MGM Lion's Roar Volume 5, No. 1
You may notice, if you look, listen and remember, that the corporal in “What Next, Corporal Hargrove?” is played with a trifle more maturity than the private in “See Here, Private Hargrove” – and he’s funnier!
It’s part of the growth of Robert Walker into one of the screen’s intensely serious actors – not “serious” to the audience (especially in a comedy, goodness knows!) but in his conception of his work.
One Stripe – Two Stripes
“I took that first role,” Bob says, “a little too literally – tried mainly for freshness, youth, zip. Well, all those traits are true to the original but privates grow older and corporals aspire to be sergeants. Between the two pictures I was privileged to meet the real Marion Hargrove. There’s all the bounce in him that made his fine book a joy and there’s the intelligence that enabled him to write it. I tried in this second picture to portray more roundly the humor that sparkles through the real Marion Hargrove.”
It’s an axiom which not everyone understands, but the comedian who thinks seriously about comedy is always the funniest. Walker is adding concentration to the talent and warm screen personality that brought him such swift Hollywood success.
Bob is in many ways a shy person; he is reticent about himself and likes to think before he speaks. Yet on the subject of how a person should try to grow in his work, he can let himself go.
To the question, “Has Hollywood changed you?” he rose animatedly – one could tell he had thought this out. “Of course it has!” he answered. “Every experience changes you.”
A Role With Meat
“Well, when I came out here I was all in a hustle, like every newcomer, to become a star. I thought the acclaim and hoopla were the most vital aids to an actor’s success. Now – I want only meaty roles and want to learn to do them better – to put something in the way of improvement into each performance.”
“Any other changed viewpoints?”
“Yes – one in connection with what I’ve just said. To make progress I have to be more studious than perhaps the boy in me likes to be. As M-G-M places more responsibility on me in the way of fine roles, I have to live up to it. That means that I must take time out from play to think. I can’t be as available socially to friends I like warmly, as I used to be. And I’m beginning to understand and want to understand more about “story” which means I’m reading and thinking more than ever before. That too, takes time away from friends and fun. In brief, I’ve got to buckle down to business even more, and how!”
But despite that added seriousness, the Walker smile is still sunny – he is still the modest, honest person, critical of himself, determined to grow in his job of pleasing the public.
And the Walker comedy sense grows constantly sharper. During a location sequence on “What Next, Corporal Hargrove?”, troops were wearing tree camouflage, but Keenan Wynn, Bob’s buddy on and off the screen, insisted on smoking a cigar. Bob quietly gathered some weeds, walked over and camouflaged the cigar. It was just a gag – certainly not good military – but it was so funny the cutters left it in!
As far as comedy is concerned, Young Mister Walker seems to have a two-way deal with the public – he’ll be serious about laughter and be laughing heartily with you, too.
Copyright MGM Lion's Roar Magazine