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James Gould Couzzens wrote one novel that was almost great-Guard of Honor-and a lot of melodramatic junk that was wildly over praised at the time of publication.The ne plus ultra of his Literary artlessness was undoubtedly By Love Possessed. When it was published, it was a wildly praised best -seller. The only dissents came from Dwight McDonald, who wrote a hilarious assault on the book called "By Couzzens Possessed", and William F.Buckley, Jr. who took a page and a half to sink it beneath the waves in his National Review. Of course, like all melodramatic best sellers, it eventually had to be made into a Hollywood film. Unfortunatly, the only Hollywood directors capable of making it into a good movie were Sirk (and maybe, just maybe, Preminger).Sirk, in fact, with his exquisitely controlled irony, and his insight into American manners and mores would have produced a chilly, superbly calibrated, yet compassionate melodrama, comparable to All that Heaven Allows, Written on The Wind, or Imitation of Life. Unfortunatly, Sirk had fled Hollywood, and Preminger was busy making Advise and Consent. So the decadent Hollywood system in its "genius' gave it John Sturges. Result, a movie that looks like a Sirk film( thanks to Russell Metty), sounds like a Sirk film, and has the cast and plot of a Sirk film..but isnt a Sirk film. Result..bloated, turgid melodrama, without a drop of genuine wit, irony, compassion , or human insight. Well, maybe Couzzens deserved it
Likely to be lumped together with Turner's other late 50's/early 60's glossy, starring vehicles, this is actually more of an ensemble piece, based on a large, sprawling novel, and Turner is denied a chance to really take the reins. The plot (which is based on only the last part of the 25 year-long story in the novel) concerns small town lawyer Zimbalist, who, in the matter of a day or two, discovers that his wife (Bel Geddes) is discontent, his son (Hamilton) resents him, his father-in-law (Mitchell) is mishandling the firm's funds and his partner's wife (Turner) has the hots for him. Turner's husband (Robards) is impotent as the result of a car accident, so she turns to the bottle for comfort and eventually to Zimbalist. Meanwhile, Hamilton is fed up with the expectations of his family and of the town in which they live and disses fiancée Kohner for town floozie Craig. This kicks off a series of troublesome events which wind up affecting all of the characters, bringing some of them closer together, but destroying others. The film has a splendid musical score by Elmer Bernstein (even if his music for Turner and Zimbalist's fateful meeting sounds more apt for a swashbuckler than an illicit rendezvous.) It's also helmed by the rather solid Sturges, though it seems he wasn't the man best-suited to material like this. An irresistible cast flounders and flops it's way through the strained storyline with only the occasional unintentional laugh to make it bearable. Zimbalist, never the most dynamic actor, lacks the charisma to hold up the film. Robards is given little to do and does pretty little with it. Hamilton (well-cast as Zimbalist's son) never conveys the necessary emotion or depth for his role. Mitchell quite easily steals most of his scenes with his customary bombast and presence. Turner (decked out in one of her worst-ever hairstyles and looking quite bloated facially at times) is given a smallish, fairly ludicrous role to play. Her clothes in the film, despite having a name designer doing them, cover all the bases from drab to garish to unflattering to preposterous with only one or two making the grade of appealing. Apart from that, Turner is often bland and wooden, not to mention insincere and bored-looking. Tellingly, she shares no scenes with the stage-trained Bel Geddes who, even with virtually no make-up and even duller clothing, completely waltzes off with the acting honors in the film. The glamor-proof Bel Geddes adds texture and feeling to yet another silly role in the film (her character is in the hospital for a week due to an accident on the tennis court??) Kohner is a close second, injecting emotion into her cipher-like role of the dejected sweetheart. The real hoot is Craig, who refers to herself in the third person and plays the town squeeze with notable haughtiness (her mom in the film is also a brief treat.) It's got expensive (but strangely unappealing) sets, luxurious trappings, a rather seedy storyline and a name cast, but somehow remains dull, drab and unengaging. Worth a look for pre-"Dallas" Bel Geddes and for fans of Kohner and Turner completists.
Lana Turner, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Jason Robards, Barbara Bel Geddes,
Susan Kohner and George Hamilton are - if we are to believe the title -
"By Love Possessed" in this 1961 film which also stars Thomas Mitchell
and Yvonne Craig. As the name of the movie indicates, this is a huge,
glossy, color soap opera featuring beautiful fall scenery, huge homes
and the attractive people in them, fancy cars and lots of driving
scenes. The only house which isn't sumptuous belongs to the supposedly
super-wealthy Helen - in her scenes, she looks like she lives in a
BLP is supposed to be about SEX. Hamilton gets it; Lana can't get it so she rides horses; Efrem can't get it so he works late at the office; Kohner can't get it so she looks at papers in her safety deposit box; Mitchell can't get it because he's too old; Robards can't have it because he's a cripple; Bel Geddes can't get it because she's in a marriage where the couple has drifted apart; and Craig has enough for all of them.
The couples -- Marjorie and Julius (Lana and Jason), Clarissa and Arthur (Bel Geddes and Zimbalist), Helen and Warren (Kohner and Hamilton) do a lot of talking and Warren and Veronica (Craig) do a lot of making out.
It all adds up to a big zero that obviously was meant to cash in on Turner's big success with "Imitation of Life," as was "Portrait in Black" but in both films, they forgot to have Douglas Sirk direct.
The acting is fairly superficial except for Jason Robards and Barbara Bel Geddes. Bel Geddes, a wonderful actress, creates a real character with real emotions, sticks with it, and is a success. Robards, famous for his performances in Eugene O'Neill works, is out of place here; he has no one to play off of, as he has to act with Zimbalist and Turner. The very pretty Yvonne Craig, who would have better success in television, pouts well. Susan Kohner has none of the allure she displayed in "Imitation of Life" but with the help of an ugly wig, creates a sad character nonetheless. Hamilton is in the Tony Perkins role, which Perkins would have done a lot better. Hamilton is someone I prefer as a personality who parodies himself. When he attempts to act, it's painful. Zimbalist, who always comes off as a rich society person, comes off as a rich society person here. Very handsome, with a fine speaking voice, he never has had much range. Not that he needed a lot here, but he needed more than he had.
Lana Turner looks lovely, though her fashions don't register as they have in past films. She could always pull off an adulterous drunk - I personally don't think she has enough to do. There are too many other characters. If you're going to do a Lana Turner movie, I say make it a Lana Turner movie and let's see us some more Lana! The end of the film is pure Hollywood hokum. So are the beginning and the middle. This type of film is usually fun if nothing else; this one is tedious.
Despite coming off the success of 1959's classic sudser, "Imitation of Life", and 1960's mystery/soap, "Portrait in Black", Lana Turner made a poor career choice with "By Love Possessed". Not a bad film exactly, it does pale in comparison to the other melodramas of Turner's later career. The great cast includes Efrem Zimbalist,Jr., Jason Robards, George Hamilton, Susan Kohner(the black daughter passing as white in "Imitation of Life"), and Barbara Bel Geddes. In this vehicle, Turner plays the alcoholic, pleasure-deprived wife of a handicapped lawyer(Robards). So, she begins an affair with his law partner(Zimbalist), despite the fact that he is married to Bel Geddes and has a son(Hamilton). Hamilton is involved in a lacking side plot in which he's in love with a rich, but mentally unstable local girl(Kohner). The film is super plush and has a great score. However, the character development is so lacking, that by the end of it all we don't care about them. Too bad. It could all have been so good. This movie's only worth a look if you're a big fan of Turner's.
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.
The fact that this is a trashy soap opera should come as no surprise to
anyone acquainted with this genre from the 1950s and 60s. After all, it
stars Lana Turner--a woman who made a mid-life career out of appearing
in these films. This was the result of her own soap opera-like life
off-screen (which included a husband murdered by Lana's own daughter
who claimed he was molesting her!). Instead of avoiding this bad
publicity, she exploited it to the hilt. Additionally, Efram Zimbalist
Jr. and George Hamilton are in the film--two veterans of this sleazy
genre--so, as I said, it's no surprise what sort of film "By Love
The plot is about a lot of very stylish and very well dressed folks who, consistent with the genre, have very little reason to be unhappy but are miserable. When two marriages start to dull, Efram and Lana find each other in a torrid affair with each other. As for Hamilton, he is miserable because he's doing great in Harvard Law AND is supposed to marry a beautiful society woman who adores him (oh, the horror!!)--so he goes slumming and falls in with an opportunistic tramp (Yvonne Craig). What's to come of all these handsome, rich and dissatisfied folks? If you care, see "By Love Possessed". However, it is hard to care about these people and they all come off as rather petty and stupid (and those are only their good qualities). This film comes off as slickly made but rather vacuous--and lacking the appeal of other Turner efforts of the time such as "Peyton Place". Worth seeing if you like highly polished trash--and I could easily see this as a guilty pleasure. But also a film that is difficult to praise.
What can be more laughable than a film that attempts to skewer wasp
hypocrisy and small-town stereotyping, but uses such stereotyping in
it's presentation of characters? This is an unabashed attempt to gather
the Peyton Place fans by bringing back Lana Turner to a New England
setting in Autumn, along with the period Boy-Man of angst, George
Hamilton. While Turner is so good that she can do this type of role in
her sleep, and still come off well, the rest of the cast is pretty
wooden, especially Efrem Zimbalist. It's easy to see why he could
portray an FBI agent on TV so well.
Nothing more than a turgid melodrama, so popular at the time, filmed in color with a panoramic view so that it could lure the women of 1961 away from the B&W small-screen TV daytime soap operas, to see the exact same stuff on a big screen. Pass on it and get Peyton Place instead, unless you're a Lana Turner fanatic.
It is certainly not a great movie, but it makes enjoyable television
watching. The cinematography is great. It's fun just watching the
marvelous rooms with the elaborate woodwork, sweeping hallways. These
folks live very well. The camera is quite static so it is a visually
appealing, quiet movie with very literate characters. It is fun just
watching these drab folks live among such rich colors. Their lives may
not be a rich tapestry, but their backgrounds sure are.
OK, the plot is very melodramatic and a bit contrived. Folks have very big problems (infidelity, crimes, court drama, family break ups) but nothing much really seems to happen. They sure talk a lot. Oh well, but late at night, when you don't want to go to sleep, this is almost perfect.
If you've been reading my reviews under my username for the past two months, you probably know that I've been going through various films and TV appearances of the original "Dallas" cast in chronological order since the day after the new one on TNT premiered. So it's now 1961 with a Barbara Bel Geddes performance in a role familiar to anyone who knows her as Miss Ellie on the show-that of a mother and wife who's not afraid to confront and comfort her husband and son without at least trying to understand their troubles. Hubby is Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. and son is George Hamilton. The latter gets mixed in with a woman named Veronica played by Yvonne Craig-you know, the one who later became Batgirl on the Adam West series. Supposedly the leading lady is Lana Turner but her scenes come and go so much that it feels she's just as much support as a pre-Archie Bunker Carroll O'Connor as a cop, or Thomas Mitchell-a player of my favorite movie, It's a Wonderful Life-who commands the screen whenever he's on which is much more than Ms. Turner, I must say. Other worthy players of note include Susan Kohner-reuniting with her previous co-star from Imitation of Live, Ms. Turner-and Jason Robards, Jr., years before his consecutive Oscar wins for All the Presidents Men and Julia. I really liked the way the complexities of the characterizations were handled here and how the subject of accusation of rape was addressed. So on that note, I highly recommend By Love Possessed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I hated this movie! That's strong words, seeing that I am a Lana Turner
fan. This is total soap opera, and very bad at that. The Young & The
Restless could out-act, out-write this movie any day. Its just a total
disaster. There was nothing that drew me into any of the characters to
make me feel anything for any of them. Except for maybe the old man
lawyer, played by Thomas Mitchell (Gerald O'Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND,
and Uncle Bailey in ITS A WONDERFUL LIFE).
I mean there are some big name actors in this debacle : besides Lana, there's Efren Zimbalist, Jr., Jason Robarbs, George Hamilton, Barbara Bel Geddes, and Carol O'Connor to name a few. But the script is just a sorry excuse for screen writing. I could try to point out some of the most inane plot points, but there are so many, I don't know where to start. And the cinematography was awful as well. Yes there was some gorgeous sets, homes, lawns, etc. But the camera work was very static, flat and uninteresting. Most of the shots were long ones with very little close-ups. There's nothing fluid or enticing visually at all.
Even though there aren't any redeeming qualities to this movie, I thought I could at least count on Lana looking gorgeous to keep me interested. But her haircut was horrible, looking boyish and butch instead of glamorous. Even her wardrobe did nothing but look ill-fitting and unflattering.
I think the only thing this film accomplished was approximating the work of an anesthesiologist - ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!!
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