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It's Minelli's fault that the production seems stagy. The staginess reminds me of Meet Me in St. Louis, which, like this film, suffered from irrational energy. Especially bad are the boys racing though the house and everywhere else, like a school of fish. Minelli was a bad choice for a movie that required tender intimate moments and delicacy with a difficult subject. John Kerr was fine in South Pacific, but in this movie his flat voice is unattractive, and he's afraid of exhibiting effeminate mannerisms. Deborah Kerr is absolutely beautiful, but a more earthy actress would have been a better choice. Overall, this film is full of weaknesses.
Vaguely effeminate boy (sensitive features,wavy hair,bouncy walk) with 'unmanly' interests (poetry, classical and folk music, his own company) and 'unmanly' accomplishments (sewing,gardening,playing the guitar, cutting instead of smashing his tennis shots) is believed to be "not a regular sort of fellow" by his father, his bruiser of a housemaster, and his fellow college students, every single one of whom sport crewcuts,and enjoy mountaineering,swimming,ball games, horsing around, strength contests,boasting about non-existent sexual conquests and smashing their tennis shots.... It is very easy to laugh at this sort of thing,of course, and years on,"Tea and Sympathy" is laughable, its characters being so blatantly contrived to suit the authors ends with dialogue that is at best obvious and at worst hesitantly anguished. It is one thing for the writers to try to excise 'unacceptable' words and language, it is quite another when the actors sound as if they are doing the very same thing. Deborah Kerrs' performance as the housemasters' unhappy wife, so well received in its' day, now comes across as simply hysterical-- in Miss Kerrs' own refined, restrained style, of course-- and only John Kerr, in the leading part, and Norma Crane, as the prostitute, come over as being recognisable human beings as opposed to cyphers. It does not help that the film makes little effort to break free of its source-- Maxwell Andersons' hit play --in its over precise construction. Why the cinema treats plays with such respect when it takes such liberties with books is something I have never understood.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The story can be interpreted in multiple ways, and that is exactly the
nature of the closet. Knowing that, the best interpretation becomes
Understanding this film today is a bit easier, because we have so many examples all around us of the effects of homophobia/transphobia, and the false protection of the closet.
From Larry Craig to Ted Haggard to Roy Ashburn to Jim McGreevy, the papers are full of a parade of "opposite-married" homosexuals, who thought that love or at least marriage or having children would suppress their natural desires, and the public's knowledge of them. Most of these men are also publicly anti-gay until being exposed as hypocrites.
And similarly from Jaheem Herrera to Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover to Eric Mohat to Tyler Clementi to Seth Walsh to Asher Brown, and on and on, the obituaries are filled with younger kids now bullied to suicide for being, or for appearing to be, gay or trans. The openness around homosexuality has also made it easier to become a target.
My interpretation of the film is that a neglected wife (married to a closet case herself) feels a predatory "cougar" attraction to a vulnerable young gay man not liked by many other people. Like everyone else in the film, she probably believes she can change him, and have a fling for herself at the same time. She loves him, but she also uses him. After they kiss, everything else is just glossed over, and we are left to fill in the details with our imaginations, and some narration.
Although the scandal with Laura helped him (better to be "the other man" than gay, right?) and although Tom marries (a woman) to end the suspicion around him, he doesn't live a happy life. We never really see him with any woman after that. Like Bill, he remains alone, because he's never permitted to embrace his true desires.
Interestingly, his name is Tom Robinson Lee. Tom Robinson is also the name of the bisexual singer of "Glad to be Gay".
I saw this for the first time when I was around 10 or 11 years old. Now 51, I recently saw it for the first time in many years. Actor John Kerr was so good in it and wondered what had happened to him, as I knew he was also in South Pacific also, but had not heard of anything else particularly recently, though he has to be in his 60's. I just found out he retired from acting long ago to become a lawyer. Deborah Kerr also was in this film as the teacher who becomes so drawn to him much to the disappointment of her husband. I will not spoil the ending, but this seems to be what many males face as they grow up and are expected to be sexually active, when perhaps they want to wait until they are in love. A great and classic film!!
****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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There should be a genre for films like Tea and Sympathy, Suddenly Last
Summer, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It could be called "Back When It Was
a Disease" or "Homosexuality According to the 1950s." This is a film
about a sensitive schoolboy (Tom) who just can't jive with the manly
jocks he is expected to befriend. In fact, he prefers to discuss poetry
with a middle aged, Technicolor-coordinated, Deborah Kerr (Laura).
Based on a play, the film is watered down considerably to avoid
addressing the issue of his homosexuality outright. For instance, a
scene in which the boy is caught skinny-dipping with a flamboyant
professor is totally removed. It is very mildly laughable (or maybe
half-heartedly chuckle- able) to see Tom learning to walk like a man,
so angst-ridden about his status as a "sissy," especially when even he
thinks he just needs someone to quell the confusion.
The film is about hate and discrimination and, I think, we are meant to sympathize with Tom, but only because he is branded a "queer" by his peers without the sympathy that the Kerr character is able to dish out, and thus "cure" him. In the 1950s, homosexuality was considered a disease by the psychiatric powers-that-be. And as many diseases can be cured, so could this one in the perverse imagination of the Hollywood censors. The Kerr character martyrs herself, sacrificing her virtue to shag the boy (who really is a boy of only 17), which effectively rids him of his "illness." Yes, his confusion vanishes instantly as Laura unbuttons her cardigan with a disturbingly sober expression that was obviously meant to say "I am not doing this out of lust, but out of my older, wiser, nurturing feminine duty to rescue you from this unholy perversion." And then he grows up into a self-assured, suit-wearing, happily married, home-owning go-getter. Thank God, for martyrs like Laura.
What's most jacked up about Tea and Sympathy is that it seems to want to function as a shout-out to all the idiosyncratic so called sissies that are so unfortunately stigmatized for being different. Which would be fine, except that the film is telling its audience that it is okay to be different because, hooray, there's a cure. In other words, it's not okay to be different. The cruel peers who ostracize "sissies" like Tom are not okay either. But only because Tom could still grow up to epitomize het-masculine normalcy. Tea and Sympathy reprimands its homophobes for punishing innocent soon-to-be ex-gays as if to say, "please do be careful when punishing the gays because they might not always be that way. And when they're good and cured, boy, will there be some red faces all around."
But my biggest problem is this: for a movie that's so sooo soooooo backwards, it is not nearly funny enough. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was funny. Suddenly Last Summer was even funnier yet. Okay, Kerr's seduction scene, though nightmarish, was funny. I'll give it 5/10 stars just for that, but otherwise, and I know it has its fans, Tea and Sympathy just kind of sits there for me. Sure, it's interesting to talk about from a historical perspective. But standing alone, it's like an antiquated high school textbook.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have to admire "Tea and Sympathy" because it tackles so many
interesting and important issues. Now I am not saying it necessarily
does this well in every case, but it sure is a film that can stimulate
some conversations between folks who watch the movie.
The film begins with a rather awkward young man, Tom (John Kerr) talking with the wife of one of his teachers. Laura Reynolds (Deborah Kerr) is very understanding and likes the guy and spends a lot of time with him. As I watched, this sure set off an alarm within me--this is a VERY dangerous situation. The film's focus is on Tom's being effeminate and sensitive--a 1950s way of saying he was gay. Most of the guys in school dislike and taunt him--and his own father is ashamed that the boy doesn't attain some masculine ideal. Yet, despite this, Mrs. Reynolds cares deeply about the boy--too deeply.
Where all this goes is very predictable in many way, but I also feel that the film actually narrowly missed hitting a bullseye. It focused almost exclusively on the young man and never really alluded to why this older woman would eventually be sexually intimate with him. It seemed to say it was an act of love and she did it to help the boy in some convoluted way. However, HER needs were an important part of all this. She was trapped in a loveless marriage with a man who was overcompensating so much that it seemed as if he was gay and certainly not the young man. To me, this is a very important part of the equation and wasn't adequately addressed in the film. Now I am NOT saying it's a bad film--I am just saying that the film seemed to put too much emphasis on the young man when I actually found the wife and her motives much more interesting.
Despite this MINOR complaint, I loved that the film dared to focus on what it is to be a man. Sensitivity, not fitting in and how kids scapegoat and mistreat these loners is a wonderful topic that should be talked about much more than it is. I remember lots of nice guys who were horribly mistreated, beaten up and labeled gay as I grew up--simply because they were different. This is something every father SHOULD talk to their boys about--and watching the film with your teens is a pretty good idea.
In addition to this minor complaint I have one more. In the original play, the story ended with the sex act. I don't like this because it seemed a bit irresponsible plus it placed too much emphasis on the sex act and not the motivations. I also didn't like the ending MGM slapped on it because it came off as too preachy and long-winded. Again, however, the good stuff greatly outweighed this.
Oh, and why is it that practically every film about high school kids in the 50s starred 'kids' who were in their mid-20s or older?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The reviews here of this film are either very supportive of the film,
or very dismissive of the film. I was pleased to see more that are
supportive, but unfortunately there are quite a few people out there
that just don't get it.
In age where over a dozen states now have gay marriage, it is virtually impossible for anyone younger than -- well, let's say 50 -- to understand the time which this film depicts. Stonewall was 16 years in the future. The vast majority of gay men were totally closeted. You cannot compare the gay world of 1956 with the gay world of 2013. This film takes place in the era when men were (supposed to be) men. Many people were so dense about gay life that they couldn't conceive of Liberace being gay (and this play came about just as Liberace was coming into our living rooms every week); but few "saw" it...or wanted to see it...or wanted to admit it. So for those of you who want to put down this movie as being unrealistic...it wasn't that unrealistic in the mid-1950s. In fact, for its time, this was a rather daring film, and apparently had difficulties with the motion picture production code.
It's very easy to attribute some of the film's misguidedness to the stereotypes that we see here. But, often stereotypes become so because of a degree of accuracy. The young man depicted in this film is marching to a different drummer, at a time when not many people did. The most interesting question the film brings up -- and doesn't answer -- is whether or not the young man was actually gay. It seems as if he was, or perhaps he was just not ready to take on an active heterosexual life. Perhaps he was closeted. It's ambiguous. The father's attitudes are not that off-base when you consider that the character was born not long after the turn of the last century! Get a little historical perspective. If there is one character here who is outlandish, it's probably Leif Erickson's coach-role...dripping with testosterone, when it really makes him and the other "boys" look too involved with guy-stuff. Deborah Kerr here is so good...as some have pointed out, a little stage-play-ish...but I guess that was to be expected after having played the role on Broadway for so long. In fact, there are some problems with her character...getting overly involved and overly mothering. Personally, I thought John Kerr...well, either he was overacting in some of the most psychological scenes, or he was falling back on the way one has to act on a large stage in a huge theater. Edward Andrews...well, as the father I guess he was supposed to be smarmy...and he certainly was. It was nice to see a more adult Darryl Hickman; for my money, Hickman was the finest of the child actors of the whole era, but as a young adult he wasn't as convincing.
I'm glad I watched this film, but that's not to say that I didn't find it just a bit tedious. It was probably a bit overly long, coming in at over 2 hours. I can't say this was Vincente Minelli's greatest accomplishment as a director. But if you want to get a little historical perspective on the issue of gayness in the old days, this may be as good as anything else out there.
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.
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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