Audiences Prefer Blondes? Hayley, Jean Enchant in THE TRUTH ABOUT SPRING & MOMENT TO MOMENT

“Did you mean it when you said I’m not the worst-looking thing you ever saw?”

There were different sides to the blonde movie star that was popular in the 1960s. Where blondes of previous eras fell into either bombshells or vixens, by the time the middle of the 60s had rolled around, the image of blondes on the big screen had greatly expanded to include women who had different looks and approaches to acting. Stars like Doris Day and Debbie Reynolds were the epitome of the all-American woman with their apple-pie looks and knack for singing and comedy. On the flip side, Marilyn Monroe and Kim Novak both oozed a sexuality off-screen which fit well with the vulnerability their characters showed on screen. Meanwhile, starlets like Jane Fonda represented the newer generation, combining a movie star persona with method acting.

Just like the blondes of the 1960s were different, so too was the audience’s relationship with them. This allowed each actress the chance to create her own niche and establish personas which not only endeared them to the moviegoing public but helped cement them as their own kind of movie star. In their distinct ways, Jean Seberg and Hayley Mills illustrated almost perfectly what made the blonde movie star of the 60s such a fascinating element of cinema. Both women were cut from very specific cloths, yet they each exhibited that special kind of magic and stardust that wowed both the camera and the people watching them on the screen.

Out of all the blonde actresses of the era, Seberg was perhaps the hardest to define, despite the way she was able to bewitch both critics and audiences. Although much of her early assignments for American studios didn’t yield the results that made a movie star, her work abroad did. Arriving in France just as the new wave was starting to take off, Seberg took the lead role in Jean-Luc Goddard’s Breathless, which garnered her instant acclaim from all who saw it. Apart from a memorable turn opposite Warren Beatty in Lilith, Seberg mostly confined herself to European-based projects, which made her one of French cinema’s most recognizable faces. The secret to her success wasn’t always easy to pinpoint, but could indeed be traced back to the fact that she was able to come across as both international and American, displaying an ethereal, goddess-like quality that eluded many of her contemporaries.

On the opposite side of the blonde movie star spectrum sat Mills, who won serious praise with her first credited film, Tiger Bay. The movie was a smash and it wasn’t long before Walt Disney got wind of the youngster and cast her in his big-screen remake of Pollyanna. The film was a rousing success, leading to a five-year contract with Disney, which would ultimately help cement her status as a bona fide movie star. As the studio’s leading lady, the young actress had collected an Oscar and made a string of hits for the Mouse House, including The Parent Trap and That Darn Cat!. Mills’ precocious mix of girlishness and gumption endeared her to legions of movie fans and despite her British accent, the actress managed to give off an all-American feel that made most everyone fall in love with her. 

Recently, Kino Lorber released two of the actress’s less-heralded titles, the 1966’s melodramatic thriller Moment to Moment and 1965’s family adventure The Truth About Spring. While mostly forgotten today, each film shows the power Mills and Seberg had and why their work still endures to this day.

Set in gorgeous Italy, Moment to Moment centers on a neglected military wife named Kay (Seberg) finds herself caught up in a passionate infatuation with a young, handsome Naval officer named Mark (Sean Garrison). With her husband, Neil (Arthur Hill) away, Kay’s desires for Mark only grow stronger until one night when things get out of hand and he ends up dead at her very own hands. Desperate to avoid guilt, Kay goes to great lengths to avoid suspicion from the Italian police and her very own husband.

Mervyn LeRoy proved to be more than an exceptional filmmaker through helming among other titles, Gypsy and The Bad Seed, showing his ability to move between genres. But that magic approach was largely absent in Moment to Moment. The movie is rich in stylistic flourishes, with the colors bouncing off the screen, giving the whole experience a dreamy lush quality. The trouble here is that Moment to Moment was made two decades too late. The film is the kind of pure noir that might have starred Barbara Stanwyck back in the day, but by the 1960s, what was once considered noir was oftentimes being dismissed as a soap opera. However, with elements such as dressing Seberg in Yves Saint-Laurent for the entire movie and favoring an ending that ends on a baffling high note, LeRoy’s film doesn’t do much to help itself escape that branding. Seberg, who by this point had established herself as an international film icon, may seem miscast but ends up being responsible for all the instances of tension and desperation, both of which were necessary for Moment to Moment to work on the rare times it does.  

Meanwhile, in The Truth About Spring Disney’s leading actress is lent out to Universal for a tale about a teenage girl named Spring (Mills) raised on the sea by her ship captain father Tommy (John Mills). When Tommy’s run of conning and outsmarting pirates and gold hunters seems to have come to an end, he enlists Spring to help locate some long-sought-after buried treasure. But Spring’s interests lay in the idea of a life of her own on land and in attractive law student Ashton (James Macarthur) who is along for the ride as well. 

It’s clear to anyone watching that Universal was eager to capitalize on the success Mills had with Disney, even going so far as casting her father John (fresh off his success with Swiss Family Robinson) as her character’s father. Therein lies the core problem with The Truth About Spring; the film is an assortment of tropes used in much better films, leaving this one lacking any kind of real adventure. The romance is only passable, the stakes don’t feel so high, and even the treasure hunt (an easy aspect to make exciting) feels rather boring. The only part of the film that works is Mills. Watching how the actress guides Spring from a curious girl to a feisty young woman is genuinely engaging and is the kind of character work that she always managed so well. Leonard Maltin always claimed that no matter the quality of the film Mills was in, she never let her audience down, and in some cases, carried the material to higher levels than they sometimes deserved through the openness and vulnerability she showed in front of the camera. The Truth About Spring is a pure testament to the appeal, talent, and power of a Hayley Mills performance. 

The love that movie crowds had for both actresses wasn’t strong enough to propel either film to box office success. The Truth About Spring and Moment to Moment received lousy reviews and dismal box-office returns, leading some to question how powerful each actress’s bankability was. But the bombing of the two films can’t be blamed squarely on Mills’ or Seberg’s pull with audiences. Each title belonged to a genre that had long been put to bed by the time the cameras rolled. Moment to Moment recalled the noir heyday of the 40s, while The Truth About Spring felt like the kind of second-rate Disney fare that mid-60s audiences were already growing tired of. It’s true, looking at each movie today, they just weren’t up to the standards each actress’s fan base wanted to see her in at that point in time. But with the decade in film moving quickly to stark realism and boundary-pushing stories, this pair of titles was simply too out of touch.

The parallels between Seberg and Mills would extend beyond their hair color and industry standings. Following these releases, both actresses more or less worked exclusively in their native countries with mixed results. There would be the flops, of course. Seberg’s turn in Paint Your Wagon is far from her finest moment, and Mills couldn’t seem to find much success despite being front and center of the British independent film scene of the late 60s and 70s. But there were also successes as well. Seberg found herself in one of the biggest movies of the year with Airport, while Mills had a substantial hit following her first post-Disney outing, the charming comedy The Trouble with Angels. It should also be pointed out that neither actress was immune to scandal during their time. Seberg got into trouble with the FBI due to her activism around the same time that Mills made headlines for marrying her much older director Ray Boulting. 

If Moment to Moment and The Truth About Spring don’t exactly cry out for the kind of reappraisal that’s being given to so many forgotten works today, the filmmakers behind them did at least have a sense of what their respective leading ladies were capable of. It should be clear to fans watching them that any success the movies enjoy is purely because of what the two actresses bring to them. Neither movie showed the best of Mills or Seberg. Yet in both instances, the camera remained somewhat aware of the power each one displayed whenever they stepped on set and how they could always count on audiences to fall in love with them a little bit more every single time.

Moment to Moment and The Truth About Spring are now available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

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