2 October 2014 | herbqedi
Marty-esque evocation of May-December romance is worthy viewing
I actually watched this in the middle of the night on one of those evenings where you fall asleep too early, then wake up and can't get back to sleep. As a veteran film buff and a huge fan of Director Delbert Mann and writer Paddy Chayefsky, I am surprised that I never heard of this very New York 1950's slice-of-real-life family drama with a May-December romance between Kim Novak (Betty) and Frederic March (Jerry Kingsley) as its Centerpiece.
As with Marty, the movie centers around the way that fiends of family members with concerns and pre-set notions of "what should be" of their own and reject the budding and heartfelt romance between two very lonely and insecure people who have just recently experienced trauma (divorce of husband and death of wife). The supporting turns by those trying to scuttle the relationship including Joan Copeland, Lee Grant, and Glenda Farrell among many others are terrific. On the supportive side, my favorite performance in the film was by Albert Dekker has March's long-time business partner. He advises March to reach out and hold on to the special relationship he has with both arms. He also has the film's best line saying, "When I die, they should write on my tombstone, What a Waste of Time!" Martin Balsam is also supportive as daughter Copeland's husband who supports Jerry's relationship and gets it with both barrels from his wife. The most surprising performance to me was from Lee Philips who I thought was awful in the two TV show guest appearances I saw him do before deciding that directing TV shows was a more suitable endeavor for him. Here, I found him perfect for his role and incredibly convincing as Betty's ex-husband who wants her back and at a minimum wants another sexual conquest of her. He's a smooth cad without being unctuous or obvious in any way and provides a stunning counterpoint to every other character in the film. He knows what he wants and is determined to get it regardless of whether it is what his ex-wife wants.
I always considered Novak underrated in Picnic and she's even better here. She conveys an insecurity mixed with determination about Betty that is as delicate a balancing act as I've ever seen. She wants to trust her love for Jerry but is so fragile she can't trust herself to be worthy of his love. At the same time, she loves the way he makes her feel special and finds that so different from everyone else in her life, she's willing to navigate the venom and BS thrown at her by all her friends and relatives. It's an incredibly complex and simple performance at the same time. I was almost awestruck.
All fairly compelling so far, right? So why didn't I give this a 9 or a 10 (Marty is a 10 in my book and a 10+ if IMDb would allow such a rating)? March's chemistry with Novak does not match hers with him in far too many of their scenes. March, of course, is a magnificent and accomplished actor who has given some of the most memorable performances on film (my favorite 0 Best Years of Our Lives). But he also can over-emote and connect more with the camera than with his love interest at times. Unfortunately, that happens here quite a bit. And his jealousy borne-out-of-insecurity seems to express itself too self-righteously given hid character and feelings - at least to me. When he allows himself to make eye contact with Betty, it is like day from night. In those scenes, the romance seems and feels genuine even when they are having rough spots (such as in the car toward the early middle of the film). On the other hand, March's chemistry with his threatened sister and with daughter Joan Copeland is perfect. He just seems to prefer the camera to Novak when his character is starting to convince himself that the doubters are right. These disconnections do not by an means ruin the film for me. I enjoyed it and wish to watch it again. It just stops it from being a classic for me.
I still recommend watching it - especially if you love Marty.