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|2 reviews in total|
Okay, so first here's what's wrong with it: it's very Hollywood. The
women are wearing gowns from fifty years after the period when it's
set. Huxley does write some good dialogue (Mr. Bennett seems to be his
favorite character and he even has him start talking about utopias at
one point; for a minute you feel like maybe we're suddenly going to
lurch into Brave New World ...) but some of the dialogue is fairly
banal, it's hard to out-Austen Austen, and they pull some stuff with
Lady Catherine that is downright jaw-dropping, to those who love the
book. Also, the adorable and mawkish stuff they put in, in a calculated
way, for female viewers at times is a bit much ...
But none of that really matters. Pride and Prejudice is a jolly book, and this is the only jolly version of it ever filmed. The mini-series are all so politically correct and sour, and wanting to mock all upper class people, as is the fashion in Britain now, that they forget to be fun and they miss the point. This is social satire but it's good-humored social satire, which was Austen's intent, and Lizzie and Darcy should have a touch of Beatrice and Benedick to them -- and they do here. The cast is strong, the young Olivier is an absolute dish (he made this shortly after he played Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights), Edna Mae Oliver is terrific, and Mary Boland, and you've got a great Mr. Collins and ... the whole thing is an enjoyable romp.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Robert Anderson was not setting out to write a manifesto for the gay rights movement, or for anyone's agenda when he wrote the original play. He has said it's not about homosexuality -- it's about love, and those who are different being persecuted by those obsessed with conformity. The play and the film are more interesting as a deconstruction of traditional gender roles, if we need to look at the political aspect of it. But this is mainly a work about two lonely, literate, gentle people who find each other at a wearisomely macho, conformist boy's prep school. Robert Anderson himself adapted his play into the screenplay, and did a good job of opening it up. Minelli does a beautiful directing job, and the original Broadway cast, reprising their roles, all do fine work. The problem is that the censors at the Hayes Office made them butcher Tea and Sympathy, as badly as with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. In the original 1954 play, a teacher takes Tom swimming, then the teacher is fired for being gay, and the other students assume Tom is gay and begin throwing around terms like "queer" and "fairy." The Hollywood 1956 film is reduced to implying he's "less than manly" because the other boys see him sewing with the faculty wives. They start calling him "sisterboy." The original play makes clear that the husband of the Deborah Kerr character (played by Leif Erickson in a fine, bravely repellent performance) abets the boys in persecuting Tom because he himself is really gay and in the closet. The film of course cuts her line near the end of the play, which causes the couple to break up: "Did it ever occur to you that you persecute in Tom, that boy up there, you persecute in him the thing you fear in yourself?" The film would be more powerful and less dated and make more sense if Anderson and Minelli had been allowed to leave these things in. But the worst act of Hayes Office butchery does not relate to the issue of homosexuality; it has to do with the fact that the censors felt adultery must never ever seem to be endorsed on-screen. The film is given the framing device of Tom returning to the school at reunion time, and the epilogue, when it gets back to the framing device ... that's rubbish, there for the censors. It has nothing to do with the real story. Wise viewers will switch off after Deborah Kerr's line: "Years from now, when you talk about this, and you will, be kind." That's where the play ends. This was Deborah Kerr's favorite role in all her years of acting, and Laura Reynolds is the character she has said she most identified with. It shows; she does a lovely, heartfelt job. I'd say she and John Kerr (no relation) have fine chemistry. I find the Ellie Martin character a bit over-done; otherwise, the performances are strong. It's interesting that the head bully in the house, Ralph, is played by Tom Laughlin, who went on to make the Billy Jack films. Perhaps he and John Kerr became buddies in the years they worked on Tea and Sympathy in various incarnations; he also plays the pilot who flies Kerr to the island at the beginning of South Pacific. There's a moment in The Trial of Billy Jack (another period piece, from a very different era!) where an Indian wise man is advising Billy Jack about how we are most hostile to the things we fear in ourselves, "as the athletic man mocks the long-haired youth because he doubts his own masculinity." Something like that -- it reflects sixties and seventies arguments about long-haired hippies, but it's also right out of Tea and Sympathy, where the majority look askance at anyone without a crewcut. The macho, self-hating Bill Reynolds character is like the repressed, married dock worker in Last Exit to Brooklyn -- it's startling to find such a character in a film that was actually made right then, back in that era.