The Glass Menagerie (1987)
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Though everyone involved (on both sides of the camera) does a first rate job, special accolades are due to Joanne Woodward, who is perhaps the first actress to really understand Amanda, since the role's originator--Laurette Taylor.
The pathos in Miss Woodward's delineation of the character is almost unbearable on some occasions, as in the famous jonquil soliloquy, in which she conveys, with hushed voice and beatific eyes, a sentimental recollection for lost time (and lost love) that is not only wholly personally convincing, but also manages to imprint her sentiment onto the audience with all the deja vu of Proust's madeleine.
Her Amanda is never less than fully persuasive.
And Mr. Malkovitch, in his final address to the camera, ("blow out your candles Laura") achieves effects of the same high order, with emotions so confiding, intimate, and genuine that he leaves viewers of any sensitivity as heartbroken as he is.
All told a devastating achievement not to be missed by admirers of Mr. Williams.
I enjoyed this version, but it's not the one I would show my classes.
I thought that Woodward's Amanda was softer and sweeter than Gertrude Lawrence and Katharine Hepburn. Some parts I would have liked to have seen her a bit more emotional, but I feel that Joanne Woodward turned in a touching performance. The character of Amanda can be quite funny; Judith Ivey did a wonderful job as Amanda on Broadway in the spring of 2010. I feel that Woodward brought out some of that humor in the role.
I also liked the other three too. All good performances, but the pacing of the movie slowed it down. Also the film looked quite dark. I know it's a memory play set in a dingy apartment, but it was a bit too dark, especially when the lights have been turned off.
What's up with Tom visiting the now vacant and abandoned apartment building?
Overall, I prefer the 1950 black and white version. Unlike many others, I really liked Gertrude Lawrence's Amanda. I also liked Arthur Kennedy and Jane Wyman. Kirk Douglas was a little bit too energetic but still good.
When I showed Katharine Hepburn's Amanda, my students begged to return to the black and white version. This - coming from kids who hate black and white movies.
I am glad I finally sat down to watch this version, but for me I will stick with the first film version, even if it has that insipid happy ending.
Joanne Woodward shines in a multi-layered, brilliant turn as one of the most interesting characters in modern literature, Amanda Wingfieid. She gives just the right touch to small moments that give the viewer an enlightening peek at the desperate condition of the fading southern belle -- such as a moment on the telephone, coaxing someone to renew their newspaper subscription so she can scrape off her small commission.
John Malkovich also turns in a terrific performance, making the aftermath of the dinner party compelling, though painful, to watch. Malkovich has evolved into an actor whose quirkiness can sometimes overpower his character. In this relatively early work, his brooding sexiness gives an endearing depth to the story's narrator, a character who, in the wrong hands, can be utterly dislikable.
My only real quibble with this film is has to do with the technical direction. Paul Newman drew out such great work from his cast that it's unfortunate that distracting camera work takes attention away from them at times when it shouldn't. One can see that he was trying to make the stagy story more "movie like" and intimate with close-ups and quick cuts from camera angle to camera angle. For example, when Jim accidentally breaks one of Amanda's favorite glass animals, we don't really need to see a quick, tight close-up of the unicorn and his broken horn; that momentarily breaks the momentum of the scene. It's more than enough to hear the sad young woman's touching twist of the situation-- comforting Jim for causing the break by saying she'll imagine that her treasured unicorn has had an operation to make him look like a regular horse, and will be happy now that he's not a freak. The camera work certainly does not render the film unwatchable, and I think it shouldn't be missed.
The setting is a 1930's apartment in Saint Louis and is told from the perspective of Tom. Laura, Tom and their mother, Amanda, live there together because their father abandoned them. Amanda fears that Tom is becoming an alcoholic like his father and she worries about Laura's future. Laura dropped out of Business College and has a leg defect. Amanda views her daughter as damaged goods. Laura is shy and does not get attention from boys and so Amanda tries to make Laura pretty for Jim, a man Tom knows for work. Laura realizes that Jim is her high school crush and gets embarrassed and doesn't eat dinner. Jim then takes the time to talk with Laura and the two ended up dancing together and kissing. Jim didn't tell Laura that he was engaged and he leaves after revealing the information to Laura and Amanda. Tom leaves his family at the end of the play, just as his father did. The cast was limited to four people, making the actors all have to communicate well with each other.
The viewer notices each time something is meant to be awkward and each time something is meant to be serious. Each of the four actors portrayed their parts fantastically and exemplified the characters as written in Williams' original play. The candlelight shows a different kind of mood than light from the light bulb. Then Tom gives Laura some dandelion wine and leaves the candles in the room with them. He asks Laura to move closer so he can see her. After Tom and Laura look at her glass collection, they go open the door and dance. Tom gives her confidence in herself that no one else ever has. This setting was created so that the viewer sees the room in a romantic setting.
The music in the movie were pieces that would be played during the time it was written and set, which was the late 1930's. The music adds to the tone, especially when Laura tried to distract Amanda from the fact that she dropped out of Business School.
There is a strange hovering presence in this picture, however. The direction is, at times, curiously overbearing - the staging is not only unnecessary but sometimes intrusive. The transparent curtains, for example, are used for their fullest effect with James and Laura, but this effect is a misreading of the scene. The split screen implies a much simpler interpretation than the scene calls for. Laura is smothered, yes, and hidden, but the reasons why and her actual state of mind go beyond the obtuse battiness of her mother. Everyone that is absent in that scene, including the "fifth character," belongs there just as much and even more than James does. For that matter, I'm surprised that more wasn't done with the absent father figure than the ridiculous smiling picture on the wall.
Tennessee Williams did not write a sweet, romantic family story and Newman doesn't get it. Too bad, The Glass Menagerie could be a brilliant movie if it ever fell into the hands of a director who had the guts to get at the real meat in this story and within the 4 main characters.