Of all the movies starring everyone on the American Film Institute’s Top 50 list, my favorite is the 1949 classic Our Mister Collins. John Wayne (#13, actors list) is a fast-talking reporter at a big city paper who gets into shouting matches with his feisty editor (Mary Pickford, actress list #24). Rumor has it the governer (Elizabeth Taylor, #7) got caught by his wife (Burt Lancaster #19) in a hotel love nest with a young clerk (Humphrey Bogart, #1). To beat his prissy co-worker (Marlon Brando, #4) to the scoop, John Wayne meets wise-cracking cops (Grace Kelly, #13; Lillian Gish #17; and Sophia Loren #21) at the racetrack. A shoeshine kid (Greta Garbo, #5) and a newspaper stand vendor (Gary Cooper, #11) also give him the skinny on the scandal. The hotel manager (Shirley Temple, #18) hints that the whole town is afraid of Big Bernstein (Ava Gardner, #25) who needs the governer to stay in her pocket for the election against opponent Gene Kelly (#15).
Meanwhile, John Wayne has an overbearing mother (James Dean, #18) and her snobby opera-society friends (Spencer Tracy #9, Mae West, #15, and Henry Fonda, #6) telling him to take up polo like his brother, Sidney Poitier (#22). Dad (Ginger Rogers, #14) just swipes martinis off the tray from the butler (Ingrid Bergman, #4) who ogles the maid (James Cagney, #8).
John Wayne is engaged to a sweet, bumbling veterinarian (Edward G. Robinson, #24). During witty banter with the sandwich delivery boy (Orson Welles, #16) in the newsroom, in walks John Wayne’s first wife, Laurence Olivier! (#14!) Laurence has Gregory Peck (#12) wrapped around his arm, giggling and in a cheap hat. John Wayne gets jealous. Gregory Peck, though, flirts with the cigar-chomping gangster (Audrey Hepburn, #3) at the nightclub they all go to.
The gangster’s girl is sultry torch singer William Holden (#25) doing “A Blue, Crazy Kind of Feeling (Could it Be Love? No, No)” Film buffs will spot cameos by Clark Gable (#7) as a busboy, Lauren Bacall (#20) and Buster Keaton (#21) as drunken Shriners, and Katharine Hepburn (#1) playing a mean saxophone. Is the third chorus girl in the big “South of the Border” number Joan Crawford (#10) or Kirk Douglas (#17)? The sombrero is just too big.
The bouncer (Fred Astaire, #5) kicks out the gang and they take a taxi (driven by The Marx Brothers, #20) back to the newspaper. The security guard (Marlene Dietrich, #9) says Brando just wrote the governer expose for tomorrow’s edition! The cleaning lady (Bette Davis, #2, doing a wonderful African-American impression) mentions Bernstein called Brando earlier and they sounded “real chummy-like.”
Everyone dashes to the elevator, where John Wayne and Laurence Olivier are closely squished together. Robert Mitchum (#23) gets on with a poodle, then Judy Garland (#8) carrying a safe, then Vivien Leigh (#16) and Carole Lombard (#23) and Charlie Chaplin (#10), and finally Marilyn Monroe (#6) in unattractive shoes. The doorman (Jean Harlow, #22) says to the homeless guy (Barbara Stanwyck, #11) when the gang rushes out, “Now how about that?”
Getting past Big Bernstein’s gun-toting goons, James Stewart (#3), Claudette Colbert (#12), and Rita Hayworth (#19), isn’t easy, but it turns out they love puppy dogs, supplied by Edward G. Robinson who arrives on the scene and re-wins John Wayne’s love. The wise-cracking cops arrest Big Bernstein on some vague charge. Everyone laughs. Cary Grant (#2) walks by.