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Brian G. Hutton
The movie tells the true story of Diana Barrymore, a theatrical actress who acted on both stage and screen was once part of the legendary Barrymore family. Behind the cameras and backstage, Diana Barrymore would suffer through alcohol and drugs. Written by
Although the bulk of the story takes place in the early 1940's, all of the clothes and hairstyles worn by Dorothy Malone, Neva Patterson, and the other female members of the cast are strictly in the 1957 mode. See more »
Based on the 1957 autobiography of Diana Barrymore, Too Much, Too Soon is one of a series of film biographies produced by Hollywood in the 1950's dealing with show business personalities. While the second half of the film dissolves into soap opera antics, the first hour is remarkably compelling.
This is entirely due to the touching and profoundly sad performance of Errol Flynn, cast as the legendary ruin of a once great actor, John Barrymore. Flynn had been a crony and admirer of the Great Profile in the latter's final years of alcoholic excess. The two men had much in common, talent, fame, and success, along with self-loathing and large streaks of self-destructive behaviour.
Tragically, Flynn, though he would never know it, even had his own version of Diana Barrymore, a daughter of whom he saw little who, like her father, would be cursed with personal demons, a life of potential squandered with drug addiction that preceded an early death. That, however, would be almost forty years after Flynn had performed his own incrementally slow suicide through alcohol and drugs.
Flynn adopts few of Barrymore's mannerisms. Instead, his performance splendidly captures the inner turmoil and vulnerability of the Great Profile in his wilderness years, as well as one startling scene in which he depicts the mean, violent drunk that could emerge. There is a sadness and loneliness at the soul of this characterization, made all the more powerful because what the viewer is seeing is largely a reflection of Flynn himself. After years of self-indulgence and with a great career that had all but vanished, Flynn knew only too well the anguish that Barrymore felt towards the end.
There is also the irony of a scene in which Flynn, as Barrymore, regales a small gathering of people in a closed theatre with anecdotes about some of the old-time Hollywood personalities he had known. A year after Too Much, Too Soon's release Flynn would be doing the same thing again, but now in real life at a private party, minutes before he suffered his fatal heart attack. Among the people that he discussed was John Barrymore.
The theme of the film is of a child of privilege, denied love by her self-absorbed parents, who spends her life seeking that love as she descends into an increasingly sordid world of alcohol and abusive relationships. It's a pretty grim story though actually cleaned up for this film version. Diana Barrymore's complete story was even more degrading than the one vaguely depicted in the screenplay of Art Napoleon, who also directed the film. Nor is any mention made of the fact that Diana's first husband, played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr., is based on the actor Bramwell Fletcher, who had actually co-starred with her father eleven years before, in one of Barrymore's greatest film triumphs, Svengali.
There are also, no surprise for a Hollywood product, some embellishments with the truth. One of the film's best scenes involves Flynn, as Barrymore, making a person-to-person call to Diana's mother, whom he had divorced years before, because he wants a second chance. It's a great moment for the actor, a closeup on his face as his eyes first register fear then hopeful anticipation as he hears the phone ring at the other end, followed by a look of dejection when the operator comes on line to announce that the call isn't being answered.
The real Barrymore, however, had two stormy marriages after that divorce (never mentioned in the screenplay, among many other things) and was engaged in an obsessive love-hate relationship with his fourth wife (Elaine Barrie) at the time that Diana briefly moved in with him. I've never read any indication that he still carried a torch for Diana's mother, as Napoleon's writing would have you believe.
Flynn's performance is haunting but once his character dies at the film's half way point there's little reason for the viewer to continue to watch. Diana Barrymore's own story is decidedly less interesting, as she runs through a succession of men, most of them predictably very bad for her. Dorothy Malone, fresh off her best supporting actress Oscar win for Written on the Wind, is quite good in the lead role but the viewer still feels robbed that Flynn is no longer on screen.
After a final hour of watching Diana Barrymore's descent into a personal hell, the film ends on a slightly upbeat note with the indication of a possible rehabilitation for the main character. Unfortunately, it was not to be for the real Barrymore who would die from a drug overdose less than two years after this film's release (and just four months after Flynn's demise).
It's a cautionary tale of celebrity self-destruction, made memorable by the heart rending performance of a man who channelled his own life story into that of the friend he portrayed.
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