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, 5 April 2011

Women in the '50s: Hilda and Claudelle ...

Two interesting movies on women's roles in the '50s - the independent [or is she?] Hilda and the trampy Claudelle: Take it away girls:
HILDA CRANE – I knew nothing about this 1956 film [a rarity indeed!] apart from that it starred Jean Simmons, so it was a complete surprise for me. We are back in those repressive, square mid-’50s as Hilda returns to her small town, defeated after her years in New York. This begins like a mix of CLASH BY NIGHT with Stanwyck also returning to her hometown, and ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS with the mother going to meet the train in another viciously small-minded town.

It turns out Hilda has two failed marriages behind her while still in her 20s, and of course like all women then dresses just like her mother: fur coat, gloves, little hats, and of course smokes incessantly. It makes for a fascinating social document. This is a small-scale story, with basically only 5 characters, but gets the full Fox Cinemascope and De Luxe Colour treatment, as directed and scripted (from a play – its very talky with reams of dialogue) by Philip Dunne. Simmons though, just after GUYS AND DOLLS seems too fresh and young, Hilda Crane is really a Stanwyck type (though she was too old by then – a year or two later it surely would have gone to Fox’s new favourite, Joanne Woodward).

This though should be much better known by those who study these things as a key woman’s film of the ‘50s depicting how they feel about themselves and their place in society. Hilda though she dresses like her mother sees herself as modern woman but her choices are limited (and don’t seem to include work). Luckily her old boyfriend Guy Madison is on hand and stills want to marry her – marriage number three for Hilda! – while her old college professor, French Jean-Pierre Aumont, now a successful writer, also wants her but not to marry her. His type don’t marry “experienced” women like Hilda, but he wants her as a mistress or as he puts it “a courtesan”. Hilda though is honest and does not want that, or the life her mother chose, to settle for respectability and keeping up appearances and an ordered existence. Mother is Judith Evelyn and her disappointed face explains everything about her – while Guy’s mother is a monstrously vile creation by Evelyn Varden who does not want her son to marry Hilda and will do anything to stop the wedding – she certainly succeeds in spoiling the big day! Guy is pure teak here as the solid boyfriend while Aumont plays the cad, and Jean is certainly at her peak.

I just had to include this lovely picture of Jean:
CLAUDELLE INGLISH (now called YOUNG AND EAGER on it’s IMDB page! – though WILD IN THE COUNTRY would be the perfect title…) – is a more modern (1961) look at a liberated (or is she?) miss and it follows on from the success of those teen hits like PARRISH and SUSAN SLADE. This though is Erskine Caldwell territory set in the backwoods where the local yokels (and their fathers!) are all agog over young Claudelle, and the local rich landowner who is depicted as an oaf (Claude Akins) also wants her. Claudelle starts out pure and virginal as she is courted by Chad Everett, but after he goes into the army he jilts her, and she seeks her vengeance by going out with all and sundry and receiving presents from them. Mom and Dad are reliable Arthur Kennedy and Constance Ford (re-united from A SUMMER PLACE). It is a good role for Kennedy which he inhabits nicely, and Ford depicts another of her nightmare mothers, here as the dreary fed-up wife tired of being poor, so she pushes Claudelle into the arms of Akins, and tries to take her place (in a toe-curling scene) when Claudelle is not interested in him. Things come to a climax with a gun, but it is all hilariously melodramatic and way over the top. Diane McBain, a starlet of the era, is nice as Claudelle but if she such a vamp perhaps a more exotic type, perhaps a young Ann-Margret, would be more suitable. McBain really seems a poor man’s Sandra Dee. It is all assembled by reliable studio hack Gordon Douglas (who also entertained us with his Carroll Baker movies SYLVIA and the HARLOW abomination - see my reviews at Trash label).

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