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.

Friday, 7 June 2013

More William Inge ...

Come Back Little Sheba (1952) / The Dark At The Top Of The Stairs (1960)

Finally, I get to see COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA, despite having the dvd filed away for years! - as it fits in with my current William Inge kick (THE STRIPPER is reviewd below). This is another perfect early '50s black and white drama, a successful play, and won the Academy Award as best actress for its star Shirley Booth (winning it over Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Susan Hayward emoting in WITH A SONG IN MY HEART and marvellous Julie Harris as THE MEMBER OF THE WIEDDING).

Based on William Inge's classic play COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA is the stirring tale of a life-weary couple who rescue hope from the ruins of the past. Shirley Booth stars as Lola, a slovenly housewife to Doc Delaney (Burt Lancaster) a recovering alcoholic. The Delaney's life is duill and unchanging, but takes a dramatic turn when the couple take in a charming boarder, Marie (Terry Moore). Marie becomes the daughter the Delaneys never had. But when Marie takes up with a boorish boyfriend Doc descends into a jealous tailspin and must once again face the temptations of the bottle. An unforgettable film shimmering with life-truths and dramatic intensity that also nabbed a nomination for best editing.

The humdrum life of the Delaneys is caught perfect, in Daniel Mann's film, as produced by Hal Wallis. Lola is a gift of a part, she can be supremely irritating with her constant chatter, but Booth shades her many facets perfectly, whether pining after her lost dog, Sheba, or coping with Doc in one of his moods, like when he hits the bottle again and gets that knife .... Terry Moore is ideal here as the nice young girl, and Richard Jaeckel scores as the boy .... Burt Lancaster again shows what a powerhouse actor he is, as in THE ROSE TATTOO opposite another Oscar winner Anna Magnani, contrasting these serious roles with his more matinee fare of the time.

As the story develops we understand why the Delaneys are the way they are. Its pure Inge territory here, and interesting to contrast with Tennessee Williams' A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, about another middle-aged couple and the young girl coming between them, as in Williams view, Eddie Carbone (Raf Vallone) no longer desires his homely wife (Maureen Stapleton) and wants the step-daughter himself and is incensed when she takes up with young Jean Sorel, as in Lumet's 1961 film, which leads to tragedy all round. There is a more optimistic ending in the Inge play and film. Booth was an extraordinary actress who only made a few films, I would love to see her THE MATCHMAKER from 1958 (with young McLaine and Perkins) [I have just sourced a cheap copy on Amazon], as she must have been an ideal Dolly Levi then. (Several of her stage roles were filmed by Katharine Hepburn: THE TIME OF THE CUCKOO as SUMMERTIME, and DESK SET). 
THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS was another Inge success, I remember its release in 1960, and again it contains some marvellous performances, particularly by Angela Lansbury, Eve Arden and the young Shirley Knight. The lead couple are Robert Preston (firing on all cylinders as usual, in a role rather like his THE MUSIC MAN in 1962) and Dorothy McGuire as his wife.

In Oklahoma in the 1920s, Ruben Flood loses his job as a traveling salesman, when the company goes bankrupt. This adds to his worries at home. His wife Cora is frigid because of trying to make ends meet. His teenage daughter Reenie is afraid of going out on dates, but eventually makes friends with a troubled Jewish boy Sammy, and his son is a mama's boy. He finally storms out of the house when Cora falsely accuses him of having an affair with Mavis Pruitt.

That's just for openers. The 1920s Midwest is nicely depicted and the usual Inge small town life and concerns. Preston is the still virile husband whose wife rejects his early morning advances before he heads off on a week out of town, then he loses his job while she buys a new dress for their daughter's college dance... she (Knight) meets that nice Jewish boy .... Cora, the troubled wife, invites her droll but exasperating sister Lottie (Eve Arden, to the manner born) to dinner, with her hen-pecked husband, Lottie too reveals her own problems.  Ruben has been seeking comfort from local widow Mavis Pruitt - 
Angela Lansbury, never better - the widow woman in her prime who still has her needs, but settles for what she can get and realises that Ruben is a family man. There is that lovely scene as she advises Cora that if she will not make love with her husband then other women like her are willing to ..... McGuire, whom one does not usually think of in connection with leading '50s actresses, has another lovely role here, as a devoted wife, as in FRIENDLY PERSUASION opposite Cooper in '56, and the mother in SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON, as well as those wives and mothers in A SUMMER PLACE, SUSAN SLADE (as per reviews at Troy Donahue label),  and others, and two leads with Clifton Webb in THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN and THE REMARKABLE MR PENNYPACKER, in 1959 - that one is coming up soon.  

Delbert Mann's film of Inge's play is a marvellously engrossing film - my favourite Inge, it is not just a nostalgia piece, but captures the changing times, sexual repression, anti-Semitism (the country club dance is "restricted" as Shirley Knight's Jewish 
date is brutally told), and snobbery of that kind of Midwest town. 
All the sadness and joy of human life is here, it gets very emotional like the lovely scene between father and daughter, and that nice climax. Lee Kinsolving too scores as the young man, he only lived to be 36. More Inge at reviews of ALL FALL DOWN and BUS RILEY IS BACK IN TOWN (1962, 1965, Trash labels) and THE STRIPPER.  
I find Inge's hits PICNIC and BUS STOP problematic - Holden is too old and Roz Russell too OTT in the former and its all rather too saccharine, whereas that one-dimensional cowboy and his folksy mentor Virgil are just too annoying in the latter, despite Cherie's best efforts,

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