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Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Sixty-one year old widower Will Varner, in ill health, owns many businesses and property in Frenchman's Bend, Mississippi, including a plantation. To him, his children are a disappointment, they who he sees as not being able to carry on the Varner name in the style to which he has built around it. Son Jody Varner has no ambition and does not work, spending much of his time fooling around with his seductive wife, Eula. Twenty-three year old daughter Clara Varner he finds clever, but he feels she also wastes her time on more contemplative pursuits. While most of her contemporaries are married, Clara has been dating Alan Stewart, a genteel mama's boy, for six years. Will would not mind Alan so much if he too thought Alan had a bit of a forceful man in him, which he could demonstrate by actually asking Clara to marry him. Conversely, Jody laments that nothing he does is ever good enough for his father, while Clara plain does not like the way he treats them. Into their lives comes Ben ... Written by
Director Martin Ritt was forever known after this movie as the man who tamed Orson Welles. During filming Ritt drove Welles into the middle of a swamp, kicked him out of the car and forced him to find his own way back. See more »
When Will Varner drives through town in the ambulance he covers some of the same distance and passes the same parked car twice. See more »
Considering the cast and the fine Faulkner story, I was expecting wonderful things from this movie, maybe another Splendor in the Grass, but I felt badly let down.
The script was, in a word, wretched. There were unmotivated strong emotions, stilted dialog, not helped by poorly faked Southern accents from players who are not not native Southerners, loaded with plot holes and murky relationships that seemed to go up and down like the stock market.
The cast that looked so good on paper didn't cut it. Anthony Franciosa looked like high school senior play. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, who went on to Academy Award performances later, were just over the top and struggling with bad dialog in this one. I thought Orson Welles and Angela Lansbury were was excellent playing off each other, but their relationship in a subplot was undefined and didn't advance the story at all.
My family, with different generations, watched the movie at home on DVD with me and their reaction was similar to mine: a sympathetic disappointment in the work of some of our favorite players.
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