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.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Summer and smoke ... and toys in the attic

Perfect for this sultry heatwave (with a long cool glass with clinking ice cubes to hand), SUMMER AND SMOKE is a return to that florid Deep South genteel world of Tennessee Williams. This is another florid tale of unrequited love, as Miss Alma yearns for local rake Doctor Laurence Harvey. We liked Geraldine Page a lot recently as Alexandra Del Lago in 1962's SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH, (review below - Page, Williams labels), here she has a very contrasting role, but was Oscar-nominated both years '61 and '62 for her Alma and Alexandra.

Since childhood, spinster Alma Winemiller has loved handsome young Dr. John Buchanan, Jr.. But John has fallen hard for Rosa Zacharias, the town's sultry vamp, and descends into a seamy nightlife while ignoring Alma's dreams of romance and possible marriage.

SUMMER AND SMOKE takes place in 1916 rural Mississippi - 'Miss Alma' is the spinster daughter who feels she is becoming an old maid before her time, burdened as she is with caring for her unbalance mother, spiteful Una Merkel, and her stuffy minister father. Even as a child she had a crush on next door neighbour, wild boy John Buchanan - now back and running around town with local sexpot Rita Moreno, as they take in cock-fights and the like. Alma's genteel airs cause the locals to make fun of her as she sings on the bandstand with the local band and teaches voice lessons. Alma isn't just a repressed spinster - as with Hannah Jelkes in NIGHT OF THE IGUANA there is a whole lot more to her. Page shades her perfectly capturing the longing and loneliness, buiilding to that terrific monologue and climax. Williams is at his poetic best here even if the play is not one of his top notch ones. Harvey as usual is as one note as ever as once again one of his female co-stars dominates the screen. Pamela Tiffin also scores, as does Lee Patrick, and Earl Holliman as a traveling salesman  in that final scene with Page. It nicely captures that period detail (as in Kazan's EAST OF EDEN) and stifling small town life, nicely directed by Peter Glenville (BECKET), and scored by Elmer Bernstein. It is rather long at over two hours as the dissolute doctor reforms and of course gets engaged to nice girl Pamela Tiffin, an ex-pupil of Alma's, while Alma now hangs around parks in the middle of the night and goes off to explore the nightlife with that travelling salesman - the first of many perhaps. How coded-gay is that!

Alma is one of his great heroines like Alexandra, Blanche, Hannah and Maxine, Mrs Stone, or Maggie the Cat. Fascinating see this and THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED and SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH again recently. I still have THE FUGITIVE KIND and BABY DOLL to see, not sure if I want to return to THE ROSE TATTOO though ...

More Southern Fried American Gothic in TOYS IN THE ATTIC, a 1963 film by George Roy Hill from a play, not by Tennessee as it seemed, but Lillian Hellman. Filmed in black and white, the cast is the thing here. Geraldine Page and Wendy Hiller as unmarried sisters living in New Orleans welcoming home their ne'er-do-well brother, who arrives bearing gifts and ill-gotten cash. It's an overheated piece of would be-Gothic melodrama. Hiller and Page are excellent, trading niceties which quickly turn to hurtful revelations and stinging truths, but Dean Martin seems out of place as their brother. Maybe we are too used to seeing Dean coasting to take him seriously here, he seems too old too for Yvette Mimieux, as his new young wife - she looks particularly lovely here. Page and Hiller are the real show here.

Its another Southern family then with hidden secrets, but lacks the poetic quality of Williams' dialogue. Gene Tierney is also to hand as Martin's mother-in-law, good to see the more mature Tierney again - LAURA and LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN will always be choice '40s treats for us. Martin and Mimieux seem wildly miscast though - its surely a Montgomery Clift role. 

Among other Page performances I have but not seen yet is her role in the 1967 Disney film THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE which I must have a look at, hardly my fare, but the cast includes both Page and Dame Gladys Cooper. Her 1969 shocker WHATEVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE? (yes, its an Aldrich production) is only available now for very silly money, but I just saw the trailer (on its Amazon page) where she and Ruth Gordon are both in their element. We will have to return to her imposing role in Clint's THE BEGUILED too, and Schlesinger's DAY OF THE LOCUST. The 1964 DEAR HEART seems a lost movie here though. She and Julie Harris are wonderful though in Coppola's YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW, as per review, 1966 label.
Like her great friend Julie Harris, Geraldine Page also knew James Dean

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