Tea and Sympathy (1956) Poster

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The best way to walk.
dbdumonteil10 February 2005
The movie begins and ends with an old French folk song "plaisir d'amour" (English translation :"joys of love")which was reworked as "can't help falling in love" for Elvis Presley.Since the movie is actually a long flashback,the infinite nostalgia this old chestnut generates fits the movie like a glove.

"Tea and sympathy" might be the best of all Minnelli non-musicals in the fifties/sixties.We even forget that John Kerr (25 at the time) was much too old for this part of an adolescent in search of his sexual identity.John Kerr was the victim of "the cobweb" a couple of years before.His character in "tea and sympathy'" is a relative of the one I mention above as well as of the young hero of "home from the hill" (1960) "Tea and sympathy " was a courageous move for the fifties:it took a lot a nerve to show a boy at the university who refused "normality".What's normality anyway?Is it ,for a man ,swearing or climbing mountains? as luminous Deborah Kerr says.When you're not fond of sports,when you like the ladies' tea and sympathy,when you enjoy music and poetry ,then you are a "sister boy" and maybe even worse...You've got to pay attention to see what heavy things Minnelli was saying at a time it was not that much good to be DIFFERENT.Robert Anderson's play was years ahead and had (or should have had) a deep beneficial influence on mentalities.The scene where one of the "true" boys teaches his unfortunate pal the right way to walk had certainly a strong influence on French director Claude Miller 's "la meilleure façon de marcher"(1975).

But the play (and Minnelli's excellent movie) are often a ruthless portrayal of the "straights" :the young hero's father is a really dumb man -where is his wife by the way? Is she dead? or the perfect housewife?-,a narrow-minded crude character devoid of all the qualities of the heart.The fact that he asks the virile teacher to "make a man of his son" proves his stupidity.This teacher (D.Kerr's husband) ,under a he-man mask actually hides a vulnerability which his sensitive wife feels.He,too , is longing for tenderness,love and affection,but as it's not worthy of a true man,his life will be an unfulfilled one.

Deborah Kerr RULES.She wins over the audience with a mesmerizing performance .It's not only the "sister boy" who falls in love with her.Anyone who sees this wonderful film will too.

NB:in the play,which was sweetened ,Tom is called "Grace" or "Gracie",and the words "queer" and "fairy" are used.
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Comparative Acting Styles
harry-767 May 2000
Those who had the good fortune to see Deborah Kerr onstage in the Elia Kazan production of "Tea and Sympathy," will attest to her unforgetable performance. Kerr not only played it on Broadway but also toured with it, a treat for all attendees. Now nearly a half century later, her performance on film, which was very much influenced by her stage style, begins to show a little wear around the edges. It must be difficult to change one's approach after having played a role so successfully night after night. In this case, her inflections, accents, phraseology, pauses, gestures and the like are essentially theatre-based, designed to play to the whole house up to the balcony. In the intimacy of film, this becomes a bit much in the long run, and results in a much more broad, deliberate and stylized Kerr than in any of her other film work. Her character tends to emerge now more as a busy-body, snooper, peeping tom than was ever intended, and certainly it did not come across that way when the film was first released. A landmark film of sorts--for a major studio to tackle a sensitive subject in a major production--"Tea and Sympathy" benefits from a sincerely written script by Robert Anderson, solid direction by Vincent Minnelli and a secure supporting cast. Visually Deborah Kerr is beautiful, and is totally committed to both the play and her role. During her lengthy film career, Kerr certainly contributed a wealth of finely crafted performances.
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What was kept from the play and what was lost (some spoilers)
JudyKwrites4 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Robert Anderson was not setting out to write a manifesto for the gay rights movement, or for anyone's agenda when he wrote the original play. He has said it's not about homosexuality -- it's about love, and those who are different being persecuted by those obsessed with conformity. The play and the film are more interesting as a deconstruction of traditional gender roles, if we need to look at the political aspect of it. But this is mainly a work about two lonely, literate, gentle people who find each other at a wearisomely macho, conformist boy's prep school. Robert Anderson himself adapted his play into the screenplay, and did a good job of opening it up. Minelli does a beautiful directing job, and the original Broadway cast, reprising their roles, all do fine work. The problem is that the censors at the Hayes Office made them butcher Tea and Sympathy, as badly as with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. In the original 1954 play, a teacher takes Tom swimming, then the teacher is fired for being gay, and the other students assume Tom is gay and begin throwing around terms like "queer" and "fairy." The Hollywood 1956 film is reduced to implying he's "less than manly" because the other boys see him sewing with the faculty wives. They start calling him "sisterboy." The original play makes clear that the husband of the Deborah Kerr character (played by Leif Erickson in a fine, bravely repellent performance) abets the boys in persecuting Tom because he himself is really gay and in the closet. The film of course cuts her line near the end of the play, which causes the couple to break up: "Did it ever occur to you that you persecute in Tom, that boy up there, you persecute in him the thing you fear in yourself?" The film would be more powerful and less dated and make more sense if Anderson and Minelli had been allowed to leave these things in. But the worst act of Hayes Office butchery does not relate to the issue of homosexuality; it has to do with the fact that the censors felt adultery must never ever seem to be endorsed on-screen. The film is given the framing device of Tom returning to the school at reunion time, and the epilogue, when it gets back to the framing device ... that's rubbish, there for the censors. It has nothing to do with the real story. Wise viewers will switch off after Deborah Kerr's line: "Years from now, when you talk about this, and you will, be kind." That's where the play ends. This was Deborah Kerr's favorite role in all her years of acting, and Laura Reynolds is the character she has said she most identified with. It shows; she does a lovely, heartfelt job. I'd say she and John Kerr (no relation) have fine chemistry. I find the Ellie Martin character a bit over-done; otherwise, the performances are strong. It's interesting that the head bully in the house, Ralph, is played by Tom Laughlin, who went on to make the Billy Jack films. Perhaps he and John Kerr became buddies in the years they worked on Tea and Sympathy in various incarnations; he also plays the pilot who flies Kerr to the island at the beginning of South Pacific. There's a moment in The Trial of Billy Jack (another period piece, from a very different era!) where an Indian wise man is advising Billy Jack about how we are most hostile to the things we fear in ourselves, "as the athletic man mocks the long-haired youth because he doubts his own masculinity." Something like that -- it reflects sixties and seventies arguments about long-haired hippies, but it's also right out of Tea and Sympathy, where the majority look askance at anyone without a crewcut. The macho, self-hating Bill Reynolds character is like the repressed, married dock worker in Last Exit to Brooklyn -- it's startling to find such a character in a film that was actually made right then, back in that era.
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Marie-6222 June 2004
Deborah Kerr has always been one of the best actresses. Her beauty and wit have always gotten her pretty well rounded roles. "Tea and Sympathy" has done something else for her...It has made her a real human that we can all identify with and understand. She captured your attention with her every second on the screen. John Kerr, as Tom Lee, (the main character) is simply in the backdrop, carrying the story along as best he can. Within him we see a ridiculed boy whose over-femininity makes him the joke of his school. Even the teachers seem to gang up on him. Known as "Sister-boy Lee" he tries to 'become' a man, only to let himself down further. He is soon pitied and taken in by Laura Reynolds, the school master's wife, who is told to "Stay out" because she's not really "involved". The truth is she is deeply involved...Her husband is the main reason for this kid's pain. I don't want to spoil the ending for you so I will say this...Vincente Minnelli is a brilliant director. Deborah Kerr is a wonderful actress who's inner beauty matches her physical beauty. John Kerr really shines. This movie is worth seeing. It does skirt the topic of homophobia but it tells the story that we (when we were teens) can all tell, trying to accept who we are and not trying to be what we aren't.
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An Important Film that provides good historic perspective on the treatment of homosexuality in film.
clio5515 March 2006
"Tea and Sympathy" will offend many forward thinking people, but it is historically important. It provides good perspective for comparing the early twenty-first century to 1956--the time when this movie was made. The film is representative of people's sentiments during the 1950s. I came of age during this time as an effeminate lad who could not even talk with his parents about the stereotyping I experienced in grade or high school. Kids were cruel; so were many adults! Everyone needs a good dose of history, and this film provides it. Students of Gay and Lesbian Studies or film studies need to see this movie. No this is not a happy film, but neither is "Brokeback Mountain," which was set in the 1960s. "Tea and Sympathy" will not thrill anyone who prefers to forget unpleasant eras of history.
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An outdated but enjoyable and poignant film
ingie_oz30 January 2006
It is true that this film, made in 1956, two years after it appeared on the stage, is dated. And it is true, in real 1950s style, the characters may seem very contrived, and the dialogue very scripted. But Tea and Sympathy tells a very real and poignant story and if you allow yourself simply to be swept up by that, rather than looking at the film in a sceptical and critical manner, you may actually enjoy it. John Kerr does a wonderful job of playing a teenage boy, Tom Lee, who cannot seem to fit in with those around him, and Leif Erickson does just as good a job portraying the schoolmaster Bill Reynolds, who sees being 'manly' as one of the most important things there is. And lovely, refined Deborah Kerr (no relation to John Kerr), in the role she played on stage, does an impressive job of portraying Laura Reynolds, the love-starved faculty wife who still thinks about the husband she lost in the war. And she is the one who is disturbed by the treatment Tom gets from his schoolmates, and even from her husband himself, and she is the one who takes action to try and help him. The fact that there are large references to 'out of bounds' sexual activity in the film make it rather unique and daring for the decade in which it was released. Director Vincente Minnelli does a superb job of capturing the sexual tension within the Reynolds house and makes the film that much less twee. A great film, and a must see for Deborah Kerr fans.
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Tea and Sympathy is a gay classic
Havan_IronOak6 July 2002
Warning: Spoilers
I recently watched this classic again. It's probably been 20 years since the first time that I saw it and was curious what IMDb viewers had written about it. I was a bit surprised to see the comments on this film as being objectionable. I don't think that the other reviewer was considering the time. That Tom Lee turned out to be straight despite his less manly habits was the only way that the movie could have been made in those repressed days.

When I first saw this film, I was in the throes of my own coming-out. I loved it and didn't find it objectionable in the least. Here was a movie where someone (other than me) was a loner and different than the popular boys and was the hero of the story. What I had forgotten (or not picked up on at the time) were some of the supporting performances. The supportive room-mate was brave and although he did eventually give way to the pressure, how many folks today would have been as brave?

I also saw the housemaster in a different light. He had always seemed to be a big bully to me, but today I really heard his wife's complaints that they had been married less than a year and that they hardly ever touched anymore. Add that to the way that he seems to spend a lot of time `playing' with bare-chested young men and that he never remarried after his wife left him and one has to wonder if he weren't in a closet of his own.

I think that this movie has stood the test of time better than most and is in no way objectionable although it does describe an objectionable time. Finally Deborah Kerr's final line is one of the great gay line's of all time. Many a gay man has slept with someone and in his mind thought "Years from now when you talk about this - and you will - be kind"
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Tea and Sympathy
matthewwave-117 August 2009
Some of the comments here puzzle me, and really point out how people can see the same film and yet see entirely different films nonetheless.

Yes, Tea and Sympathy addresses homosexuality -- but there isn't a single bit of *actual* homosexuality in the film. It's not about actual homosexuality but about perceived homosexuality... and the fear thereof. It's completely obvious within five minutes that Tom Lee is completely in love with Laura, and there's nothing whatsoever in the film that suggests he might feel romantic or erotic attraction to men... nor is there anything whatsoever in the film that suggests that he's confused about whether or not he likes men (or men and women).

Of course, back in the fifties, most, really all, film language that dealt with homosexuality was coded. Things *stood* for homosexuality, rather than directly displaying it. So, one could be tempted to say that Tom Lee is a coded closet case. But, far too much of the script is explicitly about the external challenge of his being seen as, or feared to be, queer; while absolutely none of it is about an internal struggle with his orientation. He struggles with the perception (his own and others) of his masculinity, but nothing in the film indicates Tom himself might think he's queer.

And, again, his obvious infatuation with Laura permeates the whole film. He doesn't *stalk* her at the beginning because he needs a sympathetic ear...

And when she tries to set him up on a tea date with a girl, there's no sense that she fears Tom is queer, that she must straighten him out. But she *is* horribly concerned that they keep others from thinking it. She even has one line of dialog in which she speaks to him directly of the need to "nip this in the bud" or somesuch. Even in a 1956 film, it wouldn't make any sense to think that this woman would think a tea date would "straighten" Tom out; but it does make sense that she would believe it could be part of repairing his reputation.

The closest the film ever gets to suggesting the potential (much less the actuality) of Tom being queer is when Laura voices fears that Tom being treated "not like a man" could lead him to *become* unsure of himself as a man... If you want to infer she fears he *might* become queer because of this, there's room especially given the overall coding Hollywood demanded of such material, but, again, you've got everything else in the film to work against this interpretation. And it's an interpretation of what Tom *might* be in the future, not what he is in the timeframe of the film itself.

Furthermore, even this is only the perception of another character -- not Tom himself displaying any indication that HE fears he may one day "become" queer.

Tom's conflict revolves around his trying to navigate his way in the world as the *atypical* man he is, find his identity as a man, and be accepted as such... in a world that doesn't want to.

And it's *other* people, not Tom, who clearly (altho thru coded film language) see him as queer, or fear he might be.

And while I understand that Anderson's play was more forceful in suggesting that the housemaster was a repressed homosexual, it's *really* stretch to see it in the film version. The building blocks of the coding are there (yeah, he hangs out with the boys and roughhouses with them, and he neglects his wife), but the film also goes to considerable lengths to paint him as a "typical" man who's lost interest in his marriage once he's claimed his wife. What with that, and the context of a film in which the main character is so clearly painted as a perceived homosexual rather than as an actual one (even in potentiality), the coding is so incredibly watered down that it's really not even there at all, effectively.

Tea and Sympathy is a pretty compelling film about the definitions of masculinity and gender role enforcement and homophobia. It's really upsetting to see that homophobia and misogyny and incredible pressure to conform on screen, but it is compelling. Even if Minnelli turned out to be a horrible choice for director.

His avoidance of close-ups reveals him to be, in this case at least, what feels to me like a very selfish director. More than the topic, more than the writing, it's the performances of Kerr and Kerr that make this film. They are constantly having to fight Minnelli's apparent desire to keep them at a visual distance from us. I guess in a way it's a credit to both the stars and Minnelli himself that he could get such strong work from them despite the sparseness of close-ups that the film so desperately needed.

It's as if Minnelli thought that he was -- or should be -- directing a pageant rather than a drama. "Look, I can make even an intimate, human drama great in WIDESCREEN!!!" Except that you can't, Vincent. I don't care about you in Tea and Sympathy, Mr. Minnelli, I care about Tom and Laura. Give me the characters!

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Dated but, in a way, a classic of gay cinema
preppy-317 September 2003
Warning: Spoilers

Tom Lee (John Kerr) is an outcast at his boarding school. He stays away from the other guys, hates sports, loves poetry, knows how to sew and garden, walks funny and wants to be a--GASP--folk singer!!! The other boys torment him and call him "Sister Boy Lee". His roommate Al (Darryl Hickman) tries to help but it doesn't work. Kind, beautiful Laura Reynolds (Deborah Kerr) wife of the sports coach reaches out to him and "cures" him of his shyness. It seems he isn't gay--just shy and sensitive and needs love to have sex--which he gets from Kerr.

Some gay men find this objectionable and might be angered that the gay theme is never mentioned--he's just shy and sensitive. I don't find it offensive at all. Consider when this was made--1956. They couldn't have a portrayal of a gay youth--the Hayes Code was still in effect and it would have been cut out. Look what they did with "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" of the same era--all the gay sex references were censored. So you have to accept it for what era it was made in and what Hollywood was allowed to show. It's a good thing director Vincente Minnelli was bisexual--he handled it very tastefully. Actually I found all the talk that carefully skirted the subject kind of funny--it was so obviously talking about a gay stereotype and all the attempts to deny it were kind of amusing.

The film is beautifully shot in wide screen and bright, brilliant color. Everybody and everything looks great. There's a nice music score and the script moves at a good pace--it never seems slow or stagy. Deborah Kerr is just fantastic as Laura Reynolds--easily one of her best performances. She's sensitive, strong and understanding. Just great. Unfortunately John Kerr (no relation) was lousy as Tom. He's supposed to be shy and sensitive--he comes across as sullen and obnoxious--it's easy to see why the guys hate him. And he says everything in the same annoying monotone voice! I really didn't care for him. Kerr carries the movie. Also Darryl Hickman has an amusing sequence when he tries to teach Tom how to be more like a man.

Never dull, interesting, well-done--just don't take it as a serious study of gay men. Definitely a period piece--but a very good one. Recommended.

"When you talk about this AND you will...be kind."
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Jessamyn West's Book Title Was Wrong: "Love Really Is What You Think"
encroisade22 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Here we are in 2008, and the pendulum of sexual misunderstanding has swung both ways now, in a few generations. Once, homosexuality was despised. Now, increasingly, homosexuality is advocated as an enlightened preference. Propagating the human species is not a priority in what is perceived as an era of over-population. Besides, we have test tube babies today, and cloning people is probably already being practiced behind closed laboratory doors.

What has remained the same in the past 40 years, however, is that people regard sex, in whatever form it takes, as the main priority of life. The pharmacies can't keep enough Viagra on the shelves.

"Tea and Sympathy," is only 'dated' for those people who don't realize that both the play, and the film, deal with the subject of love. Love is not sex. Sex is not love. You can have love without sex. You can have sex without love.

Perhaps, in some future era of civilization, if we don't blow ourselves up first, the time will come when caring so much for another person that you are willing to sacrifice your future for him, or for her, is more than a Quixotic fantasy. Actually, this has been the cultural ideal on and off for centuries. Ancient Greece and Rome glorified sex and demeaned marriage, as our role models seem to do; and their orgy palaces fell into ruins in the dust of time. Later, in the Middle Ages, the troubadours sang of romantic, idealized love. By the 1600's, as the incredible book "Don Quixote" humorously demonstrates, chivalry was already dead, a laughing-stock, totally divorced from reality. In Victorian and Edwardian England, sexuality became schizophrenic - incredible debauchery existed side-by-side with the kind of love story personified in the lives of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, on Wimpole Street.

The two World Wars of the 20th-century despoiled and degraded many lives, on a wide scale never before seen in history. The film goddesses of the Silver Screen could play a whore one week, and a nun the next. Schizophrenia continued to reign, alive-and-well.

But now, we are immersed in a pornographic dream.

From that standpoint, of course "Tea and Sympathy" is dated. Some commentators here on the film even go so far as to entirely make up scenes which never occur in the movie, right out of the whole cloth of their own fantasies. No, in the last scene Laura never unbuttons her cardigan; and Tom never fondles her breast. More proof that people claim to see things that don't exist simply because they expect to see them. Even 'eyewitnesses' to major news events often don't really know what they're talking about.

If this is a cult film for homosexuals, it is because they see what they want to see in the movie, and not what exists. Clearly, Tom Lee is smitten with Laura long before the film starts, just as his first love was a blond schoolteacher when he was only twelve. Laura's line to his roommate: "Maybe Tom is deeply in love" could only apply to Tom's feelings toward herself.

What is to be learned from Maxwell Anderson's sensitive writing, as well as from Tennessee Williams' best work, is that love is the main thing, and that we choose those whom we love because they meet our psychological and emotional needs, and many times we are not even consciously aware what those needs really are. Reynolds, for example, although he was certainly ambivalent in his sexuality, still truly wanted a good woman to be his wife, which is why he married Laura and fully loved her in his own way; but he also needed patient help right from the start, whereas Laura was slow to realize his dilemma and, being admittedly a selfish woman at times, nursed her own hurts as their relationship deteriorated, quite apart from Tom's involvement at all. Her husband ended up a broken man, not because he was a frustrated, repressed homosexual, but because he had failed the love of his life and couldn't trust himself not to do the same again with another mate.

In "Tea and Sympathy", and in reactions to the film for the past decades, we see how the norms of society can entrap all of us, at both ends of the spectrum.
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Rather than analyzing it to death...
MarieGabrielle30 September 2008
This film came to audiences at a rather schizophrenic time, things were changing, but not that much. Roles were assimilated, but not too drastically. People were questioning things, as long as it wasn't radical.

Women were still patronized, there were still clear role boundaries (witness the scene where Tom is knitting and catches derision for spending ten minutes in a sewing circle.) Not sure why that was a crime of the century, but whatever.

Deborah Kerr is tender and memorable as an unhappy wife to the school master at a prep school who realizes her marriage is a sham. She realizes this when she sympathizes with a student and resident at her home, a confused young man who simply is shy and has doubts about his future. There are some nuances regarding sexuality, but in all honesty that was a side-story, from what I inferred.

The message I take away from this film is not simply about ostracism and hatred; Minnelli as director also addresses female emotion, the reasons why Kerr empathizes with the young man, and how he eventually moves on. In the long rung, it is life affirming, although rather opaque in its message.

Discrimination and hatred take many forms, and sometimes the subtler forms are most repellent. Highly recommended. 8/10.
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Tea with lemon, please! No sugar.
jotix10031 August 2005
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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A Very Relevant Film For Today's Gay Youth
bkoganbing27 November 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Tea And Sympathy offers a rare chance to see the three Broadway leads of Robert Anderson's play repeat their roles. Although they didn't finish the 712 performance run, Deborah Kerr, John Kerr, and Leif Erickson all do a fine job on the screen. Tea And Sympathy actually won two Tony Awards for Anthony Perkins and Mary Fickett who replaced both the Kerrs in the Broadway run.

It goes without saying that if the film were done today, it would be a lot more frank about the characters. John Kerr would be more definitely bisexual and Leif Erickson would have his issues more openly discussed.

John Kerr is a sensitive kid who doesn't quite fit into the gender roles that back in the Fifties were pretty rigid. At the boys prep school he attends, the other kids call him 'sister boy' and tease him pretty bad. The only one who notices his plight with any degree of concern is Deborah Kerr who lives in his dormitory with her husband Leif Erickson.

Deborah was married once before to a young man killed in the war and John reawakens something of her feelings. In the end she gives her all to John.

Sadly Leif Erickson's performance is sadly overlooked when discussing Tea And Sympathy. He comes across at first as the usual jock lout, but it goes quite a bit deeper than that. The Code did not permit a more open performance, but Erickson's is one of the best examples of a self hating latent gay man I've ever seen on film. Notice the only time he really comes alive is when he's with his boys doing all the imbecilic rite of passage things that are encouraged in society back then and in some cases still are. In the end Deborah realizes that she really doesn't mean anything to Erickson, although the tacked on ending is something of a cop out.

Another performance that stands out is that of Edward Andrews who is John Kerr's father. He and Erickson unite in the fact that they want young Kerr to butch it up and start taking up more masculine endeavors.

In these days of the suicides of young gay youth hitting the national media, with government finally taking notice of the problem, Tea And Sympathy takes on a frightening relevance. The characters from the Fifties will be immediately recognized by many today, most especially the young who are going through exactly what John Kerr is.
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Slickly Done, Though Dated
dougdoepke2 July 2017
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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Touching film about bullies and homophobic men who are very cruel to a fellow student whose interest and manner is different than most other male students.
cowetagal21 October 2013
I was touched by this excellent film about a sensitive young man, Tom attending his tenth college reunion and reflecting on his difficult freshman year. He attended a school that his manly father attended before him. Tom was a talented tennis player and singer with ambition to follow a "different drummer" - to be a folk singer; a calling of which his father disapproves.

Tom's father, his fellow students and professor/house father bully and gossip about Tom for such things as sewing with the professors' wives and playing tennis rather than participating in more manly things. They call him names such as Sister Boy. Tom is not gay, but a sensitive virgin who has yet to find himself. He has a longing for true love in a world of macho mean men with their locker room bragging. The neglected wife of the professor/house father alone understands and sympathizes with Tom.

This movie reminds us that bullies are small minded people who have always been around and unfortunately probably always will. Hopefully, the bullies of the world and those who don't fit into the so called "in crowd" will see themselves in this film and become better as they learn from the film.

In my opinion, the world would be a most boring place to live if everyone were the same. This film is a great lesson on understanding others. I want to watch it again soon and share it with friends and family.
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Kudos to Deborah Kerr for a marvelous performance.
PWNYCNY10 July 2013
Conformity is a drag, especially when it's imposed on someone. That is the theme of this movie. It's no joke being the target of a smear campaign, especially when the smearing is groundless. Overall, this is a good movie. John Kerr and Deborah Kerr give excellent performances as two persons who discover that they have a lot in common. Metaphors abound in this movie; characters take on sociological meaning. The movie is both subtle and powerful. The movie portrays the kind of repressiveness that can literally drive one to despair. Of course, being based a stage play, the movie itself is also stagy. Nevertheless, the actors succeed in bringing the story to life. Although the story revolves around the relationship between a married woman and a young teenage boy in a boarding school, it is more about the woman and less about the boy who is an instrument through which the woman gets in touch with her own feelings. The movie deals with this storyline in a forthright manner and for that reason alone this movie is worth watching. Kudos to Deborah Kerr for a marvelous performance.
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a real 5-star feature
dcchris28 April 1999
"Tea and Sympathy," along with "An American in Paris," turned me on to the true genius of Vincente Minnelli as a director. It deals with a serious topic -- how we all deal with diversity, and in this case, someone's sexuality -- by wrapping it in a poignant, spellbinding script, coupled with Oscar-worthy acting by Deborah Kerr and John Kerr. I didn't feel the issue was being forced on me -- I was truly being entertained. Three gripping scenes in particular stick out in my mind -- if you haven't seen the movie, I won't ruin it for you, but you'll know which ones I mean after you see it.

It is all the more impressive that this movie was made in restrictive, conservative 1956 America. It is a five star classic -- and I consider myself a pretty strict judge of movies. I have maybe seen only 6 or 7 movies in my short lifetime which I consider to be true 5-star quality -- that is, by my definition, a unique, groundbreaking, historic cinematic achievement which has withstood the test of time -- out of scores of possibilities. I have added "Tea and Sympathy" to that short list.
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Excellent story that keeps you interested till the end ...
dwpollar19 March 2001
1st watched 9/25/1999 - 8 out of 10 (Dir-Vincente Minnelli): Excellent story that keeps you interested till the end in this seemingly controversial film for it's day."Not regular" and "sister-boy" is used rather than homosexual in the accusing of young John Kerr's character, but we understand what's being talked about.A movie that may have been a little ahead of it's time but portrayed the current attitude towards those men who were a little different and their misconception of them.
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What Makes a Man a Man?
frankwiener28 June 2017
As a child in the 1950's and then as an adolescent and teenager during the 60's, I have many mixed feelings about the era. I loved the music, many of the movies, the "Golden Age of Television" (which lured me away from homework each and every night), the relative safety, especially for a kid, and the uncomplicated simplicity of the times. What I don't miss, however, are the oppressive, narrow-minded stereotyping and the stifling social conformity that were so prevalent during that period. So what if you occasionally or even frequently enjoyed your own company and wanted to listen to phonograph records by yourself or, on impulse, even hopped the Number 8 bus to downtown Elizabeth, New Jersey where there were four different movie theaters on the same block from which to choose, a really big deal at the time.

I didn't find this movie dated at all. Not only does it offer a glimpse of what life was like in the 1950's, which should have some historical significance to younger folks today, but its message regarding the enslaving circumstances of rigid social conformity is ageless. Although it is obviously a stage adaptation, praise goes to director Vincente Minnelli for so skillfully and vividly bringing it to the wide screen. The three leads, Deborah Kerr, John Kerr (no relation), and Leif Erickson, who all revived their original Broadway roles, were exceptional. I also loved the scene when Al (Daryl Hickman), Tom's socially pressured roommate, attempts to provide Tom with tips on how to appear more manly to the world. Norma Crane, who played Golde in the film version of "Fiddler on the Roof", perfectly portrayed a very unsympathetic, if not nasty, Ellie Martin. Ironically, Edward Andrews depicted Tom's demanding father as anything but manly, perhaps intentionally. Be as I say, Tommy, not as I am.

While Tom at first appeared to be the focus of the film, the stories of Laura and Bill Reynolds, the dorm house parents, slowly begin to overshadow Tom's miserable situation. This amounted to some excellent work by screenplay writer Robert Anderson, who also wrote first-rate scripts for "The Nun's Story", "The Sand Pebbles, and "I Never Sang For My Father." And what is Bill Reynolds doing at the end of the movie? Listening to phonograph records by himself. Heaven's to Betsy! What's the matter with him? My only criticism is that it ran a bit long and could have been reduced in length without losing its powerful impact.
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The boys of Chilton School are all men!
Tim Dean28 October 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Although 'Tea and Sympathy" is extremely dated it is a very valuable social document. My biggest problem is the age of the cast. Most of the"schoolboys" seem to be over 20 years of age. Even John Kerr, in his starring role seems several years older than the 18 years he is supposed to be. I came to this film after seeing the 1958 musical "South Pacific" for the first time ever, in which John Kerr plays Marine Lieutenant Joe Cable. He is my idea of an admirable young man of innate integrity - handsome, dignified, the epitome of the most noble type of young American serviceman. 'Tea and Sympathy' is clearly a stage play in essence, but that's the mode in which I choose to enjoy it. The world of today (2016) is awash with LGBT knowledge of gay realities, but in the 1950s, clearly, nobody understood much about such things and Hollywood was terrified of the subject. One good result of this is that, given the Tom Lee character is not even slightly gay, John Kerr - super-straight in real life - is perfect casting! Deborah Kerr plays her role as the Housemaster's understanding wife with great verve. I bought a region-free DVD online - The remastered edition from Warner Brothers Archive. (Warnerarchive.com)
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A message to all human beings
lasttimeisaw19 July 2016
Vincente Minnelli's "message" movie TEA AND SYMPATHY is excellently crafted with Golden Hollywood poise, rehashed for the celluloid by Robert Anderson from his own stage play, it reunites the original play's three leads, Deborah Kerr, John Kerr (no, they're not related) and Lief Erickson. In spite of its antediluvian views on masculinity, the film appositely re-surfaces as a searing melodrama zinging at today's intolerant world, where egregious persecution is wantonly inflicted on minorities and non-conformists.

Tommy Lee (John Kerr) is a 17-year-old prep school student, he is ostracised by his jock classmates who coin him a sobriquet "sister boy", why? Because of his curly hair, his gait, his sewing skill, his inclination of classical music over sport and roughhouse (he excels in tennis though), he reads Voltaire's CANDIDE and the fact that he has never bragged about girls. All these facile symptoms can be nimbly dismissed as specious by a more rational mind (even in its time), like Tommy's roommate Al (Hickman), who always stands up for him but the real helping hand comes from Laura Reynolds (Deborah Kerr), wife of Tommy's macho coach Bill (Erickson), who is transparently not in line with his wife's sympathy over Tom. The title refers to the common "interested bystander" stance which Laura is advised to take being a woman in her position - "doesn't go beyond giving him tea and sympathy on Sunday afternoons".

Bearing mockeries and mobbing from his peers, contempt and grudge from coach Bill and mounting pressures from his father Herb (Andrews), Tommy starts to unravel in spite of Laura's intransigent support and growing affection, in a last-resort attempt to prove his manhood, he arranges a rendezvous with the local loose girl Ellie (Crane, a chain-smoking waitress depicted with a broad and vulgar stroke), Laura overhears it and in her last-resort attempt to pre-empt a disastrous wind-up, she puts on her fancy blue dress and manoeuvres a tête-à-tête to procrastinate Tommy's action, during which she discloses the death of her late first husband, who died young just because he was trying to prove something that he needn't proving, so as to convince Tommy that he shouldn't follow the same old road to ruin. Here, Laura's motivation has been cogently vindicated, she has been a victim of the bigotry and prejudice of the rank masculine and patriarch society, so how can she just sits and doles out her tea and sympathy?

Nevertheless, Laura doesn't stop the disaster since she backs off from Tommy's desperate advances which later she regrets, also because obviously, the story needs something more dramatic to grab the attention and up the ante, yet, the movie is cleverly introduced through the lyrical recollections of Tommy a decade later in a classmate reunion, so Minelli assures audience in the very beginning that Tommy comes safe and sound out of his trials and tribulations unjustly cast upon him. In the beautifully arranged woodland scene, as if in a dreamlike fairy land, Laura comforts a distraught Tommy who has survived a suicidal attempt, with her kiss, the purest and tenderest kiss from a woman to a sensitive young man on the cusp of adulthood and whose nature is in the danger of being cruelly oppressed, even not being typecast as a nun, Ms. Kerr's Laura continues carrying out the name star's holy mission to save lives. There is gratitude in that kiss too, through Tommy's predicament, Laura finally can face up the marital hurdles between her and Bill under the surface of superficial harmony and make a right decision for her own sake.

John Kerr is another young talent whose acting career failed to launch after a promising start, he fleshes out Tommy's vulnerability, sensitivity and perplexity, but righteously opts not to emphasise on queer mannerism, in fact, he is fairly attractive as an object of desirable for girls (and boys too, of course), the trenchant irony is just self-evident when Al tries to correct Tommy's unorthodox walk, those accusations are so inadequate and ridiculous. Fault-finding can flourish on everything and anything, which soundly advices us to nurture a discerning eye in lieu of hastily jumping on the bandwagon. Character players Leif Erickson and Edward Andrews, the former lands a meaty supporting role as the narrow-minded coach, in every step, he manages to show beyond doubt that Bill is unworthy of Laura's merits, and possibly, he is a deep-closeted homosexual himself, Erickson's butch appearance holds sway in a ghastly dislikeable role; as for the latter, in his more nuanced brew of pleasantry and angst, Andrews comes out as a more assured propeller to push Tommy into the abyss.

In retrospect, 1956 should have been Ms. Kerr's Oscar-reaping year, only if she were nominated for this film instead of the hyped pap THE KING AND I (1956), as much as I worship Ms. Ingrid Bergman, her Oscar-winning performance in ANASTASIA (1956) is no rival compared with Ms. Kerr's consummate cri-de-coeur against the omnipresent scourge lurking underneath every imperfect soul. Ms. Kerr is such a pioneering "queer" icon to be reckoned with, especially in view of a less liberal era, whose legacy and glamour need to rediscovered by younger LGBTQ generations, forever dignified, you can never sense a tint of condescension in her refined presence, and her Laura Reynolds, what a courageous woman and what a tour-de-force to witness!
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A butterfly in a pitcher-plant
Shuggy17 May 2010
I read the play when I was Tom Lee's age and deeply closetted, and it had a devastating effect: "At last someone understands: just because I'm not like the others doesn't mean I'm - heaven forbid - gay." I thought the play was great - liberating, even.

I saw the film (on TV, with distractions) some 25 years after it was made, myself on the brink of coming out, and noted that it was much less clear that it was about homosexuality than the play had been. Tom's sexual orientation had been blurred down to the question of whether he was "a regular guy" or not. Key speeches like Laura's challenge to Bill's sexuality were missing. And Laura's letter at the end seemed just moralistic, and an obvious sop to the censors.

To see the film today, out and proud, and with the benefit of nearly 50 years of hindsight, I find myself agreeing with many of the comments above, both positive and negative. The film is hard to watch because it is so overwrought. That is easier to understand when you know that all three leads are reprising their stage roles. Even so, there is a desperate tension running right through it. With the possible exception of the faculty wives, not a single person in it is comfortable with their sexuality. The guys are, without exception, over-anxious to prove something, and Laura is frustrated. (Ellie Martin at least knows what she wants - a radio that works - and what she wants to pay to get it.) Overlaid on this, nothing can be explicit, everyone talks all the time in circumlocutions. Of course, that was the rule in films of those days, and possibly real life as well. Therein lies a contradiction that can only be resolved from outside the film and in its future, now. The film was trying to liberate people like me (and heterosexual non-conformists) while staying within the confines of a deeply closetted and homophobic film industry.

Should you see this film? As a piece of gay history, perhaps. As a commentary on a homophobic time, it is instructive, both for what it says and doesn't say. As a worthwhile drama that will involve you in its issues, no. Has it anything worthwhile to say, as someone says above, about the importance of love? If you concentrate on Deborah Kerr's performance and her predicament, perhaps, but it's like watching a beautiful butterfly struggling in a pitcher-plant.
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This is my first affair, so please be kind
sol12187 April 2006
****Spoliers**** Coming of age movie with the stately and beautiful Deboarh Karr, Laura Reynolds, as the ignored and frustrated wife of he-man and collage athletic director Bill Reynolds, Leif Erickson. Laura's concern for young 18 year-old collage freshman Tom Lee, John Karr, leads to her bringing him out of his shell and making Tom see that love can be sweet tender and touchings. Not the hell that he's been taught, by his hard driving and insensitive father Herb Lee ,Edward Andrews, and the collage students who feel that being a man is judged by how many women one seduces and beds down.

With an added prologue and epilogue inserted into the movie having Tom get married, that was needed to get the green light by the Hollywood watchdog Hayes Commission, after his stay in collage. "Tea and Sympathy" is a heart rendering story about a young man trying to fit into the 1950's post-WWII mans society by going so far as almost killing himself. After he's made to look like a complete fool in trying to make it with a the local town fast & easy girl Ellie Martin, Norma Crane. An affair that ended up with him being kicked out of collage.

Having grown up without a mother and domineering father Tom was influenced by the house maid who taught the young boy cooking sewing and listening to folk music on the radio and phonograph player. Mr. Lee wanting to make a "Man" out of his son Tom had him accepted into his alma mater Clinton Collage and put under the tutelage of his old friend and classmate Bill Reynolds who's in charge of mens athletics.

Excelling in tennis which is considered by the students, Clinton seems to be an all-male collage, as a sissy sport Tom is also very apt in sewing gardening and other womens activities that has him become the butt of everyones jokes. Tom is also singled out for special and humiliating treatment by the students that has Bill's wife Laura go out of her way to help Tom overcome his shyness with women that's the root cause of all these degrading actions against him.

Laura who lost her first husband John, he was 18 when he was killed in action, in the Second World War sees in Tom what she saw in John a scared little boy who's being driven to destruction by his abusive and bullying fellow students. Like her husband was driven to lose his life by trying to be a hero to prove himself to his comrades on the battlefield that he was a real man.

Bill is just as bad as the students who constantly abuse Tom by not only letting it happen but by encouraging then to do it. It's also evident that Bill is hiding his lack of being a husband to Laura by going out with "the boys" in sporting events and on mountain climbing trips every chance he gets. Leaving Laura alone and without male companionship for weeks at a time.

Laura and Tom slowly gravitate to each other seeking out the love and understanding that they don't get from those their so dearly dependent on. That leads to the sparks between them that ends with Tom showing his affection towards Laura, and she toward him, that he kept hidden deep inside of him for almost the entire movie.

Even with the script heavily censored "Tea and Sympathy" still grabs you and doesn't let go as Tom is almost brought to a nervous breakdown, much less suicide by the treatment he receives in the film. In him trying to prove to himself and the students who so brutally and unmercifully pester him in that he's not unworthy of being a member of their fraternity. It's Laura who's kindness and understanding that in the end, when Tom is at his lowest point mentally and emotionally , brings the best out of him but leads to the Reynolds splitting up never to see each other again.

It's hard to sit through "Tea and Sympathy" without your heart swelling up and skipping a beat or two. With a tender and sensitive performance by Deborah Karr as Laura Reynolds and John Karr's portrayal of the confused and introverted Tom Lee. The movie was a landmark in films of the post WWII era in showing a leading man more in tuned and accepting, and not being embarrassed by, his deepest and most inner feelings. Then falsely trying to prove himself, like Bill Reynolds did with his overly macho act, in order to keep them from himself and those abound him.
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