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When her lover is killed, the wife of a wealthy man is convinced to fake her own death, which leads her into greater depths of depravity until fate reunites her with her long-lost son, who is unaware of her real identity.
David Lowell Rich
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A dry version of Douglas Sirk--the ultra false and moving melodrama style made shiny
By Love Possessed (1961)
In the vein of a Douglas Sirk film this is bordering on some kind of flawed masterpiece. It's flawed, it has some stumbles in the writing and story, and it really is awfully conversational and slow--but there is a very serious probing soap opera tone here that's wonderful. Maybe the single largest limitation is that the nexus of all these searching yearning people is a law firm, which lacks a level of romanticism (no offense to all those attorneys out there). And it's all filmed with a flat bright light that smacks of indifference--something you could never accuse Sirk of.
But the best of this is fabulous and cumulative. It gets better as it goes. The writing--the story and the dialog both--is stunning. It might be melodrama, but it has nuance and truth on its side. In fact, the ability to show the bottled up emotional train wreck that much of America experienced in the 1950s is remarkable. There are all these good people, yearning people, who can't quite express themselves. They're smart, they know their dilemma, but they've been so trained to simply be good and lead noble lives that they forgot how to express themselves. Except maybe through words, careful and precious words.
The cast here is stellar. In the lead is an actor at his best, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who became much better known as a t.v. actor (mainly in the ten year run of "F.B.I."). He's sort of perfect, even if you might find him restrained and polished and unexciting. That's exactly his part, and he plays it with inner conviction. Next to him in the law firm is Jason Robards, a more impressive Hollywood staple, who has a smaller role but another perfect one. Their boss is the aging and almost bumbling Thomas Mitchell, who is by 1961 a kind of legend in the industry, and he's great, adding depth and warmth to the place, as much as a brightly lit law firm has human warmth.
The women are equally strong, from the ever understated and impressive Barbara Bel Geddes as the wife of one lawyer and Lana Turner (no less) as the wife of another. The two children of note are a somewhat dry George Hamilton and an increasingly convincing and moving and subtle Susan Kohner, who are struggling with a rocky relationship. But then, everyone is in a rotten relationship--that's what the movie is about, as the title suggests. Throw in the great Everett Sloane (from "Citizen Kane" and so forth) and Carol O'Connor (the lead in "All in the Family") and you see you have an uncompromising ensemble situation.
Yes, you might say these are all actors of a certain stripe, and no Brando or Newman or Monroe or Janet Leigh or the other flashier names of the day. That's true, and it's partly why the movie eventually sinks in deep and is effective. By the end I was really moved. It seems I'm in mixed company here, as some reviews show a total disconnect (and disparagement) of the film. I can see why someone would say that--and even if you like the overblown and moody Sirk kind of movies (the second "Imitation of Life" above all) you might see this as a, uh, pale imitation.
Maybe. Or maybe it's its own beast, with superb and probing writing, whatever the contrived situation might be behind it all. I also found the first half hour almost unbearable--it's so bland in the filming and so slow in the talk talk talk and so subtle in the non-emotional development of relationship. If you abandon ship too soon you'll miss the best of it. And if you expect a more naturalistic movie than this bottled up play-on-a-screen you'll be disappointed. It is actually based on a book which stormed the New York Times bestseller list in 1957, and was nominated for a Pulitzer (and was later condemned for its pro-establishment and slightly anti-semitic content).
Take this movie for what it is, it might surprise you as much as it did me, giving it some effort after all.
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