Monday, August 15, 2011

Cougar Joan

This time, we are going forward in Ms. Crawford's career to her 1956 film Autumn Leaves.  Joan plays a lonely spinster, Milly Weatherby, who works from her home as a typist, and has given up on finding someone with whom to share her life.  One day, as she eats alone in a crowded restaurant, she is interrupted by a young man - the restaurant is crowded, could he eat with her, rather than wait for a table.  Though Millie is reluctant, she agrees, and finds herself drawn to the rather odd Burt Hanson (Cliff Roberson).  They date; she breaks it off - primarily because she is in her early forties, while Burt is about 30.  Burt however, will have none of this, and continues to pursue her, finally convincing her to marry him.  Though happy with him, Millie finds that Burt is lying to her, first about small things (like the daily presents he brings her) and finally a huge one - revealed when his ex-wife (Vera Miles as Virginia Hanson) shows up at their door.
In the hands of a different director, we felt this little melodrama could have been quite touching.  But directed by Robert Aldrich, famous for action pictures like The Dirty Dozen and the ultimate in horror camp, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, this film goes WAY over the top.  Witness Cliff Robertson's performance, as Burt becomes ill.  Had it been AFTER 1960, we would have said he was (badly) aping Anthony Perkins in Psycho.  However, we can't use that excuse here; Robertson is all but required to froth at the mouth to portray Burt's descent into madness (gee, couldn't Aldrich have watched such subtle performances as the Olivia de Havilland in The Snake Pit, and Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend?)  Poor Joan is left trying to make Milly sympathetic - which she does do, but it is a lot of work!

We did enjoy seeing Vera Miles, even though the part is small. Ms. Miles is catty, manipulative, and having a relationship with her father-in-law that is quite sickening. Here she is meeting Milly for the first time:

And watch for Lorne Greene, pre-Bonanza, already playing older than his years. Like Ms. Miles, his character is totally reprehensible, more than he really needs to be.  

On the plus side, it was a genuine pleasure to hear the title song sung by Nat King Cole! And Ms. Crawford really is able to make the most of minimal script to give a well-rounded character.

More Crawford coming up soon - and some Carole Lombard (we hope), thanks to Summer Under the Stars!

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