Tag Archives: Tennessee Williams

This Property is Condemned (1966)

this property

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

Not Rated

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Boom! (1968)

boom

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bitchy lady rules island.

Flora ‘Sissy’ Goforth (Elizabeth Taylor) lives on a secluded island in a large mansion and surrounded by servants who cater to her every whim. She has alienated most everyone she has come into contact with and relies on her secretary Miss Black (Joanna Shimkus) to write down her autobiography that she dictates to her indiscriminately throughout the day. In comes Chris Flanders (Richard Burton) a nomadic poet living on the skids who infiltrates her palace and her oppressed sexual desires with his ruggedness and mystery. Will Sissy fall under his seductive spell, or does this mysterious stranger have even darker intentions?

The film was directed by Joseph Losey who is one of the more inventive and groundbreaking directors who ever lived and sadly doesn’t get enough recognition. Unfortunately he was going through a bout of depression when he made this film, which caused him to abuse alcohol and seriously affected the film’s final result although it still manages to be a fascinating visual excursion nonetheless. The location shooting, which was done almost entirely on the island of Sardinia, is dazzling. The shots of the steep cliffs and crystal blue water, which are literally a part of Sissy’s backyard, are breathtaking. The modernistic mansion that she lives in is equally sumptuous particularly with its myriad collection of art paintings and wet bars that seem to pop-up every few feet in whatever room or patio the characters are in.

The acting is also outstanding as Taylor eats up the scenery with her over-the-top bitchiness and unexplained anxiety attacks, which she takes to an unprecedented campy level. The outrageous hat that she wears to her dinner date is quite possibly one of the most bizarre things ever to be put on top of a human head.

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The normally commanding Burton unfortunately comes off as weak in comparison and overall looks uncomfortable in his role. The script originally called for a young man in his 20’s for the part and thus casting Burton, who was already 42 at the time, seemed misguided.

Dwarf actor Michael Dunn is excellent in support. His character utters only three words, but still makes his presence known with the way he shows complete control over his attack dogs while playing of all things Sissy’s bodyguard. Playwright Noel Coward appears in a fun bit as one of Sissy’s friends who she invites over for dinner. The friends secretly disdain each other in private, but put on a superficial friendship when together and apparently this is also how the two performers behaved with each other behind-the-scenes as well.

Unfortunately the script, which was written by Tennessee Williams and based on his play ‘The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore’ leaves much to be desired. The plot meanders on to an unsatisfying conclusion while rehashing old themes that had already been used in his earlier and better known works.

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Polish Poster

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 26, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joseph Losey

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Region 2)

The Night of the Iguana (1964)

night of the iguana 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Flawed clergyman loves women.

Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton) loses his job as a clergyman when rumors surface of indiscretions he had with a young female parishioner, which pushes him to preach a ranting sermon at the pulpit that eventually drives all the members of the congregation out of the building. He then gets a job as a tour guide in Mexico and has the chore of leading a bus load of middle-aged women around the country. Charlotte (Sue Lyon) is a young nymph who takes a liking to Lawrence much to the chagrin of her over-protective chaperon Judith Fellowes (Grayson Hall). When Charlotte is caught in Lawrence’s bedroom late at night Ms. Fellowes promises that she will have it reported and get him fired. Unable to handle a another potential job loss Lawrence takes the bus load of women to an isolated seaside hotel run by Maxine (Ava Gardner) an old friend of his. He hopes that by somehow trapping them there he will be able to convince Ms. Fellowes to drop the charges, but along the way he meets Hannah (Deborah Kerr) who he starts to fall in-love with.

Unlike most of Tennesse William’s other plays this one, at least the first half, is full of energy and comical nuance. I found the group of ladies and Lawrence’s exasperated dealings with them to be quite amusing and the film moves along at an engaging pace. The second half though bogs down with more of William’s signature brooding drama that ends up hurting the flow. In many ways this film seems like two movies in one and the difference in tone and pace never gels. Despite a good nighttime conversation between Kerr and Burton I kept hoping the ladies and Ms. Fellowes would come back and felt the film was weaker without them.

Legendary director John Huston hits most of the right buttons here although it is not his best work. I was surprised and impressed to learn that Maxine’s hotel was built specifically for the production in an otherwise deserted region of the country. The building had an authentic old look and helped give the film added style and personality. I had mixed feelings with the black and white photography. On one had it helps bring out the dark recesses of its flawed characters and accentuate the moodiness of William’s script, but it also takes away from the exotic beauty of the locale.

Burton is good as usual and playing the part of an emotionally fractured, alcoholic character seems right up his alley. Gardner is great as the brassy Maxine and the scene of her making out with her two young, shirtless, maraca playing male assistants along the beach late at night is genuinely steamy. Kerr is in fine form as well and her more restrained demeanor makes a nice contrast to Gardner’s.

Lyon’s acting isn’t quite up to her costars and she seems particularly out of her league during her scene with Burton, but in the looks department she is unmatched. She is more filled-out and mature than in Lolita and in many ways even hotter. The scene of close-up shots of her moving her hips to a tune at a Mexican bar may excite some of the male viewers.

The under-rated Hall is excellent in her role as the heavy. Her craggy face and personality are perfect for the part and it rightly got her a supporting actress nomination.

In the final analysis this is not a bad version of Tennessee William’s material, but not a great one either.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 6, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Not Rated

Director: John Huston

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Throw keys to transient.

Karen Stone (Vivien Leigh) is an aging actress who is no longer getting the top roles like she used to. She and her husband decide to travel off to Rome for a retreat, but instead he dies of a fatal heart attack while on the plane. Karen then decides to remain in Rome where she leases a luxurious apartment, but becomes lonely and starts feeling insecure about her desirability.  She meets Contessa Madga (Lotte Lenya) who is known in the area with setting up young men with lonely rich older women.   She sets Karen up with Paolo (Warren Beatty) a dashing young gigolo who is only attracted to Karen because of her money and the belief that she will pay him to be her lover while Contessa will get a cut of the profit. Karen does give Paolo a ‘salary’, but remains under the delusion that eventually he will fall in love with her for real.

Although the story moves along at a slow and plodding pace and there is little if any action I still found myself captivated. The script is based on a novel by Tennessee Williams and somehow his stuff always remains strong drama no matter how talky it may appear. The characters and their situations are real. Their fragility and desperation are things many people can sometimes find themselves facing and therefore it makes an impact.

The sets are excellent. Karen’s apartment has a nice mixture of elegance and airiness. I also liked the recreation of the streets of Rome that was done inside a sound stage. Normally I prefer on-location shooting, but when the sets are built in such a meticulous way it becomes almost mesmerizing.

Leigh, in her second to last film role, is solid as usual. Some may complain that she is playing a part that is too similar to her Oscar winning role of Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire and to some extent they have a point. It almost seemed like Leigh in her later career was becoming a bit of a caricature, but she does it so well that it is a treat nonetheless. Just watching the way she moves her eyes as she gazes at Paolo secretly flirting with another woman is memorable.

Beatty is equally good. He speaks with an authentic sounding Italian accent and has a tanned complexion. This was the role that established him as a leading man and worth seeking out for his fans.

Lenya is engaging as the wicked Contessa. Most viewers today will know her best as the villainess Rosa Klebb in the classic James Bond film From Russia to Love. I always felt that she was one of the best Bond villains, but the amazing thing is that here she ends up being almost as menacing though in a more subtle way. She exudes evilness with clarity that is both impressive and creepy.

Jill St. John is terrific as Barbra Bingham a younger, more attractive actress who makes no secret about her desire to take-over from Karen’s now fading spotlight. Her bratty, haughty behavior is effectively on-target. Apparently Leigh like her character felt intimidated by St. John’s youthful beauty and refused to say even one word to her during the production.

Spoiler Alert

My only real complaint is with the ending. Paolo abandons Karen and so in a fit of desperation she throws her apartment keys down to a transient who has been stalking her during most of the movie. The next shot has the homeless man entering the apartment and walking towards the camera, but then it fades and we are left to wonder what happened. Supposedly at the time just having a woman throw her keys down to some strange man on the street was considered shocking enough, but I wanted more of a conclusion. Did he kill her, or did they have sex and then start some sort of weird relationship? These are interesting questions that I felt should have been answered and the story’s ambiguity is frustrating.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 28, 1961

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Jose Quintero

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD