telling the New York press that “he didn’t give a damn what illiterate alcoholics like Louella Parsons and her ilk wrote about us,” as Palmer related in her biography, a comment that set the entire Hollywood press against him. He ended his contract with 20th Century Fox and returned to the New York stage, where he won the Tony Award for Best Actor in Anne of a Thousand Days, but in Hollywood he was persona non grata.
It would be three years until his next film, and it would be back home in Britain. Harrison and Palmer had fallen in love with Italy and bought a plot of land on the Italian coast, gambling on a role in an Italian film that Harrison was being considered for. “The film fell through, but by a stroke of luck was replaced by another, and the lovely house that I built still stands there on the hill above Portofino.” The new film was The Long Dark Hall, with Harrison and Palmer in the leading roles, he as a married man having an affair with a showgirl, she as his loyal wife.
Plays on TCM on Saturday, August 31