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As a result of the numerous re-makes of this haunting classic this original film version is often overlooked. Irving Rapper's delicate direction and economical style are the perfect compliments to Tennessee Williams' haunting prose. While Paul Newman's more recent filming of The Glass Menagerie with wife Joanne Woodward is more faithful to the play's text, his use of colour and a much weaker supporting cast makes the 1950 version more compelling viewing. The talented Karen Allen is not nearly as heartbreaking as Academy Award winner Jane Wyman in the crucial role of Laura. Arthur Kennedy and Kirk Douglas also out perform their more contemporary counterparts. Having now seen a number of actresses fail to live up to the considerable challenges of playing Amanda Wingfield it is easier to appreciate the virtues of the rather miscast Gertrude Lawrence(the film producers had wanted Tallulah Bankhead but felt her unfit to complete filming, they also wanted Bette Davis but her falling out with Jack Warner left her out of the running).According to Elia Kazan a nervous Charles Feldman re-cut the film thus somewhat compromising its integrity. However even with its flaws it is the only filmed version which fully captures the tragic atmosphere of Williams' brilliant play.
One of Tennessee Williams' best plays becomes a good but not great film
despite a stellar cast. It's hard to pin exactly why this film doesn't
soar but it's a solid screen version. Maybe it's just that the subject
matter works better in a stage environment and that the camera is just
Familiar story of restless son, his crippled sister, and their manic mother, who seems to live in the golden past is great material for the stage. And this sad story of the mother's attempts to goad the son into bringing home a young man to meet the sister seems rather cruel. But even the forgotten and lost can lead lives of desperation as they cling to dreams and make wishes on silver moons.
Arthur Kennedy stars as Tom, the son who tries to please his mother but longs to escape his dull job in St. Louis and see the world. Jane Wyman is the crippled sister who has shrunk from the world and collects tiny glass animals. Gertrude Lawrence is the mother who was abandoned by her husband and has been reduced to living in a dumpy apartment and selling magazine subscriptions. And Kirk Douglas is the "gentleman caller." All 4 actors are quite good, although none received Oscar nominations, despite the hype. Many great actresses have been associated with the role of Amanda Wingfield since this play made its Broadway debut in the 1940s: Laurette Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, Joanne Woodward, Maureen Stapletobm Jessica Tandy, Julie Harris, and Jessica Lange have all played the role on stage, film, or TV. And I swear I remember Shirley Booth doing this on TV also.
Ultimetaely the story is as fragile as the glass figures. If any one character dominates the story the whole play collapses. This film version works very well in balancing the roles. And while Wyman seems a tad old for the part, Lawrence was an even odder choice. I've also read that Bette Davis and Tallulah Bankhead were considered. But how they decided on Lawrence--a great musical comedy star in London and New York--is anyone's guess. She really is quite good but the film might have need the extra star power of Bette Davis.
Anyway, this classic American play is worth watching.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The screen output of Gertrude Lawrence was sadly brief and in fact this
was her last film role and first since Rembrandt which was 14 years
earlier. She never quite registered on screen as she did on stage.
Lawrence was terribly disappointed that she did not get to the film
version of Lady In The Dark. And a bigger loss was the fact that she
did not live to be considered to play Anna in The King And I on screen.
According to Sheridan Morley's biography of Gertrude Lawrence the reviews for her performance were not the best. Sadly she suffered under the same handicap that Joan Crawford did when she did the film version of Rain. People remembered what Jeanne Eagels did on Broadway and Joan just suffered with the comparison.
Critics and theatergoers remembered Laurette Taylor as Amanda Wingfield on the stage and Lawrence just came off second best. Tennessee Williams was totally enthralled by what she did in The Glass Menagerie, maybe his most autobiographical work. I couldn't find what Williams thought of Lawrence, but I did find references to her reviews in Morley's biography of Lawrence.
I found nothing wrong with her. I along with many others had a lot of problems with the forced happy ending that was given the play. Briefly Lawrence lives with her two adult children and she's a stifling and controlling influence. Son Arthur Kennedy rebels, he wants to get out and see and do things and he's succeeded because the play is done in flashback where you see Kennedy working as a seaman. The sea for this Williams's character is a symbol of freedom the way it is with any number of Eugene O'Neill characters.
We know already what has happened to Kennedy. His sister is beautifully played by Jane Wyman, it's a strong echo of her performance in Johnny Belinda where she plays another fragile character. Wyman is totally dominated by Lawrence who has good reason to be worried that Kennedy is going to leave, she gets Wyman to take some typing class where she can gain secretarial skills and support her in her old age. Wyman can't leave the nest though. Her whole world revolves about a series of glass figurines that she treats as living pets, her Glass Menagerie. Part of her problem is that she is slightly lame, not mentioned, but more than likely from childhood infantile paralysis for which there was no cure yet.
Lawrence is forever taking about all the beaus she had as a young southern belle, not unlike Blanche Dubois from that other Tennessee Williams classic, A Streetcar Name Desire. If Wyman won't be a career woman than we have to get her married off.
After a lot of pressure Kennedy brings home one of his co-workers, Kirk Douglas. Douglas who has great screen charm and sometimes it is used with some of the biggest heels he's played on screen is a genuinely nice person here who even remembers the shy and diffident Wyman from high school. Sad to say he has to let her down even in a gentle way.
It's what happens after that is the difference. In the play both Lawrence and Wyman's character are doomed as Kennedy just reaches for his freedom. There is some indication that Wyman may wind up in some asylum. In this film the indications are that Wyman will now have developed some self assurance, something Williams never meant for his character.
I think Gertrude Lawrence's performance can stand up to others in her character. But the play itself was unforgivably compromised.
Glass Menagerie, The (1950)
*** (out of 4)
Excellent performances make up for a slow pace in this adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play. An aging Southern Belle (Gertrude Lawrence) makes life horrible for her ambitious son (Arthur Kennedy) and crippled daughter (Jane Wyman) because of her dreams of what life should be. She hopes to get her daughter married off, unable to see her faults and she thinks she has a shot when her son bring home a man (Kirk Douglas) he works with. I really wasn't sure what to expect from this film after reading a few negative reviews but I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was worth watching due in large part to the terrific performances by the entire cast. I was really shocked to see how well the entire cast handled the dialogue and how easy it came off for everyone. Lawrence really stands out as the overbearing mother who you just want to hate yet she's so annoying that she becomes charming after a while. I thought Lawrence did a terrific job at playing both sides of the coin because you do hate her for the way she treats her children but when the stranger shows up, she changes to someone completely different. Just check her performance when this stranger tells her something she didn't know. Wyman is also excellent as the shy and cripple daughter. She too got into the role quite well and made us believe everything about the character. Both Kennedy and Douglas also turn in fine performance and most importantly is how well all four act together. I think director Rapper could have pushed the film a little faster as the pace gets very slow after a while but this is just a small complaint. As with many of Williams' stories, this one here had quite a bit cut out to get pass the censors but in the end this is still worth viewing thanks to the cast.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm sorry. My summary isn't really a summary but a strong feeling that
kept coming to mind as I watched this film. As Mrs. Wingfield talked
and talked and talked and fussed and controlled the daylights out of
her grown children, I kept having a fantasy of Arthur Kennedy (Tom
Wingfield) punching the garrulous old bat in the mouth! This is NOT a
complaint about the play or the film--after all, Tennessee Williams was
deliberately crafting a portrait of a terminally controlling and
annoying lady. I assume it was a form of exorcism--a way for him to let
go of people in his past who annoyed him practically to death! As I
already mentioned, the single parent Mrs. Wingfield is a terribly
annoying person. Despite this, her two grown children still live with
her! You can understand, perhaps, the daughter living with her. Laura
(Jane Wyman) has a severe limp and has trouble getting around--perhaps
this explains why she never left. As for Tom, he's the real puzzler.
Unlike Laura, he is more open in his disdain for his mother and her
annoying ways...yet he eventually does what she wants AND is still at
home though he looks to be in his 30s.
Throughout most of the film, Mrs. Wingfield mostly talks AT her children. In particular, she always is pushing Laura to meet a nice man and marry and is badgering Tom to bring home a man for Laura. Although it never was explicitly stated in the film or play, when Tom talked about going to the movies, some took this to be his excuse to get out of the house (and away from mom) but I took it to be that he was possibly out cruising for men. Considering this is a Tennessee Williams play being dramatized, it's not hard to make this assumption--especially since homosexuality is a theme in several of his other plays AND since Williams was gay. Either interpretation is valid, I think, but lead you in very different directions in your thinking.
There is a heck of a lot more I could say about the film and the Wingfields, though frankly you'd probably do a lot better reading a critical analysis or more in-depth summary. Instead, let's get to the movie itself. Like the Tennessee Williams films of the 50s and 60s, the plays were butchered to get by censors. While this one wasn't as badly butchered as some (such as SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH where the castration scene was changed to a nose-breaking scene!), the film is pretty tame and they changed the ending--making it more upbeat! Based on what they were allowed to say and do in 1950, it's pretty good and the performances were excellent--though it is odd that Amanda Wingfield's children DON'T have the accent that she has. I love Arthur Kennedy and Jane Wyman--but were they really the best choices for the roles? As far as the indifference to his mother's blathering goes, I guess Kennedy WAS a good choice--as this fits his screen persona pretty well.
Overall, a well worth watching film but not among my favorite Williams plays. Interesting, yes, but lacking the spark and vicious interactions that Williams fans have come to love! Plus, I deducted a point for the "happy ending"--it wasn't true to the story at all. Tennessee Williams is NOT supposed to make you happy or optimistic!!!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This version of Williams's beautiful play takes all the magic, memory,
and poignancy out of the story. The play is a wispy, fragile thing and
the movie takes the story, which remains, and shifts it to a typical
film structure, taking the greatest things about the play out and
putting all the conventional movie "stuff" in.
Add to that a totally misguided change to the ending, where Laura suddenly has a new gentleman caller (!!!) and the sadness and purity of the whole thing falls apart. The play is about a man who leaves his sister to a sad, lonely life and his own emotional confusion and regret about following his personal journey instead of caring for his mother and loving sister. Take that out and you've got... nothing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I am a high school English teacher, and I have shown clips of all three
movies to my classes. By far, this is one I like the best.
Gertrude Lawrence as Amanda, to me, is a believable woman. Yes, she is garrulous and nags, but she loves her children. She kisses Tom and hugs him in the movie. She wants the best for both of her children, but they confuse and perplex her. I think her performance is wonderful. She wasn't shrill or over the top like Katharine Hepburn's Amanda in 1976. My students couldn't stand Hepburn, nor could I. I am surprised at all the negative comments about Gertrude Lawrence's performance, but I still feel she deserved more praise. I think she was really quite wonderful.
I also liked Jane Wyman very much as well. Looking very much like Judy Garland in the 1944 MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, I think she turned in a subtle and believable portrayal of a shy and lonely girl. She too seemed real.
Arthur Kennedy was really way too old looking to play the part, but I did like what he did with the role. Again, I believed him as a real character. Whether Tennessee Williams was gay or not (and we know he was), it doesn't matter for the play to focus on Tom's sexuality. Sure, Tom goes to bars and wants to join the Merchant Marines. That doesn't make him gay. Tom seeks adventure and a career as a writer, not working in a warehouse. Therefore, Arthur Kennedy's version of Tom works for me. I saw the terrific Off Broadway revival starring Judith Ivey a few years ago, and Tom was presented in a subtle way as gay looking longingly as a sailor passed by on stage (which is not in the script). It worked that way too. A few students have picked up on this possibility and I then tell them that Williams was gay, and that yes Tom might be gay too.
As for Kirk Douglas, I also liked him. He was grinning a bit too much for my taste, but I liked his portrayal of Jim.
Opening up the play with scenes of Laura attending Rubicams Business College, Amanda's enjoying her time on Blue Mountain with her seventeen gentlemen callers, Tom working at the warehouse, Amanda and Laura shopping in a department store, Tom drinking in a bar, Jim and Laura going dancing across the street at the Paradise Dance Hall, and Laura buying her glass unicorn all added to the film. Remember, a film does not have to include only things from the play. It is allowed to open it up and expand on certain things.
As for the film's upbeat ending showing that Jim's visit and advice changes Laura, it is what it is. It was added to the film, despite Williams' objections. It did change his play in a big way, and maybe this was wrong. However, it was the director's vision to pursue this. I make certain to remind my students over and over that even though Laura has found the courage to change that it happens only in this movie version. In the play and the other two movies made, Laura's future is left uncertain. Will Jim's visit set her back more, or will it enable her to become a happier and more self sufficient woman? We have to think about it and decide on our own.
I have to re watch the 1987 Paul Newman directed version again, but I remember thinking it was a good version, but not in the same league as this one to me.
One thing I did learn from the Judith Ivey Off Broadway revival was how humorous Amanda Wingfield could be played. Yes, humorous. We didn't laugh at her, but we laughed at the humor she exhibited. Ivey blew me away in the role.
Watch all three versions, and search some clips of the various stage versions on youtube. Decide for yourself, but give Gertrude Lawrence a chance to impress you.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film was excellently cast; the actors played their roles very convincingly. Everything about it was going great: the setting, mood; great acting. The play itself was a real downer; a man (Edmund O'Brien) is still living with his mother and sister although he's in his mid twenties. His mother is domineering; she succeeded in driving away her husband, who joined the merchant marine and left her and their two little kids. Her grown son is now moody and weak; the result of being raised by a bossy, delusional woman. His sister (Jane Wyman) suffers from a condition that causes her to limp noticeably. She was obviously sheltered by her mother and now she's introverted, lacks self-esteem, and lives in a lonely fantasy world. Kirk Douglas plays the gentleman caller who ultimately rejects the daughter during their blind date and makes up a story about being engaged to blow her off as gently as possible. After the date doesn't work out, the mother takes it out on her son, who leaves them forever and, like his dad, joins the merchant marine. This is a very sad play on many levels. It deals with a woman who lost her mind after her husband deserted her. She and her kids live in a cramped apartment in the midst of a squalid slum. Her daughter has to deal with the unfortunate fact that people like her, who limp, face rejection and ridicule in life. Her mother coddled her and she has regressed into a shy, pathetic young woman. Her son , who no doubt bore the brunt of his mother's frustrations has grown into an aimless, bitter young man. When he tries to set his sister up with a popular guy he works with, it blows up in his face. The way this movie ended changed the meaning. The play did not offer conclusive hope for the daughter. There wasn't another gentleman caller. One could only hope that she would soon come out of her shell and that she gained some self-esteem from being lectured on her good attributes by Kirk Douglas's character.Maybe now that the son is out of the picture, the family dynamics will change for the better. Or maybe things will get much worse. It made you think, and there are possible positive and negative outcomes; it's up to you.
Gloomy and ponderous are the first words that come to mind when viewing
this Warner film directed by Irving Rapper and starring stage star
Getrude Lawrence as Amanda Wingfield. While this casting choice gives
the film a novel touch, her performance--sometimes strong, sometimes
subtle--is not enough to bring the story to vivid life.
Instead, it seems oddly stagebound despite Rapper's attempt to open it up occasionally. JANE WYMAN seems too old to convincingly portray the girl who is crippled socially and physically, as quiet and sensitive as she is. ARTHUR KENNEDY does well with the role of her restless brother (the sort of character he so often played) and KIRK DOUGLAS seems a rather odd choice to play the girl's suitor.
Somehow, none of it really jells.
The viewer is left with the impression that this must have seemed wonderful on the stage (since it was such a well-known hit by Tennessee Williams), but whatever ingredients made it sparkle as a play are sorely missing from the film. In the end, it seems nothing more than an artificial piece and the dialog is never laced with the gossamer effect of poetry that is usually associated with Williams' best works.
The pace is leisurely and never does the story seem vibrant enough to convince us that the events are really happening. Instead, we have an awareness that Jane Wyman is "acting" the role of Laura and Gertrude Lawrence is doing her best to tone down her stage mannerisms and give a natural performance as Amanda.
Summing up: Not the best of Tennessee's work on screen.
One of the few chances to see the great Gertrude Lawrence on screen. her amanda is so complex,manic,gentele,harsh. a truly great performance that was totally ignored by the academy.arthur kennedy too is compelling as tom. a shame he did not do more William's on screen he was one of the major stage interpreters of the man. only jane wyman seems miscast,a bit too character-actressy for the subtlty of the role to shine through.too bad,because without a good laura half the play is lost. a good effort that could have been great if they had not used wyman.
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