28 November 2006 | bkoganbing
The Philadelphia Way of Life
The Young Philadelphians is a curious mixture of Ross Hunter like soap opera together with a Tennessee Williams like hero and surprisingly enough it works most of the time.
Paul Newman is the hero whose very existence on the planet is a source of scandal. His mother Diane Brewster was disinherited by her husband's family when he killed himself on their wedding night. Newman's had to scrap for what's his in the world and isn't above using the bedroom to advance himself.
He's got a friend in Robert Vaughn who's also a black sheep in his Philadelphia Main Line family who gets himself in a jackpot when he's arrested for murdering his uncle. Newman, who's a tax lawyer, gets some on the job training in a criminal case, in defending Vaughn.
Like Katharine Hepburn in Suddenly Last Summer, characters like John Williams, Robert Douglas, and Frank Conroy seem above all to want to protect the family name. Hepburn was willing enough to have a lobotomy performed on Elizabeth Taylor and this crew seems ready willing and eager to send Vaughn to prison or the electric chair for the same reasons. Straight out of Tennessee Williams.
Newman shows some of the flash in his courtroom scenes, especially in his examination of Richard Deacon that he later showed in his Oscar nominated The Verdict which is my personal Paul Newman favorite. He trips Deacon the witness up with a piece of legal wizardry worthy of Perry Mason.
In the prologue of the film when the death of Adam West is shown on his wedding night to Diane Brewster the film is very discreet as to his reasons for doing what he did. It's explained this was a marriage arranged by his mother for the purpose of carrying on the family name even if it meant wedding a girl not from their crowd. He explains he has no interest in his wife and promptly goes out and dies in a speeding car crash. Today it would be far more explicit to say that maybe Adam West's character was gay. But we had the code in place back then and gay was invisible.
Robert Vaughn got an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and his harrowing scenes with Newman in the drunk tank got him that. He lost to Hugh Griffith for Ben-Hur, but it was the first real notice he got and the start of a long career. Look for good performances by Alexis Smith as the older woman Newman woos, Billie Burke as the daffy dowager, and Barbara Rush whose on and off relationship with Newman guides most of the film.
The Young Philadelphians is kind of old fashioned today, somewhat dated, but still is good entertainment and recommended here.