Browsed by
Month: December 2011

Days of Wine and Roses (1962)

Days of Wine and Roses (1962)

“You and I were a couple of drunks on the sea of booze, and the boat sank.”

Synopsis:
A boozing PR man (Jack Lemmon) marries a beautiful secretary (Lee Remick) and turns her on to drinking, much to the chagrin of her hardworking father (Charles Bickford); soon both of them are fighting for their lives against alcoholism.

Genres:

Review:
As Peary suggests in his review of The Lost Weekend (1945), there probably aren’t many who “really enjoy movies about junkies or alcoholics trying to cure their addictions” — which leads me to confess that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to revisiting this esteemed entry in the genre, despite its status as a highly regarded, Oscar-nominated classic (by director Blake Edwards). I’m pleased to report, however, that despite its inevitably dreary subject matter (and occasional descents into staginess), it remains overall a powerful, finely crafted film with much to recommend — from the consistently high quality b&w cinematography by Philip Lathrop, to a hard-hitting script by JP Miller (based upon his 1958 Playhouse 90 teleplay), to fine performances throughout, particularly by Lemmon.

Indeed, it’s Lemmon’s performance here which ultimately kept me vitally engaged in the story. While his character starts off like simply a variation on the fun-loving jokesters he so often portrayed, Lemmon quickly invests his “Joe Clay” with far more depth and pathos than one might expect. We fully sympathize with the frustrations he feels in his job, and understand how the social drinking he’s expected to engage in likely accelerated his addictive approach to alcohol. When he’s first introduced on-screen, he’s already so immersed in destructive drinking patterns (without realizing it) that we can’t help wondering why Remick doesn’t react with a bit more concern — except for the fact that she appears to love him unconditionally. Indeed, it’s to Miller’s credit that so much care is taken to fully establish Lemmon and Remick’s characters as romantic individuals who fall deeply in love with one another before communal drinking enters the scene; they are clearly soulmates, which helps to ground the film as a tragic love story, first and foremost.

Lemmon’s inevitable next step is turning his beloved teetotalling wife on to boozing, in a much more disturbingly manipulative way than happens, for instance, between Al Pacino and Kitty Winn’s characters in 1971’s The Panic in Needle Park (wherein Winn is curious enough to try heroin herself, but is never pushed). Miller’s point, we learn, is that alcoholics will always try to push or guilt the ones they love into joining them — and that’s what perhaps remains most unique about this cinematic presentation of alcoholism: the way we witness its effects on a mutually drinking couple, not just an individual. To that end, Remick’s descent into alcoholism comes across as less authentic than Lemmon’s, perhaps due to the stage-bound nature of the screenplay, which skips across enormous periods of time. We see Remick tentatively joining her husband in a hard drink for the first time, and then suddenly alcohol has become so second-nature in their household that it’s causing irreparable damage. From what I’ve heard (and seen, in brief snippets), Piper Laurie — star of the original teleplay — was a bit more effective at portraying this undeniably complex character (though Remick remains sympathetic throughout, and certainly gives an impassioned performance).

Speaking of the teleplay, kudos must be given for the decision to retain the story’s original bleak yet realistic ending. It’s a respectful finale to the hard-hitting ride we’ve engaged in, and one appreciates the honesty it offers in its assessment of the chances for recovery. To that end, along with I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955), it provides one of the earliest on-screen depictions of Alcoholics Anonymous as a viable option for alcoholics with nowhere left to turn (and Jack Klugman turns in a fine, subtle, believable performance as Lemmon’s AA mentor, patiently counseling him through the worst of his challenging decisions). It’s refreshing to finally hear alcoholism acknowledged as the mysterious addiction it is; what a positive shift from the days when alcoholic characters such as Ray Milland’s Don Birnam in The Lost Weekend (1945), or Susan Hayward’s Angie Conway in Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947), were — out of sheer ignorance — implicitly condemned for their behavior.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jack Lemmon as Joe
  • Lee Remick as Kirsten
  • Jack Klugman as Joe’s AA mentor, Jim
  • A powerful portrait of the devastation wreaked by alcoholism on a marriage
  • Gorgeous b&w cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for Lemmon’s powerhouse performance, and as director Blake Edwards’ most heartfelt work.

Categories

Links:

Cape Fear (1962)

Cape Fear (1962)

“A type like that is an animal — so you’ve got to fight him like an animal.”

Synopsis:
A sexually deviant sociopath (Robert Mitchum) stalks the wife (Polly Bergen) and daughter (Lori Martin) of the lawyer (Gregory Peck) who testified against him eight years earlier; when Peck’s attempt to secure protection from a policeman (Martin Balsam) and a private investigator (Telly Savalas) fail to keep Mitchum away from his family, he resorts to more violent tactics.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary’s review of this “tense, often uncomfortable melodrama” (remade in 1991 by Martin Scorsese) is quite brief; he simply mentions that “the climax is extremely suspenseful”, and that “in a role almost as creepy as his bogus preacher in Night of the Hunter [1955], Mitchum plays one of the screen’s first sexual sadists”. Indeed, it was reviewing NOTH recently that prompted me to revisit this later film, simply out of curiosity to see how Mitchum’s two performances compare — and I must say I believe that Mitchum’s Max Cady is the “creepier” of the two. Cady is a terrifyingly brutal bastard, an intelligent but deluded and narcissistic sociopath who uses humans as fodder for a sick scenario of vengeance he’s playing out in his head. Indeed, the entire storyline for Cape Fear is a cat-and-mouse affair, with Mitchum slyly licking his paws and waiting for the moment when he knows he’ll be able to “pounce” on his vulnerable prey.

We’re shown exactly what kind of a self-centered bastard Mitchum is during the opening sequence, as he jostles a woman carrying a stack of books, and walks right past her rather than stopping to help her pick them up. Later, an encounter between Mitchum and a “loose” woman (Barrie Chase) he picks up at a bar — then attacks so viciously she’s scared to say a word to the authorities — is used to excellent effect, indicating to us exactly the level of violence and sexual terror Mitchum is capable of inflicting; while the “attack” itself isn’t shown explicitly, the way in which director J. Lee Thompson shows both the terrifying moments beforehand, and Chase’s brutalized appearance after, are enough to convince us that Mitchum is someone of whom to be very, very scared. Meanwhile, Bernard Herrmann provides an effectively creepy film score, and accomplished DP Sam Leavitt’s b&w cinematography is consistently atmospheric.

With all of this said, I personally find Cape Fear too disturbing a film to recommend as more than a “once-must” thriller. While the entire story is told remarkably effectively, who wants to subject themselves to this kind of vicarious torture more than once? I know there are horror fans who live for the opportunity to exist with their hearts perpetually in their throats; but the type of menace offered up here is simply too freaky for my blood. The basic premise of the screenplay is that the law won’t — or can’t — protect citizens from an uncommitted crime, no matter how obvious the threat. To that end, as noted by Richard Scheib, Cape Fear is notable as “the first of a subgenre of films that placed the nuclear family and the values of ordinary American decency up against a wall”, with “direct echoes… found in films like Straw Dogs (1971) [and] Dirty Harry (1971).” While it may be astonishing to see Peck — starring as a pacifist lawyer in the same year’s To Kill a Mockingbird — resort to violence to protect his own family, one seriously can’t blame him.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Robert Mitchum as Max Cady
  • Atmospheric, noir-ish cinematography


  • Bernard Herrmann’s score

Must See?
Yes, as a powerful “once-must” thriller.

Categories

Links:

Invisible Boy, The (1957)

Invisible Boy, The (1957)

“Don’t make such a fuss; he’s probably doing this just to get attention.”

Synopsis:
A young boy (Richard Eyer) whose scientist father (Philip Abbott) is obsessed with building a Super Computer befriends a time-traveling robot named Robby, who becomes brainwashed by the Computer into attempting to dominate the Earth.

Genres:

Review:
Forever known as the film that was made simply to get more mileage out of the expensive robot built for Forbidden Planet (1956), The Invisible Boy remains an odd little curio in its own right. Clearly a B-level production on many counts, much about the film comes across as simply laughable — such as the special effects used when the title character becomes invisible: i.e., his clothes simply sit there in the same spot as he contemplates his new status (wouldn’t he wriggle around at least a LITTLE bit?); and if Robby the Robot dictates that everything within Eyer’s nearby “electromagnetic field” becomes invisible, too, why doesn’t the spoon he uses to noisily slurp soup in front of his parents disappear? However, many other elements about the film’s preposterous and convoluted storyline — which at first glance make one nearly guffaw from hysterics — turn out to have a “deeper” meaning, if you’re looking for it.

In essence, this entire film could be viewed as Eyer’s dream, given that he falls asleep not too far into the storyline, and such is the convention that we’ve learned to expect in movies — except…

(sorry for the spoiler; it’s relatively important to my argument here)

… he never “wakes up” at the end, thus leaving the situation intentionally (?) vague. As argued by one user on IMDb, Timmie (Eyer) not only becomes literally invisible; he starts off as “invisible” to his overworking father, who — as clearly established during the film’s opening sequences — views his non-mathematically-minded son as a huge disappointment. Thus, everything that happens after Timmie falls asleep in front of the Super Computer (where his father has placed him for some extra tutoring) could be seen as simply a manifestation of Timmie’s fantasies. He’s finally able to beat his father at chess; he manipulates a robot — his new best friend — into doing his bidding (sending him up in a kite), even when this goes against the robot’s prime directive to not place any human in harm’s way; and his parents’ reactions to his invisibility are ridiculously ho hum: “Well, honey, these things all pass away in time”, says his father to his stereotypically demure ’50s wife (Diane Brewster). !!!

Indeed, everything about Timmie’s invisibility and the subsequent drama that ensues — involving a fairly serious amount of threat to Timmie’s very existence, not to mention the state of the Free World — occurs on a level that one soon realizes is not merely laughably implausible, but very much from a child’s perspective. I won’t say more here, since I’ve already spoiled enough, but suffice it to say that if you watch the film from this point of view, you may find yourself “appreciating” it on an entirely different level. In fact, it’s enough of a unique approach to the material that I found myself shifting my vote to “must see” for this reason alone; otherwise I would simply relegate it to a movie of minor historical interest for science fiction fans.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A curiously clever, albeit undeniably low-budget, twist on a classic ’50s sci-fi tale

Must See?
Yes, as an unusual sci fi curio.

Categories

Links:

Badman’s Country (1958)

Badman’s Country (1958)

“I saw it today, Pat. Even without your badge, you were the lawman. You took over.”

Synopsis:
Retired sheriff Pat Garrett (George Montgomery) intends to marry his sweetheart (Karin Booth) and head to California, but is waylaid in Abilene, Kansas when notorious outlaw “Sundance” (Russell Johnson) and two cohorts appear in town, in anticipation of Butch Cassidy (Neville Brand) and his Wild Bunch Gang robbing a train headed straight towards them.

Genres:

Review:
When reading about this little-seen B-western (helmed by prolific B-director Fred F. Sears) on IMDb, one immediately notes in the “Goofs” section that “Although the plot has well-known actual western figures Pat Garrett, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Buffalo Bill fighting Butch Cassidy’s gang, in reality by the time Cassidy had gathered his now-famous Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, Garrett was dead, Buffalo Bill was touring in his Wild West show, Earp was prospecting for gold in Alaska and Masterson was a sportswriter for a newspaper in New York City.” Clearly, one is not meant to view this fantastical western as anything close to a biopic about fabled sheriff Pat Garrett (best known for shooting Billy the Kid); instead, it should be seen as simply a creative reimagining of what might happen to someone like Garrett, eager to finally settle down with his longtime sweetheart, but pulled into assisting with the next notorious gang of criminals to arrive on the western landscape. Can a man seemingly born to defend really leave the scene when he’s most needed? This film, naturally, suggests otherwise (see the quote selected above).

Ultimately, Badman’s Country come across like a B-level variation on High Noon, with Garrett calling upon a reluctant band of citizens to help him fight the corruption encroaching on their town. In this case, however, he also happens to have the the handy assistance of two other big name allies — Bat Masterson (Gregory Walcott) and Wyatt Earp (Buster Crabbe) — as well as moral support from Buffalo Bill Cody (Malcolm Atterbury), who conveniently (ahem) happens to be in town. Naturally, it’s fairly predictable how everything will turn out, but director Sears generates a fair amount of tension throughout, and keeps things moving at a fast clip (the film is only 68 minutes long, and ends with a nicely handled shootout). My favorite line (spoken by Atterbury as Cody, during the final shootout): “I sure wish they were buffalo; can’t make a rug out of an outlaw!”

Regarding the cast and crew, I feel guilty admitting that I found Karin Booth (a fairly unimpressive actress) a tad too old in appearance to be playing the female love interest for Montgomery (in real life, they were both 42; goes to show what years of unrealistic cinematic influence have done to me). Meanwhile, Ukranian-American former heavyweight boxer Montgomery is appropriately stalwart and handsome in the lead role (check out Trivia on IMDb for some fascinating tidbits about his life), and Neville Brand — who played Butch Cassidy in a different western, The Three Outlaws, just two years earlier — reprises that role here (though weirdly enough, he doesn’t make much of an impression; he only manages to squeeze in one of his characteristic sneers). Perhaps most jarring is seeing Russell Johnson — forever branded in audiences’ minds as The Professor from “Gilligan’s Island” — in an uncharacteristically baddie role as Sundance (!). Sadly, director Sears died young (at the age of 44), but helmed no less than 52 features in a variety of genres for Columbia Pictures; his best known picture was Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An effectively executed B-western

Must See?
No, though Western fans certainly won’t find it a waste of time.

Links:

Child Under a Leaf (1974)

Child Under a Leaf (1974)

“He might come and try to take our baby away; so I’d have to kill him.”

Synopsis:
A woman (Dyan Cannon) in a loveless marriage has a child with her lover (Donald Pilon), but lives in fear of her abusive husband (Joseph Campanella) finding out the baby isn’t his.

Genres:

Review:
Peary reached a new all-time low in his inexplicable recommendation of this awful romantic melodrama (by writer/director/editor George Bloomfield) in his book. It’s actually difficult to know where to begin in critiquing it — it’s that uniformly terrible. The innocuous-sounding storyline — how could one get something so straightforward so wrong? — is botched from start to finish, as the mood (along with Francis Lai’s schizophrenic soundtrack) shifts from thriller (is Cannon’s husband stalking her?) to vaguely-European, wannabe-languorous-soft-filter romance (complete with a meadow as the lovers’ favored meeting place). We’re given no exposition at all — the film cuts immediately from some creepy looking shots-through-a-window in the first few minutes, to Cannon off jauntily trysting with her lover, leading us to question (among other things), When and how did she turn to him? What was her marriage with her “hideous” husband originally like, and when and why did it go sour? We never find out. Instead, the primary function of the screenplay seems to be simply to show us how deeply enamored these two insipid individuals are with both each other and with the love child they’ve created.

To that end, there’s a seemingly endless scene in which Cannon and Pilon make gaga eyes at their baby, who lies prone on (I kid you not) piles of white fur. Later, Cannon exposes her milk-engorged breast to Pilon, as part of their foreplay — in fact, come to think of it, the entire film exists basically on the level of a porn flick, which may explain why Peary includes it in his book. Cannon does expose some bare flesh every now and then, after all, so maybe that was reason enough for him to be a fan.

[Is it obvious yet how irritated I am at being “forced” to sit through this one? I’m especially annoyed that no explanatory code or review was provided to give us a sense of WHY it’s included in GFTFF.]

At any rate, tension is clearly meant to build in the screenplay from both Pilon’s intermittent threats to kill Cannon’s husband (he buys a gun near the beginning) and Campanella’s sinister hints that he believes the baby in his household isn’t really his. But do these narrative threads lead anywhere logical? Not a chance. Instead, the inevitable tragedy that ultimately ensues makes little sense. Meanwhile, the egregious fetishization of an infant as an objet d’amour between the two illicit lovers may be my biggest overall complaint about the film (and that’s saying a lot); this baby clearly exists simply as a “clever” narrative device, physical “proof” of the narcissistic lovers’ illicit bond.

Note: The tagline listed on IMDb — “A Motion Picture for Lovers Who Have Won or Lost…And Lovers Who Have Yet to Win or Lose!” — begins to hint at the campy humor one MIGHT find if stretching hard enough.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
Not a single thing.

Must See?
No; head the opposite direction if you happen to see this one coming your way.

Links:

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957)

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957)

“I never even lived before. Not really lived before, inside.”

Synopsis:
During World War II, a Marine (Robert Mitchum) drifts ashore onto a seemingly deserted South Pacific island, where he encounters its lone inhabitant: a stranded nun (Deborah Kerr). As they struggle to survive and devise a plan for escape, they develop a deep fondness for one another — but will Mitchum respect Kerr’s spiritual vows?

Genres:

Review:
The first of Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum’s on-screen pairings (in 1960, they also co-starred in both The Sundowners and The Green is Greener) was this unusual “romance” about a Marine and a nun bonding during a time of crisis. Such a scenario (ripe for exploitation, which co-writer/director John Huston masterfully avoids) could easily go in any number of different directions — but what’s so refreshing about this story is its ultimate simplicity. It’s essentially a character-driven relationship piece, set within the chaotic arena of war; other than a few minutes showing a pair of Japanese soldiers interacting with one another (their dialogue isn’t translated), and a couple of solitary lines by soldiers much later in the film, Mitchum and Kerr remain the sole speaking actors in the movie — thus, it’s the evolution of their interactions, coupled with their struggle to survive a seemingly impossible situation, that keeps us glued to the screen.

Mitchum reportedly named this a personal favorite among the many roles he played, and his character here comes across as remarkably sympathetic. We ache for this rough-hewn man — an orphan who found a home with the Marines — as he opens up his heart for the first time to Kerr’s impossibly kind nun. Kerr’s character is a bit more enigmatic (I believe we’re meant to relate to Mitchum as the central protagonist, rather then Kerr), but she does a fine job exhibiting both her enduring spiritual resolve and her growing fondness for Mitchum. Much like in The Nun’s Story (1959) with Audrey Hepburn, we wonder what kind of a decision this beautiful, strong-willed young nun will ultimately make in the face of competing desires.

Note: I’m not especially fond of this film’s title, which makes it sound like a comedy rather than the somewhat serious drama it really is. I understand its deeper meaning (“heaven”, or God, will know what transpires between the nun and Mitchum, even in their seeming isolation), but one can’t help immediately “reading” the title as a whimsical British turn of phrase instead.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Robert Mitchum as Corporal Allison
  • Deborah Kerr as Sister Angela (a.k.a. “Ma’am”) (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
  • Excellent use of a natural island setting
  • A fine, unconventional “love” story

Must See?
Yes, as an enjoyably character-driven film by a master director. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Categories

Links:

Big Beat, The (1958)

Big Beat, The (1958)

“The public is a monster with a very delicate palate. If it doesn’t like what you feed it — off comes the arm!”

Synopsis:
The son (William Reynolds) of a “square” music producer (Bill Goodwin) tries to sign on some hot rock ‘n roll bands, with the help of his beautiful secretary (Andra Martin); meanwhile, a popular singer (Gogi Grant) desperate for a life of domesticity tries everything she can to convince her boyfriend (Jeffrey Stone), also a music producer, to marry her.

Genres:

Review:
Peary is clearly a no-holds-barred fan of ’50s rock music, given how many obscure titles in this “genre” he lists in his book (presumably because of the time-capsule glimpse they afford of various performers in their prime). The Peary-reviewed titles Rock, Rock, Rock! and Rock Around the Clock were released in 1956, but by the time 1958 rolled around, apparently such films had already become ripe for unintentional satirizing, with Peary himself labeling this one a “Camp Classic”. While both the former titles had reasonably interesting and/or legitimate narratives stringing the musical numbers along, the storyline here is laughable in both its simplicity and its datedness. Reynolds’ attempt to convince his father (and the rest of the world) that rock ‘n roll is where it’s at passes muster, sort of; however, the insipid subplot about erstwhile musical phenomenon Gogi Grant’s desperate desire to leave behind her successful career for marriage with the extraordinarily pillish Stone is simply infuriating — especially given that just about every other character in the film (except Stone himself) seems onboard with the idea: “Now listen — you take her to dinner and either get her a recording contract or her name on a marriage license!”

Meanwhile, what may draw curious modern-day film fanatics in to this film is the VERY odd casting of Hans Conreid and Rose Marie in supporting roles; they perform one number together during a party scene that really will have you scratching your head as you wonder how in the world it possibly fits into the rest of the proceedings. (Conreid turns out to play a pivotal role in the film’s denouement, so I guess that justifies his presence at least…). Otherwise, it’s clearly the “legitimate” musical acts that were meant to draw audiences at the time into the theater — but there are pathetically few on display; the best (by Fats Domino and the Mills Brothers) are over within the first 15 minutes of the film. Chances are you’ll find yourself hard-pressed to care about much of anything that happens thereafter in this clunker.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A couple of enjoyable rock ‘n roll ditties (but not nearly enough)

  • The truly surreal musical sequence with Rose Marie and Hans Conreid — wtf?

Must See?
No; don’t bother seeking this one out. Listed as a Camp Classic in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Miracle Worker, The (1962)

Miracle Worker, The (1962)

“It has a name; the name stands for the thing.”

Synopsis:
A young girl (Patty Duke) who became deaf and blind during her infancy is coddled by her well-meaning parents (Victor Jory and Inga Swenson), who are unable to discipline her. When a headstrong teacher named Anne Sullivan (Anne Bancroft) comes to work with Helen (Duke) and teach her language, she finds herself facing an uphill battle.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that while “Arthur Penn’s direction of William Gibson’s screen adaptation of his play is a bit stagy”, the film itself is nonetheless “still powerful” — indeed, I found it utterly gripping from start to finish. In his review, Peary argues that this movie “should be more significant to feminist film criticism”, given that it’s ultimately about “one female helping another female” to “rip free from society’s constraints”. Bancroft’s portrayal of Anne Sullivan as a “strong, independent-minded woman” who “refus[es] to be handicapped by her sex”, and “who strives to reach her potential in her profession”, is especially astonishing considering the time period and location in which the story takes place (postbellum Alabama). Her willingness to consistently and relentlessly stand up for what she believes in, even at risk of losing her job, is nothing short of revolutionary; we can’t help but “respect the mettle, the pugnacity, the grit, and the guts of [her] determined character” (as Peary writes in his Alternate Oscars book).

Speaking of Oscars, Bancroft — reprising her role on Broadway — deservedly won one for her work here, and Peary acknowledges the wisdom of this choice in Alternate Oscars, where he similarly offers Bancroft the award. He confesses to liking “Bancroft’s slight smiles, [the] hints that [her] Annie knows she has a touch of madness”, which is “fine with her because, as she tells the Kellers, the madness is part of the strength she developed while growing up in an asylum”; indeed “only a slightly mad woman would speak to her employers as bluntly as she does” (and my, how refreshing this is to witness!). Just as exceptional as Bancroft’s performance, however, is that given by Patty Duke (also reprising her Broadway role), playing Helen Keller with “amazing intelligence and strength”. Duke and Bancroft are remarkably physical and impassioned in their interactions with one another; one feels exhausted simply watching them on-screen, let alone imagining the fortitude it took to execute their “long and complexly choreographed” “knock-about battles”. Peary accurately likens their work to the “skill of great silent comediennes doing wild, intricate slapstick” — though the mood in this case is usually anything but humorous.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan
  • Patty Duke as Helen Keller
  • Many powerful, memorable scenes
  • Strong direction by Penn
  • Fine supporting performances by Jory, Swenson, and Andrew Prine as Keller’s family members

Must See?
Yes, as a powerfully acted, Oscar-winning classic.

Categories

Links:

Magnificent Obsession (1935)

Magnificent Obsession (1935)

“He’s dead, I’m alive — we’re both out of luck.”

Synopsis:
A wealthy playboy (Robert Taylor) pursues the beautiful widow (Irene Dunne) of a beloved doctor, accidentally prompting an accident that causes her to lose her sight. He conceals his identity and befriends her as she adapts to a world of blindness; soon the two fall in love.

Genres:

Review:
Primarily remembered today as the original version of Douglas Sirk’s 1954 Technicolor remake, this romantic melodrama is notable as the film which gave matinee idol Robert Taylor his breakthrough role — and it’s easy to see why audiences went gaga over him. Tall, charismatic, and impossibly handsome (his nickname was “The Man with the Perfect Profile”), he nicely handles his character’s transformation from reckless playboy to chastened suitor (and eventually to mature doctor). The “spiritual” element of his transformation — made much more overt in Sirk’s version — is toned down here; indeed, director John Stahl exercises admirable restraint with the undeniably melodramatic material, doing his best to make the storyline feel relatively believable. (With that said, some will naturally prefer the direction in which Sirk took the material, which provides an entirely different cinematic experience altogether.) Dunne, interestingly, isn’t all that memorable here. Unlike Wyman’s counterpart in the 1954 film, she’s at least appropriately young and beautiful — but she really functions as Taylor’s foil; it’s his film all the way.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Robert Taylor as Bob Merrick

Must See?
No, though it’s strongly recommended simply to see Taylor’s star-making turn. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Magnificent Obsession (1954)

Magnificent Obsession (1954)

“Once you find the way, you’ll be bound. It will obsess you, but believe me, it will be a magnificent obsession.”

Synopsis:
A reckless playboy (Rock Hudson) involved in a boating accident pursues the widow (Jane Wyman) of a beloved doctor whose life was lost when Hudson was using the only resuscitation device available. When he accidentally causes Wyman to lose her sight, he seeks solace and guidance from a kind sculptor (Otto Kruger), who urges him to adapt the deceased doctor’s spiritual practice of secretive philanthropy. Soon Hudson is pursuing Wyman from a new perspective, under an assumed identity — much to the chagrin of her protective stepdaughter (Barbara Rush) and best friend (Agnes Moorehead).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that while it’s “not prime Sirk”, this “glossy, melodramatic remake of the 1935 John Stahl classic” is nonetheless “an enjoyable tearjerker” featuring “an earnest performance by Hudson” in his breakthrough role. Peary gives away a few too many spoilers in his review for me to quote it more extensively, but suffice it to say that he calls out the film’s Christian/spiritual underpinnings, which were a prominent feature of the source novel by minister Lloyd C. Douglas. In his much-more-cynical review, DVD Savant refers to the screenplay as “a rickety stack of accidents and ironies”, the dialogue as “painfully trite and often unintentionally funny”, and the underlying moral thrust — which he believes is corrupt — as “Presbyterian Guilt, [or] an exaggerated sense of responsibility”; he’s clearly not a fan of the film (or the story). My position lies somewhere in between both perspectives. Unless you buy into Sirk’s unique sensibility, you’re likely to find the entire film just a skosh removed from high camp — which is not to say you won’t enjoy some of its more melodramatic moments. There’s something undeniably moving about seeing a playboy genuinely reformed — and I found Hudson’s attraction to Wyman much more believable here than in their follow-up film, All That Heaven Allows. While this one is ultimately only must-see for Sirk completists, film fanatics will probably enjoy seeing it at least once.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Russell Metty’s rich Technicolor cinematography

Must See?
No, though film fanatics will likely be curious to see the first of Sirk’s most iconic mid-century melodramas.

Links: