Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Those '50s literary adaptations ...

20th Century Fox turned out a Steinbeck adaptation in 1957 – the long unseen THE WAYWARD BUS – so rare in fact that neither their Jayne Mansfield or Joan Collins boxsets could include it – I think I read that the Steinbeck estate was not releasing it? Surely this was popular on its release, Steinbeck must have been big business after EAST OF EDEN? It is a perfect period piece in black and white and captures that ‘50s world of diners and buses perfectly. Rick Jason is the bus driver, married to diner owner Collins, Jayne is the stripper down on her luck, on the bus to her next engagement, as is travelling salesman Dan Dailey, also down on his luck. It is directed by one Victor Vicas (who?). Jayne is touching here and plays a real character for once and Joan acquits herself ok. An interesting coda though is that on the US dvd of A LETTER TO THREE WIVES there is a documentary on Linda Darnell which includes a test she did in ’57 for the Collins role, with Rick Jason (her co-star from THIS IS MY LOVE) – and she would have been perfect here as the slightly older blowsy wife who hits the bottle – but it was a new decade and Fox went with their new English import! - no wonder poor Linda hit the bottle....

Back to the wonderful world of the 20th Century Fox literary adaptation – usually produced by Jerry Wald and directed by someone like Martin Ritt. Two William Faulkner adaptations have long been near the top of my most wanted list and I finally got to see them last week: THE SOUND AND THE FURY and SANCTUARY. I may be at a disadvantage in not having read the books, but as films they are certainly interesting.
THE SOUND AND THE FURY must be one of the most perfect Deep South sagas of a dysfunctional family barely scraping by. The period detail is laid on with a trowel here and it is all oh so familiar. Very eclectic casting too: Joanne Woodward though is surely too mature for the wayward teenager Quentin (wouldn’t Fox’s other younger contract players like Tuesday Weld or Diane Varsi be more suitable?) Yul Brynner (with hair!) is a strange choice here as the stepson keeping the family together, but one forgets what a compelling presence he is with that distinctive voice; his mother who wants to stay in bed is Francoise Rosay and who else but Ethel Waters for the family servant, who is getting on in years. Add in young Stuart Whitman as Joanne’s rather persistant suitor. Then suddenly something electrifying happens: walking into frame carrying her suitcase is the reason I had wanted to see this for such a long time: Margaret Leighton [below] as Caddy, the mother who had abandoned Woodward as a baby and now wants to come home after years of being a kept woman. Leighton is Blanche Du Bois to the life and one can see she would have been as good as Vivien Leigh in the role. So in all, a fascinating mix of talents even if a rather turgid film. Maybe reading the book first would give one a better understanding of these people?

Also long unseen here, is Tony Richardson’s 1961 film of SANCTUARY which I had wanted to catch up with for Lee Remick’s performance as Temple Drake. Bradford Dillman plays her husband and Yves Montand (fresh from Marilyn Monroe and LET’S MAKE LOVE) as the bootlegger Candyman who rapes her. Blues singer Odetta is also in the cast. Remick is as fascinating as ever as the tease who takes to sex and booze, and that remote to us now 20s era of flappers and the Charleston is well conveyed. The story is bizarre though with the death of the baby – again, perhaps a reading of the book would be useful. An odd choice though for director Tony Richardson. Montand has a great 'look' with the hat and the cigarette, but back then the English language continued to defeat him. Remick though is the reason to see this, with lots of lingering close-ups of her.

Perhaps I should now go back and have another look at THE LONG HOT SUMMER or (if I could find it) HEMINGWAY’S ADVENTURES OF A YOUNG MAN?

Over at MGM they were doing literarly adaptations too – one of the rarest being their version of Jack Kerouac, as Arthur Freed produced their 1960 version of the beat world THE SUBTERRANEANS, which has also long been unobtainable here in the UK, and what a fascinating experience it is, being as hilariously awful as one would expect - when I included that poster on it a few weeks ago I did not imagine I would be seeing the movie quite so soon! Again, I have not read the Kerouac book. It starts with struggling writer George Peppard being kept by his uncomprehending mother Anne Seymour who works as a nurse – so he goes off and falls in with some beatniks – the very annoying Roddy McDowell and Janice Rule, with a young Jim Hutton in tow. Leslie Caron struggles to make sense of Mardou (who I understand was black in the novel), but after GIGI etc it seems a poor role for her, and what did Alan Freed see in the material to think it was worth producing?

It’s introduction after the credits paves the way for us to enter this strange new underworld: “This is the story of a new Bohemia – where the young gather to create and destroy. In all times, in all cities, for good or evil, the young Bohemians have been the makers of the future. They are foolish and they have genius. You will find them on the left bank in Paris, in London’s Soho, in Greenwich Village, and here in San Francisco in the area known as the North Beach”. Thus straight society was introduced to the world of the beats back in 1960!

This farrago is assembled by one Ranald MacDougall who also helmed Joan Crawford’s turn as QUEEN BEE and Gina Lollobrigida as the high class hooker in GO NAKED IN THE WORLD, also 1960. We get to see Andre Previn, Gerry Mulligan and Carmen McRae in the nightclub sequence where the (rather mature) beatniks hang out, and there are some nice San Francisco views. Perhaps with the coming release of HOWL there may be a revival of interest in the beat generation?

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