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Mary Scott learns she only has ten months to live before dying of an incurable disease. She manages to keep the news from her husband, Brad and daughter, Polly. She tries to make every moment of her life count, but her effort is weakened by the discovery that Brad is interested in his assistant, Chris Radner. But when she learns that Brad does indeed love her and not Chris, and that Chris is leaving town, she realizes what she must do to ensure the future happiness of Brad and Polly. She persuades Chris to stay, makes a genuine friend of her and watches Polly grow towards Chris. Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
No actress during the golden age of Hollywood handled death with more soulful dignity than Margaret Sullavan, an actress unjustly forgotten even though she gave peerless performances in MGM classics like Frank Borzage's "Three Comrades" and Ernst Lubitsch's "The Shop Around the Corner". This modestly budgeted 1950 sudser was her last film, a decade before her own untimely death from a drug overdose. This was one of only sixteen Sullavan made since she preferred acting on stage rather than celluloid, which was a shame since she was utterly sublime no matter what the vehicle. In this appropriate swan song, Sullavan plays Mary Scott, a suburban wife and mother who learns too late that she is dying of cancer. Director Rudolph Maté holds the camera on the veteran actress for long takes as she reacts to this news.
Maté lets her mercurial moods dictate the tone of the film and allows Mary to find a way to die in the most mature way possible. This is where the insightful screenplay by Howard Koch ("Casablanca") rates a cut above similar-minded soap operas. Witness the adult way he has Mary deal with her husband Brad's infidelity and her pragmatic approach in setting up Brad's assistant-turned-mistress, a serious-minded Norwegian draftsperson named Chris, as her successor in the family. While Mary's selflessness is likely to look excessive by contemporary standards, Sullavan brings such an affecting combination of pathos and intelligence to her character that she transcends the innate limitations of the material, including a few predictable turns like a high-speed drive on a deserted highway and a comically drunken scene in an all-night diner.
She even has a couple of moments where she gets to recreate famous dramatic cues from "Three Comrades" such as her irritation at the ticking of an alarm clock and her valiant struggle to get out of bed. Character actor Wendell Corey does a fine job as Brad as does Viveca Lindfors ("The Way We Were") as early feminist Chris, although their affair is severely downplayed to appease 1950 censors. At 11, Natalie Wood was still five years away from "Rebel Without a Cause", but she manages to play Mary and Brad's precocious daughter with aplomb. The film has a low-budget look about it, but it doesn't take away from Sullavan's artistry which is on full display here. To the strains of Brahms' "Symphony no. 1 in C minor", the last scene packs the necessary emotional wallop even though you know the film's outcome from nearly the beginning. There is a newly remastered print on the 2011 DVD release.
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