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

Sunday, October 9, 2011


BACK STREET (1961). Director: David Miller.

"There isn't a marriage in the world where one doesn't love more than the other."

NOTE: This review contains spoilers. The third film version of Fannie Hurst's novel [earlier versions appeared in 1932 and 1941] makes just about every mistake conceivable in adapting the material. Rae Smith (Susan Hayward) falls in love with soldier Paul Saxon (John Gavin) without realizing that he's already married. She is going to fly to New York with him to start a new life, but misses the plane. They meet up years later and resume their affair while Paul's conveniently drunken and nasty wife (Vera Miles) insists she'll never give him a divorce. The first problem with the picture is that mistresses, while still capable of raising eyebrows, were not quite as scandalous in the sixties as they were in the thirties, forties and earlier. Another problem is that the life-long affair of the novel and other two film versions only occupies a few years in this version. The wife, mostly unseen in earlier versions, was never supposed to be a shrew but a perfectly nice person, one of the reasons the married man never divorces her. The earlier film versions concentrated on the loneliness endured by women in back street affairs, but Hayward has a successful career and lots of friends. Worst of all, in this version the married man's son is just a child, incapable of eventually reaching an understanding as regards to his father and the other woman he loved, (making the ending all the more inexplicable). In the first two film versions, Walter/Paul was only engaged and decided to marry Ray/Rae, but in this version he wants her to run off to New York with him without first telling her he's got a wife! At the end, after his and his wife's death in an accident, his very young children suddenly show up at his mistress' door and want to be friends with her -- which makes absolutely no sense at all [their being orphans notwithstanding]! At the time of filming Hayward was 44 and Gavin was 30 and the difference in their ages quite apparent, but the script unwisely ignores it. Hayward, who seems justifiably bored with the material, just goes through the motions for the most part. Gavin makes an effort and is acceptable. Miles comes off the best, with good support from Virginia Grey, Charles Drake, Natalie Schafer, Reginald Gardiner, and Robert Eyer as the son.The liveliest scene has Miles invading a charity auction to make snide remarks about Hayward and carry on in supremely bitchy fashion.

Verdict: A completely unnecessary remake that shows some promise at first but gets more tedious with every passing minute. **.

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