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Adapted from a Broadway play by Michael V. Gazzo. The original stage production opened on Nov. 9, 1955 at the Lyceum Theatre in New York and ran for 389 performances. Ben Gazzara and Shelley Winters played the two leads in the original stage play. See more »
Intense and harrowing family drama typical of 50's style New York film-making. At the time, Hollywood was caught up in the double-whammy of TV competition and Cold War scare, so programming from the West Coast tended to emphasize big screen spectacle and politically safe subject matter. On the other hand, films from New York City, such as On the Waterfront and Edge of the City, emphasized small screen black & white, with urban settings and grittier subject matter.
Here it's drug addiction among a white-collar family ensconced in a Manhattan apartment. Hooked because of a war wound, Johnny (Don Murray) has a loving wife Celia (Eva Marie Saint), a loyal brother Polo (Anthony Franciosa), and an arrogantly insensitive father (Lloyd Nolan). There's real tension between husband and wife because Johnny is fearful of confessing his secret addiction. As a result, Celia feels neglected by his drug-created absences, while Johnny keeps losing jobs, and Polo ends up paying for his brother's habit. When Dad comes from Florida to collect promised money from Polo that he now doesn't have, events begin spiraling out of control.
Needless to say, acting here is front and center stage. The cast comes through beautifully, especially Franciosa as the intensely conflicted Polo who's attracted to his brother's wife while providing Johnny the needed support. And it doesn't help that Dad has always favored Johnny even as Polo must keep that same brother's ruinous secret. Poor Polo, the stress may appear to be on Johnny and his addiction, but it's really Polo who's emotionally torn.
This is not a movie for the depressed. Nearly all the scenes take place in the couple's rather drab apartment, except for a few street shots of Johnny trapped by Manhattan's towering impersonality. This is urban despair 50's style, when drugs and addiction were considered a strictly urban problem related to unwholesome types that thrived there. The darker skinned drug-pusher Mother (Henry Silva)) conforms to a popular stereotype of the time, along with his be-bopping confederate Apple (Bill Hickey), another popular stereotype. And when Mother says it's only business after threatening Johnny, we get a different perspective on the rise of post-war commercialism. (Why the lugubrious name "Mother" for a low-life drug dealer? My guess is that it characterizes in ironic fashion the dependent relation addicts have with their supplier.)
The image that stays with me is a strung-out Johnny, hunkered down in his coat, drifting alone on the streets of Manhattan. It's a grim existential moment, especially for that upbeat decade. Anyway, the movie remains a dramatic powerhouse that still packs a wallop. And even that bane of 50's films, the required happy ending, is finessed in suitably ambiguous fashion.
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