By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Daughter receives gentlemen caller.
Tom (John Malkovich) returns to the now abandoned apartment of his childhood. It is here that he recollects to the viewer his life living there where he resided both with his handicapped sister Laura (Karen Allen) and overly-protective mother Amanda (Joanne Woodward). Laura is very shy and has no social life, and instead spends her time taking care of her collection of miniature glass animals. Unable to hold down any job and straddled with a limp her mother fears that Laura will never find a man to marry and as a result will be alone and penniless when she gets older. She pressures Tom, who spends most of his free time watching movies in the theater in order to alleviate the boredom of his own life, to find a suitor, or gentlemen caller, who can come to visit and subsequently court Laura. Tom finally finds someone in the form of Jim (James Naughton) whom he works with at his factory job. Unbeknownst to him Jim went to high school with Laura and she was secretly infatuated with him. When he arrives for dinner Laura’s shyness takes over and she retreats to her bedroom, but then later she comes out. The two begin to talk and Jim tries to give Laura more confidence. Will he be her ‘knight-in-shining-armour’, or like with her glass collection will it simply be an illusion destined to shatter?
The film is based on the famous Tennessee Williams play, and to a degree his own life while growing up, that was originally produced in 1944 and was his first successful play that catapulted his career. It was made into a movie in 1950, which got a lukewarm response from film goers and critics alike for the perceived miscasting of Gertrude Lawrence, an English actress, who played Amanda. It was remade as a TV-movie in 1966 with Shirley Booth and then again in 1973 with Katharine Hepburn. Many felt this was the best filmed version of the play especially since Tennessee Williams wrote the teleplay.
This version is okay, but kind of seems unnecessary. Initially I thought director Paul Newman was going to use a different approach by removing it from a stage setting and having more outdoor scenes, which we see during the opening as Tom walks towards the apartment, which would’ve been different from any other Williams play. Ultimately though this one comes-off no different than the others with virtually everything taking place within the claustrophobic apartment. I realize that the point of the story is to show how trapped these characters were in their dismal lives, but putting a variety to the visuals and making it seem more cinematic would’ve helped. Even just adding in some cutaways would’ve been a plus like showing what Amanda and Tom are doing while Jim and Laura are sitting in the living room for an extended period of time talking. You’d presume that Amanda, being the meddlesome mother that she was, would be attempting to listen into their conversation, but actually showing it would’ve allowed an added context instead of just having them disappear and yet remain in the apartment, but doing who knows what.
Malkovich is solid and it’s nice seeing him in an early role before his ego and persona turned him into a caricature of himself. Allen is also quite good with her expressive blue eyes being the emotional catalyst that holds it all together and helps keep the viewer compelled to the story despite its overly talky nature. Woodward though doesn’t come-off as well. She’s played such strong characters in the past in films that were also directed by her husband that this one seems like a letdown compared to those. She’s also, despite the gray hair, a bit too young for the role as she was only 56 and it would’ve been better served had it been played by a more elderly woman in her 60’s or 70’s who could exude a lady completely lost in a bygone era.
The story is still compelling, but the conversations go on longer than they should and more effort should’ve been made to give it a stronger southern feel. The original film’s runtime was only 107 minutes, but this one goes on well over 2-hours. I’m not sure what was cut from that one, or added here, but it could’ve used some editing and still not hurt the basic integrity of the material.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: May 11, 1987
Runtime: 2 Hours 14 Minutes
Director: Paul Newman
Studio: Cineplex Odeon Films
Available: VHS, DVD-R