“You got it for free in the hospital ward, Johnny, but Mother’s no charity ward — right, Mother?”
War hero Johnny (Don Murray) hides his heroin addiction from his pregnant wife (Eva Marie Saint) and estranged father (Lloyd Nolan), while relying on his brother Polo (Anthony Franciosa) for financial and emotional support. Meanwhile, Johnny’s supplier — nicknamed “Mother” (Henry Silva) — demands an immediate back payment of $500, while Nolan wrongly blames Polo for “losing” the $2500 he had promised to loan him.
Fred Zinnemann’s adaptation of Michael V. Gazzo’s play about a deeply troubled Korean war hero comes across today as earnest but irredeemably dated and stagy. Originally starring Shelley Winters and Ben Gazzara, Gazzo’s play was apparently an eye-opener for 1950s audiences who were unaccustomed to seeing drug addiction dealt with so bluntly; today, however, Murray’s angst-ridden performance comes across as campy rather than authentic; Silva’s portrayal as “Mother” is stereotypically ruthless; and the script often sounds like an after-school special (near the end of the film, Saint says to Murray, “There’s a place in Kentucky for people like you…”). In addition, Zinnemann’s direction is decidedly stagy, with the camera often stuck in one uninspired position for far too long. Despite its flaws, however, the film is at least partially redeemed by Saint and Franciosa, who are sympathetic — albeit clueless (Saint) or enabling (Franciosa) — protagonists. Also effective is Nolan as the brothers’ gruff, estranged dad; but — as many critics have noted — his strained relationship with his sons is insufficiently explored.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Anthony Franciosa as Polo
- Eva Marie Saint as Celia
- Lloyd Nolan as Johnny and Polo’s father
No, but it’s worth viewing once.