Cast & Crew
E. G. Marshall
Divorced factory owner Earl Carleton has full custody of his young son Ted, when his ex-wife Gwen and her new husband Bryan Seward, a state department official, unexpectedly return to town from Washington D.C. and set a court hearing to request six-month custody of the boy. They are arguing that Earl coerced Gwen into giving him full custody only by threatening to besmirch Seward's political career. A doting father, Earl is furious that he might lose his son, but his lawyer, Sam Dunstock, suggests that he negotiate with the couple in person. Later, at the Seward's country-club apartment, Gwen tells Earl that he was never truly in love with her and complains that the custody agreement has allowed for the boy to spend only nine weeks with her, which is not enough time for him to know his mother. When an embittered Earl argues that she gave Ted up in trade for her lover Seward, Gwen flees the room in tears. Now guilt-ridden, Earl tells Seward that the couple can have Ted until the hearing the following week. At the club's bar, Sam's assistant lawyer Nina Wylie, cautiously flirts with Earl, but he is too consumed with family affairs to notice. The next week at the hearing, Judge Rudolph's questions about Earl and Ted's family life reveal that the businessman often leaves the child with his sixty-five-year-old housekeeper. When Rudolph asks Gwen why she waited two years to seek custody, Gwen explains that she was hoping for a compromise without the court's involvement. Seeing the boy alone, Rudolph learns that Ted loves and trusts his father and does not believe his mother cares for him. Rudolph admits to Earl and Gwen that each is capable of taking care of the boy, but because the ties between Ted and his mother need to be reestablished, Rudolph gives Gwen full custody. When Ted runs into the room to embrace his father after learning the verdict, Earl's contempt for the decision prompts him to tell Ted he has always hated the child's resemblance to Gwen and push the child into his mother's arms. Filled with self-pity, Earl begins a drinking binge in the ensuing weeks. When Nina visits his apartment to report that orders at the factory are piling up, Earl tells her to close the factory for him, but then breaks down and reveals that he only married Gwen to produce an heir to the business and was never really in love with her. After Nina tells Earl that he needs her to help him build a new life, they go out for drinks, but Earl finds it "difficult to be unfaithful to his wife." Only after a drunk Earl passes out in Nina's car does she profess her love for him. The next morning, Earl awakens in Nina's apartment, unsure of the previous evening's events. At first coy, Nina finally reveals that he did not sleep with her. When Earl offers to do her a favor for taking care of him, Nina asks him truly to notice her the next time they meet. Earl returns to a clean house and a new housekeeper, which Nina has arranged, and finds Ted, who explains that he ran away from his mother because he missed Earl. Soon after, Gwen arrives at the apartment and offers to let Ted stay with Earl until she and Seward leave for their permanent residence in Washington. Earl then immediately goes to Sam, hands him the power of attorney for the factory and tells him he is taking a trip to Europe. As he leaves the office, Earl stops at Nina's desk and lovingly gazes at her, but Nina is still too angry about his self-destructive behavior to respond. Later, when the airport calls Sam's office, they inform Nina that the plane is delayed and Earl is taking Ted with him. Nina warns Seward and Gwen, who arrive at the plane just in time to remove Ted. As a fistfight between Earl and Seward ensues, Sam stops the fight. Later, Gwen tells Ted that you will know when you love someone when making him or her happy is all you want to do. When Ted concludes that if Gwen wants to make him happy she has to let him go, his mother bursts into tears. Meanwhile, at Earl's apartment, Sam leaves after accusing his friend of cruelty for his willingness to see Ted "torn in half rather than give him up." Nina remains behind and admits that she loves Earl, but when he tells her he can "get girls like her a dime a dozen," Nina hands him a dime and leaves. That day Gwen requests Nina visit the club and then surrenders her claim to Ted and asks Nina to take him "home." In a moment alone with Seward, Nina learns that the couple does not have children of their own because Gwen miscarried and is now unable to conceive. As Ted is leaving the apartment, Seward tells him a story of King Solomon: Two women come before the king, both claiming to be the mother of a baby. When Solomon raises his sword to cut the baby in half and divide it between the two, one mother offers to give the child up rather than see it harmed. Ted is confused by the story and, after Nina takes him to Earl, the boy asks his father about it. As Earl explains that Solomon sagely deduced that the woman most willing to sacrifice for the child is its true mother, Earl realizes that he must sacrifice his own happiness and give Ted back to Gwen. The next day, as they wave goodbye to Ted, who is boarding a plane for Washington, Earl and Nina embrace as he hands her back her dime.
E. G. Marshall
William Ogden Joyce
Robert B. Williams
William A. Horning
Dr. Wesley C. Miller
Robert G. Shannon
Sol C. Siegel
Paul Francis Webster
Edwin B. Willis
Ralph E. Winters
Man on Fire
Drama was not a new thing for Crosby. He had previously scored as an international correspondent searching for the son believed killed during World War II in Little Boy Lost (1953) and a recovering alcoholic stage star in The Country Girl (1954). But in both those films he had performed a few songs on-screen to please the fans who had made him one of the top-selling recording artists of all time. With Man on Fire, however, he only recorded the theme song. Even that had not been planned originally. The Ames Brothers had recorded the title song for both opening and closing credits, but when Crosby recorded his own version of the song, the producers insisted on using it over his objections.
The film's story came from a 1955 episode of The Alcoa Hour, one of the many dramatic anthology series popular during television's early years. The TV version had also marked a change-of-pace for its leading man, Tom Ewell, who was best-known for comedy roles like the frazzled husband in The Seven Year Itch (1955). Ranald MacDougall, the acclaimed writer of such popular dramas as Mildred Pierce (1945) and The Hasty Heart (1949) adapted the teleplay and took on directing chores for only the second time in his career.
As co-stars, MGM decided to go with two talented newcomers from the worlds of Broadway and live television rather any of the starlets working their way up the ranks in Hollywood. As a result, Man on Fire provided Mary Fickett and Inger Stevens with their screen debuts. Fickett had already won a Theatre World Award for her performance as a cast replacement in Tea and Sympathy. Despite good reviews for her performance as Crosby's divorced wife, she would remain in New York, where she would create the role of Eleanor Roosevelt in Sunrise at Campobello before helping launch the ABC daytime drama All My Children as crusading nurse Ruth Martin. Her performance would be the first honored with a Daytime Emmy.
Stevens, who played Crosby's sympathetic attorney, also scored strong reviews. She was already a veteran of 50 television dramas when she made Man on Fire. Director MacDougall thought so much of her work that he cast her two years later as the last woman on Earth in The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959). She was even considered for the role of Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), which eventually went to Audrey Hepburn. Stevens would make her biggest splash, however, as the Swedish accented housekeeper (she was actually born in Sweden) in the television series based on The Farmer's Daughter.
But the actress also suffered through a series of heartbreaks. Like her character in Man on Fire, Stevens yearned to become the second Mrs. Crosby. The two began an affair shortly after she was felled on the set by an attack of appendicitis. Crosby's visits to her in the hospital led to a growing closeness between the two that turned into romance. When she entered the affair, she didn't realize that Crosby had been seriously involved with another young actress, Kathryn Grant. And in those pre-tabloid days, she may not have known that one attraction she may have held for Crosby was her resemblance to Grace Kelly, his co-star in The Country Girl with whom he'd also been involved. Shortly after Man on Fire's release, Crosby asked her to supervise the redecoration of his Palm Springs home, and she readily agreed, assuming that it would be their home when they married. While she was working on the house, she learned that he and Grant had been married. After years of stormy relationships with other co-stars, Stevens died mysteriously from an overdose of alcohol and sleeping pills in 1970.
Producer: Sol C. Siegel
Director: Ranald MacDougall
Screenplay: Randal MacDougall
Based on a story and television play by Malvin Wald and Jack Jacobs
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Art Direction: William A. Horning, Hans Peters
Score: David Raksin
Cast: Bing Crosby (Earl Carleton), Inger Stevens (Nina Wylie), Mary Fickett (Gwen Seward), E.G. Marshall (Sam Dunstock), Malcolm Brodrick (Ted Carleton), Anne Seymour (Judge Randolph).
by Frank Miller
Man on Fire
The opening credits read: "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents A Sol C. Siegel Production starring Bing Crosby in Man On Fire." The Ames Brothers onscreen credits read: "The Ames Brothers: Ed, Vic, Gene and Joe." Actors Inger Stevens, Mary Fickett and Malcolm Brodrick made their feature-film debuts and Bing Crosby had his first non-singing role in Man On Fire. Although the Ames Brothers sing the film's title song during the closing credits, Bing Crosby sings the song during the opening credits. An December 18, 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item adds Theona Bryant to the cast, but her appearance in the film has not been confirmed.