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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.
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.
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.
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.
This story of a small town in a New England-type setting has Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Jason Robards and Thomas Mitchell as attorneys in a law firm, and it seems that Mr. Mitchell is getting too old and senile to continue. At least, Efrem seems to think so, especially when an awkward situation arises, even though the "old man" is his father-in-law. But Jason Robards is more kind-hearted and doesn't want to hurt the old man. Jason has his own problems; he had some sort of skiing accident (or something like it) and uses a cane for his limp. But his main problem is that he drinks to compensate for feeling like less than a man and therefore withdraws from wife Lana Turner, who likes to feel appreciated as a wife and woman. What woman wouldn't? Efrem's character has problems, too. He's a black-is-black and white-is-white attorney, who thinks the letter of the law's answer to any particular situation is the best solution, instead of what may be best for all concerned in the long run - in comparison to lines from "Madame X," "Justice must be merciful, justice must be just." But Efrem's vision is very narrow. He lives unto himself, not seeming to need anyone, even his wife Barbara Bel Geddes. She calls him untouched, meaning nothing in his surroundings really affects him. Even people. Even his son, George Hamilton, feels neglected by his passive father. To finish out the cast is Susan Kohner, a young lady who's an orphan and was left well off by her deceased parents, and who happens to love George, but the feeling's not mutual. The "old man" Thomas Mitchell takes care of her and her trust fund. Despite the details I have gone into (I saw my copy of it last week), there isn't really that much happening and there's a lot of talk, talk, talk. My main problem with it is that Jason Robards had virtually nothing to do and his talents were wasted, to say the least. George Hamilton comes off the best with his natural flamboyant way. And, Efrem Zimbalist is perfectly cast as the passive, by-the-book father. While the beginning of the film may feel rather slow and lifeless, by the end of it, I realized that I had been enveloped in their world and had lost all track of time. Isn't that the point of film, to lose yourself in another world? Granted, this may not be your ideal film for escapism, but I have seen much worse.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The question this film asks is how can a great director such as John
Sturges ("Bad Day at Black Rock", "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral", "The
Magnificent Seven", "The Great Escape", and "Ice Station Zebra") turn
around and make such a lousy film? And a secondary question is how a
star as big is Lana Turner, during a particularly productive period in
her career ("Peyton Place", "Imitation Of Life", "Portrait In Black",
and "Madam X") get sucked into such a film, particularly one where she
gets relatively little screen time.
I rarely notice goofs in movies, but I sure did in this one. In a very early scene, Efrem Zimbalist tells his secretary that his wife will be home from the hospital that day. 5 minutes later he tells someone else a day or two.
Oddly enough, this is a movie with an unusually strong cast. The best acting in the film -- though she got relatively low billing -- was by Barbara Belgeddes as Zimbalist's wife; she brings the scenes she is in to life. The billed star of the film is Lana Turner, who does have some good scenes, although not as much screen time as one might expect. I always liked Efrem Zimbalist Jr., although here he was criticized as being wooden...although that's sort of what the character called for, so was it him or the direction; I'm not sure. I was surprised and disappointed in Jason Robards' role here as Turner's husband; I'll excuse his undistinguished acting here by pointing out that this was only his second film. George Hamilton was very stiff here, and how he got started in movies, I'll never know. Susan Kohner, as the ward of Thomas Mitchell was not particularly good in this film, although she was in another collaboration with Turner -- "Imitation Of Life". I had a lot of sympathy for Thomas Mitchell in this film...he portrays a lawyer that is getting to old to continue...and it was about this time that Mitchell was diagnosed with the cancer which killed him about a year later; nevertheless, a fine performance. You'll see Carroll O'Connor in a small role as a policeman.
There is an issue with this film. There's another film -- which I can't place at this time -- that is from the same era that uses an almost identical subplot -- an older lawyer who is shifting funds around to cover one account or another as a result of his own financial misfortune earlier in life. I can't remember the name of the other film or whether it was before or after this one, although I do recall that it was in black and white. One film or the other stole the plot line...it's simply too close.
So, whose fault is it that this film seemingly lurches from one scene to another and never realizes its potential. I have to place the blame squarely at the feet of the director -- John Sturges. It's odd...his previous film had been "The Magnificent Seven"...a very successful film, and now a classic. Ah well...no one can win them all.
Should you watch it. Well, it has its moments. If you like any of the actors, the watch it. If not, pass it by.
*** 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!!!!
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.
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