Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH (1962). Written and directed by Richard Brooks, from Tennessee Williams' play.

"The right doors wouldn't open so he opened the wrong ones."

A struggling actor named Chance Wayne (Paul Newman) comes back to the southern town of his birth with a fading star Alexandra Del Lago (Geraldine Page) in tow. He hopes to see the woman he loves, Heavenly (Shirley Knight) whom he, unbeknownst, left with child on his last dash into town. Heavenly's father, Boss Finley (Ed Begley) and his nasty son Tom (Rip Torn) are not keen on having Chance around, but Heavenly's Aunt Nonnie (Mildred Dunnock) has always been fond of him, and warns him to get out before it's too late. Not a good situation for a fellow to be in. Paul Newman isn't bad as Wayne, but he's not really the right actor for the role; Chance is essentially a male hooker and Newman was always too white bread for that kind of part. [It would have been very interesting to see Elvis Presley, who was first offered the part, in the role. He might have been more on the mark.] Geraldine Page gives a showy performance that occasionally lets us see the human being behind the essential monster that is Alexandra Del Lago. Although this is a sanitized, Hollywoodized version of Williams' play to be sure, some of Williams' genuis comes through, and his depiction of redneck Republicans seems ahead of its time. Madeleine Sherwood has fun as Miss Lucy, Boss Finley's paramour. Doesn't quite work up the sense of dread and terror that the play does, but it comes close.

Verdict: Williams Lite, but not bad for what it is. ***.

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