Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)

Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)

“I can’t give up just because I made a few mistakes; I’ve gotta keep going!”

A frumpy housewife (Shirley Booth) looks after her one-year-sober husband (Burt Lancaster) while welcoming a college-age boarder (Terry Moore) to their house — but Moore’s dalliances with an amorous athlete (Richard Jaeckel) upset Lancaster’s hard-won equilibrium.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alcoholism and Drug Addiction
  • Burt Lancaster Films
  • Housewives
  • Marital Problems
  • Play Adaptations
  • Richard Jaeckel Films
  • Terry Moore Films

Theatrical director Daniel Mann made his cinematic debut with this adaptation of William Inge’s play, earning Booth an Oscar in her first significant screen role. It tells a compact, quietly tense tale of a childless woman eager for company and stimulation of any kind, and a man struggling to stay “dry” by attending AA meetings, going to work as a chiropractor, and co-existing with his kind yet desperately lonely and insecure wife. The introduction of Moore into this couple’s predictable lives most definitely tips the balances — though not necessarily in ways we’d expect. As DVD Savant writes, in addition to providing an intriguing “early look at the AA culture, with its positive method for helping alcoholics through support groups”, it shows us how “Doc Delaney [Lancaster] goes through his days dour and methodical, conscious of everything he does and says as if convinced some invisible demon will appear to send him back to the bottle” — in other words, engaging in the highly tenuous work of staying sober moment to moment. All the key players give fine performances, and while we sense that things are headed in a bad direction, we’re kept authentically invested in how they will ultimately resolve.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Shirley Booth as Lola
  • Terry Moore as Marie
  • Burt Lancaster as Doc Delaney/”Daddy”
  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
Yes, once, for the performances.


  • Oscar Winner or Nominee


One thought on “Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)

  1. A once-must – for its place in cinema history, its subject matter and its exploration of sexual / marital attitudes.

    Inge was, of course, influential in the way he popularized the view of the darker and less sentimental side of midwesterners. It’s proof of how slowly things change when we realize that large pockets of the midwest are still as Inge originally presented them.

    If Booth’s performance is a bit irksome, that’s due to her character’s arrested development, something she shares with Lancaster’s Doc for most of the film. It’s a little unsettling watching these two living vicariously through Moore’s Marie and her two boyfriends.

    Fortunately, the conclusion is as hopeful as possible under the circumstances.

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