By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: Mother pimps her daughter.
Owen Legate (Robert Redford) arrives in the small town of Dodson, Mississippi in the 1930’s to carry out an unpleasant task. He’s been assigned by his employer to layoff many of the railway workers in the area due to the economic depression. Many in town are not pleased with his presence and want him to go while even threatening him with violence. Alva (Natalie Wood) is the only one who takes a liking to him despite the fact that he consistently gives her the-cold-shoulder in return. She’s been forced by her mother (Kate Reid) to ‘entertain’ the male guests that stay at their boarding house and Owen wants none of it as he finds her dreamy, child-like personality to be off-putting and even an illness. Yet the longer he stays the more entranced with her he becomes, but he wonders if he’ll ever be able to get her away from the clutches of her domineering Mother.
This film was considered by critics at the time to be ‘trash’ and that was most likely due to its provocative subject matter that was clearly years-ahead-of-its-time, but with a script written by Francis Ford Coppola and Fred Coe, produced by John Houseman and directed by Sydney Pollack in a story based on a Tennessee Williams play couldn’t be all that bad and this clearly isn’t and in fact it’s excellent and should be considered a classic instead. The recreation of The Deep South from the ‘30s is spot-on and the on-location shooting done in the small town of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi lends some terrific atmosphere. The dialogue is sharp and the well-paced script leads to emotionally charged scenes of high drama.
Redford’s cool and detached persona is put to great use and I liked seeing a scenario where it’s the girl chasing after the guy for a change. Mary Badham is equally good in her first film after doing To Kill a Mockingbird, but here she is much more attractive with long hair and sans the Tomboy look. There is also solid support from both Charles Bronson and a baby-faced Robert Blake who just three years later reteamed with Redford in Tell Them Willie Boy is Here.
Wood gives an excellent performance as well, but I had a hard time understanding her character as her perpetual flights of fancy didn’t make much sense. The script seems to say that this is her ‘defense’ and escape from her harsh life, but any woman whose been forced into prostitution by her mother and pawed at by literally every man who comes along would most likely become hardened and bitter and learn to distrust and dislike any man who came near her.
Kate Reid as the mother also posed some initial problems as she looks too young for the part and in reality was only 8 years older than Wood who played her daughter. However, there is a birthday celebration where she is given a cake full of candles to blow out, but she refuses as she feels that 43 is getting ‘too old’, which made me realize that back then people had kids earlier even before they were 18 and therefore her still youthful look by our standards could be forgiven and even understood.
The final half is where this thing really comes together and includes a great confrontational moment between a drunken Wood, who really did get drunk in order to get into the scene, as well as her picturesque journey to New Orleans. Like in most movies the odds of her suddenly bumping into Owen after a couple of short days in the city seemed pretty slim, but I could forgive it as the rest of the film is so strong that any minor flaw with it is hardly worth discussing.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: August 3, 1966
Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes
Director: Sydney Pollack
Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube