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Ambitious but thwarted, Rae Smith meets handsome Marine Paul Saxon, (of the Saxon department store chain), as he passes through Lincoln, Nebraska, on his way home from World War II. There's a definite spark between them but circumstances intervene and he leaves town without her. Later she learns he's married. Determined to make it as a fashion designer, Rae moves to New York and becomes a great success. One day she happens to meet Paul again and again there's that spark but he's still married so, as a form of escape, Rae moves to Rome to set up shop. Once again she meets Paul and finally they begin an actual affair since Paul's shrewish, drunken wife, Liz, won't give him a divorce. Time passes, the affair continues whenever time and place permit, but then, Paul's young son finds out about Rae and Rae's back-street world begins to crumble. Written by
dinky-4 of Minneapolis
The world premier was in Hollywood at the Warner Theater (later the Pacific Cinerama Theater) at 6433 Hollywood Blvd. A picture postcard was made showing a photograph of the opening night scene of "Back Street". The image with searchlights, cars, and crowds was depicted as a "typical Hollywood scene". See more »
"You know the worst part? He tried to seduce me with domestic champagne!"
Even in 1961, this had to be taken as a parody of the plush, woman's picture genre. The story had already been filmed in 1932 and 1941, and was creaky by any standard. All the deluxe Ross Hunter trappings (gowns by Jean Louis, jewels by Alexandre) are even more inflated here, with Hayward's gowns designed to match the drapes in the background. The overblown extravagance of the whole production makes Hunter's epics with Lana Turner look like second-string, double feature fare. Oscar-winner Hayward began her descent into strictly camp territory with this warhorse of a soaper; 1963's "Stolen Hours" (a remake of the Bette Davis classic, "Dark Victory") and 1964's "Where Love Has Gone" (co-starring Davis!) continued the trend, until it culminated in Hayward's (indeed, the world's) pinnacle of trash, "Valley of the Dolls" (1967). But back to "Back Street." The well-worn story concerns Hayward, an impossibly chic fashion designer, who is in love with the impossibly handsome (and improbably wooden) John Gavin, a married department store heir. Gavin's wife happens to be rip-roaring alcoholic Vera Miles, who is prone to falling down drunk at parties and threatening suicide. Hayward is nobly self-sacrificing, content to be the "back street" woman for the sake of Gavin's children (who are played by utterly resistible tots). That is, until Miles becomes one of Hayward's couture clients! This is the kind of loopy film where Hayward goes from being a scrappy little dressmaker to world famous couturier in, oh, ten minutes; where elaborate scenes are set up solely to showcase Jean Louis' scrumptious creations (they have no plot bearing whatsoever); and where John Gavin is somehow allowed to play his Really! Big! Scene! as if he's had a full frontal lobotomy (of course, he's so damned gorgeous, you really don't care). Oddly enough, Miles walks off with the film--her teeth are so firmly set into the scenery, you couldn't remove her if you tried, unless you wanted to pull back a bloody stump. (Lana Turner would never have let a supporting player upstage her show!) Hayward clearly took note to never let that happen again, and would give nothing but nostril-flaring, eye-bugging performances for the balance of her career. Look also for Natalie "Lovey Howell" Moorehead in a small but hilarious role as one of Hayward's gossipy clients. As swoony as all this is, "Back Street" is perfect lowbrow entertainment with highbrow trappings, and a sad reminder that, once upon a time, Hollywood DID make stuff like this--when even "bad" movies at least had a healthy shot of glamour to make them enjoyable.
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