Leigh is terrific, actually, in a canned comedy with decent writing
Wives and Lovers (1963)
Janet Leigh is great, Van Johnson likable but a little over the top. Together they make a decent pair struggling with newfound wealth as he sells a big play and they move from the Upper West Side to Connecticut. In the process, their marriage goes on the rocks, and all the clichés of suburban life are played out. It's funny and warm and silly and a bit thin overall, but not so bad as entertainment goes.
Director John Rich is a television man, which explains a lot. Picture the style of "Gomer Pyle" and "Gunsmoke" and "Dick Van Dyke" (all part of his pedigree) and you'll get something of the feel of this "movie." The fact it rises above these trappings is pretty encouraging. Behind the scenes is Lucien Ballard, the crack cinematographer who also did "The Wild Bunch" six years later, among many others.
You can't avoid thinking of other couples in suburban traps, like Tracy and Hepburn, or in a different and more contemporary sense, Hudson and Day. There are good jokes and flat ones here, amidst some pretty good dialog. There are sidekicks of note, squandered perhaps, mainly Shelly Winters and Ray Walston. (One really funny moment occurs when Walston is playing with the stereo and these radio whiny noises come out, exactly like "My Favorite Martian," which he is most famous for.)
Van Johnson is no Spencer Tracy, for sure, but that's okay. He's likable enough, and natural enough, to be a good struggling dad. The opening scenes look more like 1940s New York than 1963, but that's really the point, because old New York gets left behind. Johnson is better, in fact, as a dad than as a successful playwright, and for the second long half of the movie I just never believe him. Nor his supposed attraction to his agent with her horrid hair.
But Janet Leigh? She's worth watching and holds the movie together. If you loved her in "Psycho" for the half hour she's alive in it you'll maybe see another fuller actress here. Her role, as a struggling, willing, and then slightly rebellious housewife, is not very attractive, but she makes it attractive anyway, and less a cliché than many other actresses who might start to shriek or cry far too often and loud. Once you tune out the dreck you'll see a very good actress pulling off a difficult role, and my appreciation of her rose a little.
I guess when you'll hunting hard for pieces to like in a movie you know the whole is disappointing. But heads up about those pieces if you do give it a whirl.
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