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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>
Robert Anderson's "Tea and Sympathy" was a hit on the New York stage. Its subject matter was a shock to many people at the time, but alas, on second viewing, this film seems a bit dated. Of course, one has to put oneself back in the fifties, when the play opened on Broadway, it almost seems a daring attempt to speak about homosexuality back then. If you haven't seen the film, please stop reading now.
Vincente Minelli made the best of the adaptation by playwright Anderson for the screen. In fact, most of the perception about Tom's homosexuality seems to be center stage, but no one really focuses on the one that really is and is trying to hide the fact: Bill Reynolds!
We realize at the end of the film that Tom was a mixed up young man, rather than a gay man coming to terms with his feelings. In fact, if one watches closely, Tom seems to be terribly attracted by Laura, but he is too shy to do, or say anything that will make him be seen differently by her. Also, Laura confronts Bill toward the end of the film and confesses the way she feels about Tom, and what she almost did the night before in order for the young man to have a real sexual experience, which occurs later on.
While "Tea and Sympathy" concentrates on the lonely Tom, it presents us a masculine Bill, who confesses he had gone through the same things Tom is experiencing now, at one time in his life, but who in reality is hiding his own homosexuality from everyone. Bill is the most dangerous individual because he will probably prey on the young men under his care and force them into satisfying his own gay urges, as has been seen in the case of Catholic priests abusing children. It is also revealing that in the last scene when Tom finds him at home, he is listening to the classical music Tom loved and Laura is has divorced him.
Deborah Kerr, having played Laura on stage, brings her own interpretation of the role, which in a way works. Also the same could be said of John Kerr, who originated the role of Tom. The only thing is that one doesn't see strong chemistry between the co-starring Kerrs, in our humble opinion.
Leif Erickson gives a subtle reading on Bill Reynolds. While he is not the center of the story, he looms large in the background because we realize that instead of asking the guys under him to behave he seems to be enjoying that someone else is being ridiculed as a sissy. Edward Andrews, Daryl Hickman and Norma Crane are seen in supporting roles.
Being dated aside, the film shows how America dealt with this subject in that era.
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