Tom Lee is a sensitive boy of 17 whose lack of interest in the "manly" pursuits of sports, mountain climbing and girls labels him "sister-boy" at the college he is attending. Head master ...
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Eva Marie Saint,
Tom Lee is a sensitive boy of 17 whose lack of interest in the "manly" pursuits of sports, mountain climbing and girls labels him "sister-boy" at the college he is attending. Head master Bill Reynold's wife Laura sees Tom's suffering at the hands of his school mates (and her husband), and tries to help him find himself. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <email@example.com>
Slickly done MGM soaper. As I recall, the movie was much talked about at time of release, no doubt because of its touchy subject matter. Homosexuality was primarily a taboo topic in the straitened 1950's.
The question posed is whether Tom's non-masculine traits are traceable to a latent homosexuality. That's what the film's basically about though the word itself is never mentioned. Due to family tradition, Tom's required to attend an upper-class all-boys college. That would be okay, except hyper-masculine behavior is the required norm, and since Tom's basically a sensitive type seemingly uninterested in girls, he's ridiculed and shunned by the other lads as a "sister-boy". The wife of his macho house-supervisor, however, is a sensitive soul herself. She cares about his plight when no one else does. But Laura's not sure how to help, especially when the school environment discourages sensitivity as unmanly. So how will Tom's predicament evolve when so much of his life combines against a non-conformity he seems unable to resist.
The story's told in Tom's flashback, so we know that whatever happens, he physically survives. But in what kind of mental state, we don't know until the end. Note how director Minnelli films entirely at an impersonal distance. There are no subjective close-ups. That way story remains uppermost, at the same time personal emotions are minimized. Whether this was the best course remains, I think, debatable.
Fortunately, the lead actors, Kerr (Tom) and Kerr (Laura), avoid excess. Thus, the results avoid treacle, the usual pitfall of a movie of this type. However, the boys' boisterous horseplay is spread on with a trowel, an over-exaggeration I guess to better contrast with the withdrawn Tom. But it's not really needed to that distractive degree.
Anyway, the story manages considerable human interest as both Tom and Laura try to deal with the travails of a hyper-masculine environment. I like the way Laura is slowly drawn into Tom's kindred soul predicament, and in a way that provides her own self-discovery after years of feminine conformity. Also, catch how subtly impotence is implied when Tom visits bargirl Ellie (Crane). The problem also turns out to be a key plot ingredient.
By and large, the taboo elements appear dated. Still, interest is pretty well maintained over the two-hour runtime. That plus a thoughtful upshot makes this MGM production worth catching up with.
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