Drifter Chance Wayne returns to his hometown after many years of trying to make it in the movies. Arriving with him is a faded film star he picked up along the way, Alexandra Del Lago. ... See full summary »
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Drifter Chance Wayne returns to his hometown after many years of trying to make it in the movies. Arriving with him is a faded film star he picked up along the way, Alexandra Del Lago. While trying to get her help to make a screen test, he also finds the time to meet his former girlfriend Heavenly, the daughter of the local politician Tom 'Boss' Finley, who more or less forced him to leave the town many years ago. Written by
Geraldine Page, Paul Newman, Madeline Sherwood and Rip Torn all recreate their Broadway roles for the film version of "Sweet Bird of Youth," a 1962 film based on Tennessee Williams' play and directed by Richard Brooks. Again and as usual, some bite has been taken out of the original story in order to get past the censors.
Geraldine Page is the drunk, drugged and over the hill movie star Alexandra del Lago, who has picked up with a Hollywood gigolo, Chance Wayne and promised him a film career. At present she's escaping from what she perceives as a disastrous comeback. Chance returns with her to his home town, yearning for the respectability and success that has eluded him. Instead he runs into trouble from his ex-girlfriend's crooked politician father, Tom Finley (Ed Begley) and Finley's son, Tom Jr. (Rip Torn) who want him out of town because of what happened to Heavenly (Shirley Knight). In the play, Chance has given Heavenly a venereal disease; in the film, she's had an abortion. Chance desperately tries to see and speak with Heavenly, appealing to her Aunt Nonnie (Mildred Dunnock), but it leads to more trouble than he bargained for.
Page is a powerhouse as Alexandra, more glamorous than we're used to seeing her and as sloppy a drunk and druggie as you'll ever find. Alexandra's a selfish user, and she's got the technique down pat. The role of Chance, another selfish user, came fairly early on in the handsome Newman's career - he came very close to being typecast as these fast-talking amoral men. In those days, Newman struggled with a lack of emotional availability and these roles fit him beautifully. Thankfully he grew to encompass parts in films such as he had in "The Verdict" and became one of our greatest American actors. Madeline Sherwood, so effective in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," is equally good here as Boss Finley's girlfriend; her scene with Begley in her hotel room is truly terrifying. Begley is fantastic, mean as dirt, as is Torn as his equally cruel son. And "Desperate Housewives" fans will be interested to see a slim, pretty Shirley Knight as Heavenly, a somewhat vapid role for such a strong actress.
The DVD has a screen test for Chance by Rip Torn, who would later marry Page. He and Page perform a scene between Alexandra and Chance from the play - though the scene is in the film, it has been changed slightly. It's total stage acting, quite different from the film, but both are excellent, Torn giving Chance a lot of intensity. Though in those days he was very good-looking, he probably didn't come off as enough of a boy toy for the producers. It's a very interesting extra and well worth seeing, as is this somewhat watered-down "Sweet Bird of Youth."
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