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Julian Berniers and Lily Prine have just gotten married. They have been in Chicago on business before returning to their home town of New Orleans, where they will meet with Julian's older spinster sisters, Anna and Carrie, who still live in the long time unpaid for family home. Anna and Carrie, as the elder siblings, have long kept Julian afloat during his wheeling and dealings. Julian has largely kept Lily in the dark about his activities, including the mysterious meetings he has had in New Orleans in the week prior to meeting up with Anna and Carrie. Despite losing the factory in Chicago, Julian comes bearing expensive gifts for his sisters, including paying off the house and a trip for both of them to Europe, something that they have long talked about wanting to do. Because of this money, Lily believes that her wealthy mother, Albertine Prine, may have paid Julian to marry her to get rid of her. Things change for the women in Julian's life when they learn that he has been meeting ... Written by
Every performance in this haunting film is stellar, including Dean Martin's. Much has been said about him being miscast but I disagree. Despite his being a perennial loser, the character of Julian must be so attractive, charming and fun as a person that he can capture the hearts of fresh young things like Lily and older, more experienced women like his connected and moneyed benefactor alike. Part of Julian's problem is that his personal attractiveness has allowed him to skate through one catastrophic life choice after another while women, most often his older sisters, who also get all giggly at the very thought that he might come swinging through the door any minute, have always been there to bail him out and nurse him back to health.
His child-like and overly animated conversation with Lily's mother is a key indicator here. He is still very much a little boy at this point in the story, yet you can see his irresistible personal charm and attractiveness is also working on his own mother-in-law.
These are qualities that were intrinsic to Dean Martin's real life and his professional persona. And the film camera being as unforgiving as it is in revealing a certain "biology is destiny" truth about a person's look, manner and aura, I don't believe Jason Robards Jr., who created the role on stage and was a fine actor on both stage and screen, would have been able to pull it off in the movie. Yes, Paul Newman could have pulled it off. But so could Dean Martin. His performance is one of the things I enjoy most about watching this as I do every few years on my old TCM DVD-R copy of it (we really need an official DVD/Blu-ray release of this soon). His final scenes with Page and Hiller are standouts. It is thrilling to see Julian's growth into manhood for the first time in his life under these brutal circumstances as Dean Martin portrays him.
This is a dramatic performance that, IMO, surpasses his previous impressive dramatic performances in The Young Lions, Career, Some Came Running and Rio Bravo.
And on the issue of questions about the family resemblance (or lack there of) among the three siblings, I'm not sure that is such a critical oversight of the filmmakers considering the musical chairs heritage elements found elsewhere in the story. Questionable lineage/parentage is an openly discussed factor for at least two other characters. It wouldn't be a stretch to consider the possibility that the three siblings in this old New Orleans family might have been the product of two or more fathers. The two "old maid" sisters are overly conservative and averse to outsiders to an almost neurotic level. Was this the result of a mother who instilled this fear in her daughters in order to atone for her own wild youth? Possible. I just think the question of whether Dean Martin, Wendy Hiller and Geraldine Page look enough alike to be taken for siblings is not much of a distraction and, in its own way under the circumstances of this story, might even add something of value to consider.
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