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Inside Daisy Clover

A disappointment.
Depression-era, rags-to-riches story with Natalie Wood as the tomboy-heroine abandoned by her father and living with her eccentric mother in a run-down shack by the seashore. Discovered by a film producer (the darkly sinister Christopher Plummer), Daisy quickly achieves stardom as a musical singing star (a la Judy Garland) but, unable to cope with the sudden fame, she escapes into a romance with matinée idol Robert Redford. Later realizing that Redford is gay and that her studio sees her only as a commodity, a disillusioned Daisy has a nervous breakdown and attempts suicide before finally finding the strength to turn her back on Hollywood. On the face of it, this film (based on a novel by Gavin Lambert) sounds compelling but too many cartoonish situations and characters (particularly Daisy's mother and sister) undermine the story. Natalie Wood, herself, is allowed to overdo the tomboyish nature of Daisy's personality (she's like a female Huck Finn). Christopher Plummer and Robert Redford are both very good, however, and, in supporting roles, Roddy McDowall and Katherine Bard lurk mysteriously in the background (Bard seems to belong in a different film entirely. When she confronts Daisy following Daisy's failed marriage to the matinée idol, it's like Jane Eyre coming face to face with Rodchester's mad wife). A disappointment.


Historically inaccurate but entertaining nonetheless
Romanticized account of the life of the Brontes with particular emphasis of course on older sisters Charlotte and Emily. It's slow moving at times and should not be relied upon for historical accuracy but, of its kind, it's fairly well done and entertaining. Olivia de Havilland (looking very pretty) is the imperious and ambitious Charlotte, aggressively courting literary success, while Ida Lupino, as Emily, remains at home, engaging in fanciful reverie and harboring a secret passion for the local clergyman. Both offer strong, capable performances. (It's been said that de Havilland, who had been fighting with Warner Brothers over better scripts, was given third billing as punishment by studio chief Jack Warner. By the time the film was released, in 1946, she had successfully sued the studio for release from her contract and would go on to win two Oscars as Best Actress). Nancy Coleman has the thankless role of younger sister Anne, Arthur Kennedy is their dissolute brother Branwell (his self-destructiveness is never adequately explained and simply becomes tedious after a while) and Paul Henreid is the Reverend Arthur Nichols, the object of Emily's unrequited affection (a contrivance thought up by the screenwriter). With Sydney Greenstreet as the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray and Montagu Love, Ethel Griffies, Victor Francen, Odette Myrtil and Dame May Witty.

Kings Row

Unfaithful to the book but surprisingly compelling
Henry Bellamann's account of small town life at the turn of the twentieth century, with its central themes of incest, suicide, religious fanaticism, homosexuality, euthanasia and sadism (among other less controversial topics), assured its best seller status when the book was first published in 1940. When Warner Brothers released its film version two years later, much of the story's sensational content was altered or eliminated entirely and yet the movie remained surprisingly compelling. The first part of the film concerns itself primarily with Parris Mitchell (Robert Cummings), the sensitive and idealistic doctor-in-training, and his volatile relationship with his childhood sweetheart, Cassie (played by Betty Field), and it's less successful because of the films inability to deal honestly with the demons that haunt Cassie. (The revelation that Cassie is being molested by her father is jettisoned completely and the movie, instead, settles for the explanation that Cassie is mentally ill. The frantic and desperate interludes that Parris and Cassie share, however, fevered by a kind of histrionic intensity, don't make much sense within this context and the viewer is left feeling somewhat bewildered by it all). The second part of the film, which focuses on the other major love story, that of Parris' best friend Drake (Ronald Reagan) and Randy (Ann Sheridan), the poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks, is more faithful to Bellamann's novel and altogether more satisfying. There is also a fascinating subplot, involving Drake's abandoned sweetheart, Louise (Nancy Coleman), that helps to sustain the film and propel the movie to its dynamic conclusion. Though Cummings, as Parris, is bland and overly-sincere, the movie contains what is considered to be Ronald Reagan's finest screen performance (not that the competition had been that keen) and Ann Sheridan is an immensely warm and lovely presence. The film belongs, however, to it's amazing supporting cast, comprised of some of Hollywood's finest character players: Betty Field, touching as the frightened and disturbed Cassie; the wonderful Claude Rains, beautifully underplaying as Cassie's sad, troubled father; Maria Ouspenskaya, characteristically cast as Parris' wise and loving grandmother; and, in particular, Nancy Coleman as the hysterical Louise, the sexually repressed daughter of religious fanatics (Charles Coburn and Judith Anderson). The memorable score, by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, adds immeasurably to the mood.

That Certain Woman

Bette Davis meets "Stella Dallas"
The kind of contrived mess that gives the term "women's picture" a bad name. Bette Davis is the former gun moll turned respectable legal secretary who marries a wealthy, irresponsible weakling (Henry Fonda, poorly miscast). When Fonda's bully of a father (indomitable Donald Crisp) has the marriage annulled after just one day, a distraught Davis runs off, not knowing she and Fonda have conceived a child. When the lovers are finally reunited years later, Fonda has been married to a woman of his own social standing (radiant Anita Louise). The new wife, confined to a wheelchair following a car accident (the result of Fonda's reckless drinking), shows not a shred of bitterness toward her husband and, in fact, pleads with Davis to assume her role as Fonda's wife since the wife herself is unable to give Fonda the child he has always wanted. What Davis does next will come as no surprise to fans of this sort of tripe but Davis, cast against type as a self-sacrificing mother, is vibrantly warm and pretty and her performance surprisingly free of artifice.

Mrs. Parkington

Greer Garson and Walter Pigeon were one of the great romantic teams of the 1940s but both were too old (particularly Pigeon) for their roles in this disappointing film version of the popular Louis Bromfield novel. Pigeon is simply miscast; he is too much the gentleman to ever be convincing as the boorish, philandering Major "Gus" Parkington. As his wife, Susie, Garson, wearing a dark wig (and looking rather like Yvonne DeCarlo), ages from a naive young woman to the crusty, 84 year old family matriarch. The characterization is never believable but her scenes as the elderly Mrs. Parkington are especially objectionable (she's too arch). Neither Garson or Pigeon is particularly well-aided by a meandering script that fails to adequately clarify the relationships among the family members or takes the time to develop the various characters. Consequently, one simply doesn't care what happens to the members of the Parkington dynasty. The supporting cast...among them, Edward Arnold, Lee Patrick, Dan Duryea, Cecil Kellaway, Frances Rafferty and Tom competent but only Agnes Moorehead, in a rare sympathetic turn as Pigeon's ex-mistress, and Gladys Cooper, as Pigeon and Garson's dypsomaniacal daughter, manage to make a significant impression.

Anna Karenina

Memorable adaptation of the Tolstoy classic
Greta Garbo brings great pathos to the role of Tolstoy's tragic heroine, though it's anyone's guess why her Anna would be drawn even remotely to Frederic March's stiff, colorless Count Vronsky. Basil Rathbone, on the other hand, is all that he should be as Anna's cold, unforgiving husband and Freddie Bartholomew is quite fine as their son. It was inevitable that the complete breadth of Tolstoy's massive novel would suffer somewhat in its transfer to the screen and this is most keenly felt in the film's treatment of the secondary love story involving Kitty and Levin, which is all but discarded. Nonetheless, this MGM production, directed by Clarence Brown, is utterly involving. With the very pretty Maureen O'Sullivan as Kitty; Gyles Isham as Levin; and Reginald Owen, Constance Collier, Reginald Denny, May Robson, Ethel Griffies and Phoebe Foster.

No Child of Mine

Driven by persuasive performances from Patty Duke and Tracy Nelson.
An often involving made for TV drama, based on a true story, and driven by persuasive performances from Patty Duke and Tracy Nelson. When a young mother (Nelson) learns her newborn child has Downs Syndrome, she makes the difficult decision to place him with a local couple who have devoted their lives to caring for children with special needs. Duke, as Nelson's mother, a woman used to getting what she wants, refuses to accept her daughter's decision and sues for legal custody. Though the film occasionally lapses into soap opera, the central relationship between Duke, who isn't afraid to play this abrasive, bullying (though well-intentioned) Mommie Dearest to the scary hilt, and Nelson, as the daughter, sadly resigned to the fact that she will never live up her to her mother's expectations, keeps it believable. Solid support from G.W. Bailey as Duke's husband and Susan Blakely and Marshall Teague as the foster parents.

The Women's Room

A generally well-acted TV movie.
Satisfactory adaptation of the Marilyn French bestseller. Lee Remick is Myra, a thirtyish housewife who decides to abandon her cheating husband (a pre-Cheers Ted Danson) and dull suburban lifestyle, and return to graduate school. There, she becomes involved in the burgeoning women's movement and eventually finds sexual fulfillment in the arms of a younger man (Gregory Harrison). As Remick's character develops from a naive, sheltered young bride to an aware, independent woman, the viewer is introduced to two sets of female characters (Patty Duke, Tyne Daly and Kathryn Harrold are her suburban friends, all trapped in unhappy marriages, and Colleen Dewhurst, Tovah Felshuh, Lisa Pelikan and Mare Winningham are her graduate school associates) who, through their own experiences, help to shape and inform Myra's self-identity. Ultimately, Remick concludes that her happiness need not be dependent on any man. While I wouldn't characterize the film as "man-hating", as other on-line comments have suggested, it very definitely has a feminist sensibility. The acting is generally quite fine. Remick offers her usual capable performance, Dewhurst excels as her sexually frank, liberated friend and Winningham is very good as Dewhurst's neglected daughter. Patty Duke, while often compelling, is occasionally over the top as Remick's emotionally unstable friend; Tyne Daly manages a similar role with far more subtlety.

My Sweet Charlie

Easily Patty Duke's best performance.
Though Patty Duke is probably best known for her Oscar-winning work as Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker", this extraordinary made-for-TV movie contains what is easily her finest screen performance. She is never less than believable as the frightened, immature, uneducated Southern girl who, pregnant with her lover's child and abandoned by both him and her family, takes refuge in a deserted seaside house. There, her solitary wait for the birth of her child is broken by the unexpected arrival of Al Freeman Jr., a black militant on the run for killing a white man. Their relationship, at first defined by mutual contempt and hostility, slowly evolves into a touching love story. The ending is unforgettable. Duke and Freeman share a wonderful chemistry and both were deservedly Emmy-nominated (Duke won; Freeman, regrettably, did not). Patty Duke was as talented as any leading actess of her generation and her work here confirms that.

Imitation of Life

Fannie Hurst's paean to sacrificial mother-love
You get a sense of what you're in for the moment the opening credits begin to roll and a spiritual choir is heard lamenting, "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen". This is the first film adaptation of Fannie Hurst's paean to sacrificial mother-love and it's easy to understand why modern black audiences might be offended. As written, the central character of Delilah is the worst kind of racial stereotype; a relentlessly cheerful mammy, perfectly satisfied to spend her life tending to the needs of her white employer (Claudette Colbert). Despite the indignity of the characterization, Louise Beavers, as Delilah, occasionally manages to transcend the role and she has a startling moment when she pleads with her troubled daughter, who has been passing for white. Colbert, too, comes through with a realistic performance and ably avoids the dramatic excesses that hamper some of the supporting performances. Fredi Washington, as Beavers' daughter, is not as fortunate, though she expertly pulls off her final scene, when she throws herself on her mother's coffin in grief-stricken despair. As Colbert's daughter, erstwhile 30's ingenue Rochelle Hudson is pretty but bland (the role is played as an infant by icky child star, Baby Jane, and one is invariably disappointed when the irritating child manages to survive her splash into the bath tub). Oh-so-suave Warren William plays the man who temporarily comes between Colbert and Hudson; and Ned Sparks does his usual grim, monotone schtick as Colbert's business associate. The film's closing line has to be heard to be believed.

The Women

A sharp, savagely funny look at the female sex.
If you can get past the first few minutes of this over-produced and occasionally over-the-top adaptation of the Clare Booth Luce Broadway hit (set in what appears to be a space-age beauty salon), you may actually enjoy this sharp, savagely funny look at the female sex. Norma Shearer had what was probably her best film role as noble housewife Mary Haines, whose "friends" arrange to have her discover that her husband is cheating on her with a sexy shopgirl (a smart, lively performance from Joan Crawford). Rosalind Russell and Phyllis Povah provide the most fun as Shearer's ghastly friends; there are bright turns by Paulette Goddard as a knowing showgirl and Mary Boland as an aging divorcée; and excellent supporting work from Lucile Watson as Shearer's wise, plain-spoken mother; Florence Nash as an acerbic writer; Muriel Hutchison and Mary Cecil as the household help; and Dennie Moore as a gabby beautician. Joan Fontaine, as a mousy, unsophisticated young bride, is the film's only weak spot (mouth agape, she, at times, gives the impression of being mentally retarded). Shearer has a wonderful moment when she learns her ex-husband has remarried and goes off on a crying jag. A Technicolor fashion show appears out of nowhere midway through the film and temporarily slows things down (the movie was, after all, directed by George Cukor).

Steel Magnolias

A shallow cartoon of a movie.
Does anyone really enjoy this type of manipulative drivel, with lines like "I'd rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special"? Bright-eyed Julia Roberts, in her first major film role (some may hate the movie on that count alone), is the spirited young bride, tragically cut down in the prime of her life. Sally Field, as Roberts' grief-stricken mother, has a howler of a graveside scene. We're meant to weep for them, and gain some kind of uplifting message from the strength that carries them through this tragedy, but there's not a believable moment in the whole movie. Based on the Robert Harling stage play, and adapted by Harling himself, the film features Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, Olympia Dukakis and Darryl Hannah in the other principal roles. None are particularly impressive. The title refers to the emotional steeliness that lies beneath their proper Southern Belle facade. The men, represented by Sam Shepard (one wonders what drew him to this tiny, insignificant part?), Dylan McDermott, and Tom Skerritt are, typically, presented as lazy, selfish and useless. All in all, a shallow cartoon of a movie.

Tuck Everlasting

A lovely film.
"Tuck Everlasting", based on the classic book by Natalie Babbitt, is a lovely film with a simple message at its core: "it's not death you need to fear," William Hurt notes to Alexis Bledel midway through the movie, "but the unfulfilled life." The cast is marvelous. Lovely, radiant Alexis Bledel is Winnie Foster, desperate to escape the stifling constraints of her stuffy parents (well-played by Amy Irving and Victor Garber). Into her life comes a mysterious family, headed by William Hurt and Sissy Spacek, who proceed to show the young girl a world outside her parents' cloistered, high-fenced existence. Winnie gradually falls in love with the younger of their two sons (the talented Jonathan Jackson)and soon discovers the family's secret: they will never grow old and they will never die. Hurt and Spacek are, as always, very good, as is Scott Bairstow as the family's older son. The magnificent Ben Kingsley is also on-hand as the evil Man in Yellow. It was fun to see Spacek and Irving reunited, years after their roles in the classic thriller, "Carrie"; too bad they don't share any scenes together.

A Letter to Three Wives

An often bright and sophisticated comedy.
Though not in the same league as the following year's "All About Eve" (which was also written and directed by Joseph Mankiewicz), "A Letter to Three Wives" is, nonetheless, an often bright and sophisticated comedy, well-served by a generally first-rate cast. Ann Sothern, Linda Darnell, and Jeanne Crain are the three wives of the title, each of whom has reason to suspect that her husband may have run off with the town's resident dish, Addie Ross (voiced by Celeste Holm). As each wife reflects on the state of her marriage, the audience is treated to a sharp and witty examination of modern marital suburbia (circa 1949). Though occasionally sexist and, at times, alarmingly offensive (what is one to make of the scene in which Ann Sothern affectionately recalls that it was husband Kirk Douglas who gave her her first "black eye"?), "A Letter to Three Wives" is, for its time, a wonderfully trenchant comedy-drama and helped to usher in an age of more sophisticated adult cinema. Of the players, Paul Douglas, making his debut as Darnell's blustery husband, gets the top prize. He's masterful. Darnell begins shaky but ultimately comes through with a top-notch comedy performance. Sothern, Kirk Douglas, Thelma Ritter and Connie Gilchrist offer their usual capable performances. Only Jeanne Crain fails to register; she's an actress of limited range but, unlike Darnell, who is similarly limited, was out of her element with this type of brittle comedy. Over all, a quite enjoyable film.

Get to the Heart: The Barbara Mandrell Story

Above-average TV biography
I've seen this TV movie biography of the life of singer Barbara Mandrell a few times and it's actually quite good. Maureen McCormick, forever known to legions of TV fans as Marcia Brady, does a credible job in the title role (her scenes following the car accident that nearly took Barbara's life are especially well-played) and she's backed by a capable supporting cast that includes Mandrell's own daughter, Jamie Nicole, as Irlene Mandrell, Barbara's youngest sister. Well-done and suitably involving.

Words and Music

Notable only for its many musical numbers.
A sanitized account of the personal lives and professional partnership of Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart. Tom Drake is his usual bland self as Rogers and Mickey Rooney is characteristically over-the-top as the self-destructive, troubled Hart. (According to the film, Hart's problems stemmed from a failed romance with a singer, played here by Betty Garrett. In truth, Hart was gay but this was only part of what contributed to his complicated personality.) The film is notable only for its many musical numbers. Among the highlights: Lena Horne's masterful rendition of "Where or When" and "The Lady is a Tramp"; June Allyson and the Blackburn Twins' charming "Thou Swell"; and Judy Garland and Rooney's spirited "I Wish I Were In Love Again" as well as Garland's dynamic "Johnny One Note". The show-stopper, however, is the brilliant jazz ballet, "Slaughter On Tenth Avenue", choreographed by Gene Kelly and danced expertly by Kelly and the fabulous Vera-Ellen. It, alone, is worth the price of admission.

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