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, 15 September 2015

6 lesser known '50s dramas

We are all familiar with those great Fifties dramas, mentioned often here - from SUNSET BOULEVARD to SEPARATE TABLES or IMITATION OF LIFE, taking in those Kazans, Wylers, Douglas Sirks, Tennessee Williams adaptations etc. Here are 6 lesser known ones I like and are worth seeking out ...

NO SAD SONGS FOR ME – Margaret Sullavan’s last film in 1950 is curiously unregarded now, but is a nice little drama set in a mining town where she is the suburban wife who goes to the doctor and finds she has terminal cancer, which seems untreatable back then. She goes into denial but eventually comes to terms with it and plans her husband's and daughter’s future without her. Husband though is dependable Wendall Corey (dull as ever) - enter the young Viveca Lindfors as hubby’s new assistant and Margaret sees they are attracted to each other and she also gets on with Margaret's incessantly chattering daughter, young Natalie Wood. 
It’s a weepie then, but not in your face and the ending is rather nice. In accordance with films of this era she has a large comfy house and a black servant, husband and wife of course have separate beds. A curious choice for action director Rudolph Mate. Margaret Sullavan seems rather neglected now but was one of the great stars of her day, we like her a lot here, as per the label.

THE LUSTY MENNick Ray’s 1952 drama about rodeos (produced by Jerry Wald, with authentic rodeo locations) has not been seen for a long time, I thought this was a Fox film, but its RKO Radio.  It may be one of Ray’s best films, with certainly among the best work of the three leads: Robert Mitchum is Jeff McCloud a rootless, broke rodeo star, Susan Hayward and Arthur Kennedy are the married couple who want a ranch. He teaches Kennedy how to become a rodeo champion, to the disquiet of Hayward, giving a solid, reined-in performance, as she and Mitchum fight their attraction. This is nicely downbeat – seeing Mitchum crossing a wind-strewn rodeo arena brings THE MISFITS to mind, particularly Montgomery Clift playing that other rootless rodeo rider. Also that sequence when Mitchum returns to his childhood home … Lee Garmes’ camerawork makes it all look authentic, and the final scenes are deeply affecting. This is one film that deserves rediscovery.

Mitchum tries to be a ranch hand (to be close to Louise - Hayward)  and passes on his rodeo fever on to Kennedy, whose success alienates his wife as he now hangs around with the rodeo crowd. Kennedy initially took up rodeo riding to make enough money for their ranch, but now has money to spend, drink, with hangers-on and the attention of bar-room floozies. The film creates an exciting atmosphere with wild horses, bucking broncos and leisure time spent carousing in the bars where a day's prize money could be lost in drinking and gambling, then there is the inevitable tragic ending ... It really is a nice companion piece to THE MISFITS, and both Hayward and Mitchum do some of their best work here. Perhaps it might have benefited from being in colour.

WILD IS THE WIND. Another good discovery is this long unseen George Cukor/Anna Magnani item from 1957. Magnani is magnetic as the sister from Italy brought to America to marry her late sister's husband, Anthony Quinn in very gruff mode here. Quinn's protege young Anthony Franciosa is the only one to show her affection as she struggles with life on their bleak ranch, which rapidly escalates to a doomed romance. I did not care for Magnani's over the top performance in the acclaimed ROSE TATTOO when I saw it a while ago, but I love her here, as reined in by Cukor. She has a wonderful scene at the outdoor party when she sings a lovely little song, and has a nice scene with young Dolores Hart too. There is also another great theme tune (by Johnny Mathis - Nina Simone and David Bowie did great later versions of it too) and, surprisingly for Cukor, the scenes of capturing wild horses is as forceful as Huston's in THE MISFITS. Anna is of course marvellous in Renoir's THE GOLDEN COACH, and its fascinating seeing her with Brando in THE FUGITIVE KIND, and in Visconti's BELLISSIMA. 

THIS IS MY LOVE, 1954 - Linda Darnell is Vida, the unmarried sister of the more vivacious Faith Domergue married to crippled ex-dancer Dan Duryea who is very jealous of his young attractive wife. Vida lives with the mismatched couple and works in their diner and is engaged (or stringing along) a very dull boyfriend, until one day his friend, Rick Jason, walks in and seems the answer to Vida’s dreams. He is merely leading her along however until he meets the vivacious Faith, thus setting in motion a tale of rage, murder and revenge, played out in lurid colours as the girls sling hash in the diner. 
'50s lurid melodramas don’t come much better than this, as directed by Stuart Heisler. Unlike the glossy melodramas of Minnelli or Sirk, this is a gritty, downbeat affair. Linda is as terrific here as she was in A LETTER TO 3 WIVES
A friend of mine, Jerry, loves it too, and his IMDB review is perfect:
As soon as Franz Waxman's lush score swelled up over the credits I knew this one would deliver - and I wasn't disappointed. Vida (Linda Darnell) is a "spinster" who slings hash in her Brother in Law's diner and is engaged to the world's most boring man. Into the diner wanders her fiancée's army buddy - foxy Rick Jason - a "gas station casanova", and when left alone together Rick comes on to her... she plays hard to get - so hard to get in fact that Rick turns to her married sister Evelyn (Faith Domergue) for comfort, and the stage is set for resentment, deceit, adultery, jealousy, sibling rivalry.. and murder. 
This one really deserves to be better known. I'm not sure whether the lurid greens and purples that dominate the colour scheme are symbolic of the jealousy and anger simmering below the surface, and mark out Stuart Heisler as an neglected auteur... or it was just a lousy print. Connie Russell sings the title tune with lyrics as Darnell and Jason go out dancing. Dan Duryea is a bitter cripple. and Darnell is absolutely heartbreaking here - never knew she had it in her. Its everything I wanted from Douglas Sirk or late period Minnelli and never got. Absolutely delicious from start to finish and highly recommended. 9/10
[Rick Jason was also back in the '50s diner milieu in the downbeat '57 Fox film of Steinbeck's THE WAYWARD BUS as the bus driver married to shrewish diner owner Joan Collins (which Linda has tested for and would have been ideal casting, but Fox discarded their old star in favour of the new English girl) and with down-on-her-luck stripper Jayne Mansfield also on board the bus].

Two 1954 mellers with those new Italian girls Sophia Loren and Silvana Mangano:
MAMBO is a film I had never heard of until recently, but its a fascinating puzzle. Its a Paramount film directed by Robert Rossen (an odd choice for him) but its also a Carlo Ponti-Dino De Laurentiis production set mainly in Venice and Rome with two Italian stars, Silvana Mangano and Vittorio Gassman – if only it had been in color with that great scenery and Venetian masked balls and the colourful Katherine Dunham dance group, which Silvana joins. She looks terrific here and in the dance numbers (the mambo must have been big about then as Loren does a terrific one in her ‘working in the river in shorts’ film WOMAN OF THE RIVER). MAMBO’s convoluted plot features Shelley Winters (Mrs Gasssman at the time) in what is surely one of the first clearly implied lesbian roles as she has a major crush on Silvana. Michael Rennie completes the odd quartet. Silvana's numbers are available on YouTube, as is MAMBO in full.

WOMAN OF THE RIVER. I have now re-seen the 1954 WOMAN OF THE RIVER for the first time since I saw it as a kid, and I am amazed at the 19 year old Sophia here in 1954, a very busy year for her - as Nives the proud canning factory girl who falls for hunk Rik Battaglia she does a sensational mambo dance and is just wonderful - no wonder it was her calling card to international films. She also goes cane cutting in the Po river, and it ends in drama with her young child. Its a film for the Italian market and Pasolini had a hand in the script, but its certainly vivid 50+ years later.I loved this and Sophia when I saw it as a kid in Ireland. 

Plus a rom-com treat: 
BUT NOT FOR ME is a neglected gem from that great year 1959 and was a treat to catch recently. Its one of Clark Gable's last films [he had just done TEACHER'S PET with Doris Day, and would next go to Italy for IT STARTED IN NAPLES with Sophia Loren (30 years his junior, but its great fun) and then finally to that fatal MISFITS location]. Here he is guying his older image as the Broadway producer falling for his ambitions young secretary Carroll Baker who also wants to be an actress. Its a comedy set in the theatreland of the '50s and has some nice views of New York back then, particuarly as his car glides through Manhattan in the morning, as Ella sings that great theme song. Best of the cast though is Lilli Palmer enjoying her role as his ex-wife watching on the sidelines. Will she get him back at the end? It's nicely worked out and there is also Lee J Cobb in scenery-chewing mode as a drunken playright, and pretty Barry Coe as Carroll's boyfriend. A nice Perlberg-Seaton production from Paramount.


  1. The only one of these I've seen is BUT NOT FOR ME; hardly a gem but not at all bad of its kind. MAMBO, WOMAN OF THE RIVER and THIS IS MY LOVE are totally new to me though between SKY and PRIME I should find them somewhere! The first two in particular sound very interesting. I have also missed out on WILD IS THE WIND which I have wanted to see for decades now; I mean, Cukor and that cast. What's not to love! :)

  2. Some great films. I love, love, LOVE This Is My Love and The Lusty Men. I agree that My Love contains one of Linda's best performances it's a pity that it came along after her major stardom so was more or less ignored and now the picture is almost impossible to find coming from a minor studio with a director of little renown.

    Lusty Men on the other hand is a puzzler. Both Mitchum and Hayward were huge stars at the time and their reputations endure to an extent as does Nick Ray's so it really should have a higher profile. Susie was nominated for With a Song in My Heart the same year and while I love that film and her work in it I think this is the better performance and one of Mitchum's career best. If it was in color it might have a higher profile but I think it would be diminished. The black and white photography adds a note of spareness that fits and enriches the story which would be lost by color.

    But Not for Me is a sweet little film strengthened by the ultimate pairing of Gable and the chic and knowing Lilli Palmer despite his flirting with Carroll Baker. They work so well together and their styles meld unexpectedly well. Also I love Lee J. Cobb and he's fun in this.

    Wild is the Wind is an overheated meller and while I liked Magnani in it I'm not much of a Quinn fan.

    I've seen bits of Mambo but none of Woman of the River nor No Sad Songs for Me, which is high on my wish list. Love Margaret Sullavan she was such a unique actress with that wonderful throaty voice and somehow bruised but strong manner. She made so few films and they only show a limited number which is a shame, of the ones they show with some frequency I have a special fondness for Cry Havoc with its amazing array of actresses.

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