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, 2 July 2013

Newman double: Rally round the sweet bird

After tacking some Brando films recently, here's a brace of Paul Newman ...

SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH. Handsome Chance Wayne never found the Hollywood stardom he craved, but he's always been a star with the ladies. Now back in his sleepy, sweaty Gulf Coast hometown, hes involved with two of them: a washed-up, drug-and-vodka-addled movie queen, and the girl he left behind - and in trouble. Paul Newman, Best Actress nominee Geraldine Page, Rip Torn and Madeline Sherwood recreate their stage roles and Ed Begley won Best Supporting Actor as the town's corrupt political boss in a bravura film version of Tennessee Williams' Broadway hit. Sex, money, hypocrisy, financial and emotional blackmail - familiar elements of Williams' literary realm combine powerfully as Chance battles his private demons in a desperate bid to redeem his wasted life and recapture his lost sweet bird of youth.   
That's the dvd blurb ...

I can't believe I never saw SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH until today - despite getting that Tennessee Williams boxset in 2006, and liking his texts and short stories, and seeing most of the films, I particuarly like NIGHT OF THE IGUANA and THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS STONE (see Williams label). . I had been meaning to watch it all week, and I am totally stunned by Geraldine Page all over again, her Alexandra Del Lago is on the same level as Leigh's Blanche or Taylor's Maggie the Cat. Ignored for stretches of the movie as Newman's Chance Wayne scenario plays out, he is tired of satisfying rich women in the hope that he can find fame in Hollywood. The film suddenly blazes into life with her astonishing telephone call scene when she realises she is a success and not the failure she imagined after taking refuge in vodka, hashish, oxygen masks and young studs… Chance is her latest, after she promises to get him a movie contract ...

Newman though just isn't that interesting here - maybe I only really like him as HUD - and Chance is quite despicable at first, tape-recording Alexandra's ramblings and trying to impress his old crowd with his Hollywood contacts;   we only really feel for him during his "me, me" reactions while Alexandra is on the phone to Winchell.  What was so touching about this SWEET BIRD was the 2006 documentary with the older Madeline Sherwood (excellent again as Begley's mistress) and Shirley Knight (so perfectly beautiful as Heavenly) talking about the film now, and it fills in how compromised the ending is with Heavenly and Chance driving off together after his face is injured - when of course in the original she has been left barren after a hysterectomy contacted via veneral disease from Chance, who is castrated by her family as their revenge - which certainly ends his career as a stud. Mildred Dunnock is also quietly perfect as ever, and Begley is ideal as the venal corrupt Big Daddy figure, with Rip Torn as his malevolent son.
The screen test with Page and Torn (included on the dvd) was fascinating too as they do the terrific phone scene - they were of course married.  I will now have to go back to Tessessee's SUMMER AND SMOKE with Page as Alma, and of course one could never forget her stunning moments in INTERIORS, and will be catching her role in that HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE soon ... SWEET BIRD may be by Tennessee, but was "written for the screen" and directed by Richard Brooks, (how could he have been happy with this false ending imposed on the play?) and who helmed those other 'important' literary translations like Lewis's ELMER GANTRY, Tennessee's CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF,  Dostoevsky's THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV and went on to Capote's IN COLD BLOOD. I liked his early 1954 THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS when he tacked F Scott Fitzgerald, with the impossibly beautiful Elizabeth Taylor, Geraldine Page (1924-1987) here though is a whole fireworks display, and transforms herself into another stunning beauty - like Julie Harris or Kim Stanley she was one of America's greatest stage actresses who was also a movie star. SWEET BIRD may not be the best Williams, but is certainly a compendium of his themes, as like Arthur Miller and William Inge he returns to the same subjects time and time again and creates that recognisable Williams universe.

1962 might have been the best Actress line-up ever - I had Remick as my personal favourite, but now it could well be Page - and with Davis and Hepburn and Bancroft also in the mix, one could almost make it a 5-way win !  SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH was the Williams I did not really know, so its been good to finally see it, it is of course one of the great American dramas, and is currently enjoying a successful revival in London, with Kim Cattrall as 'The Princess'. It might be good to see the play as originally intended ....

RALLY ROUND THE FLAG BOYS. Leo McCarey’s 1958 comedy is another of those Fox movies that never get shown here, so I imagined it would be a treat seeing it again after 50 years or so – I was about 12 when I first saw it.  It’s a moderately amusing affair, not one of the better Newman-Woodward comedies – well, better than A NEW KIND OF LOVE at any rate; its the usual comedy of misunderstandings and poking fun at suburban living. He is a harassed husband trying to get a drink on the crowded commuter train - the men all wear hats - and she is involved in community affairs and leads a protest against a proposed army base in their suburban community, the site of a pilgrims' landing. 
Add in Joan Collins as Angela, the vamp next door who has designs on Newman, Jack Carson as a military man, and the teenage Tuesday Weld who has just discovered boys (Dwane Hickman). Its from a novel by Max Schulman and an uncredited George Axelrod had a hand in the script. Its interesting seeing the serious Newmans trying to do comedy in Rock and Doris or Jack Lemmon style, but much as they try comedy is just not their forte. Luckily Joan and Tuesday have the required light touch. Re-seeing RALLY ROUND THE FLAG BOYS again yesterday after a 50 year gap what seemed funny then was painfully tedious now. Jack Carson has a few funny moments though particularly when he is fired into space in that rocket, but on the whole, it all seems tediously slow. 

No comments:

Post a Comment