I’ll Cry Tomorrow

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 3/7/23;
Warner Archive;
Drama;
$21.99 Blu-ray;
Stars Susan Hayward, Richard Conte, Jo Van Fleet, Eddie Albert, Don Taylor, Margo, Ray Danton, Tol Avery, Timothy Carey, Henry Kulky.

With the number of pedestrian celebrity biopics at an all-time high, and the Academy’s annual beauty contest about to be, what better time than the present for Warner Archive to release a Blu-ray jack up of Daniel Mann’s I’ll Cry Tomorrow, the Oscar-sanctioned 1955 adaptation of Lilian Roth’s same-titled autobiography? Susan Hayward took home a golden doorstop for her performance as the vaudeville, Hollywood and Broadway star who became a skid row rummy before turning her life around. Hollywood loves success stories almost as much as the Academy embraces actors who pretend to beat the bottle and live a life of virtue. Long before Nancy Reagan cautioned “Just say no!” Hollywood’s approach was flaunting vice and degradation for five reels before reel six capped the show with overstated lessons in temperance.

Two minutes in the presence of Katie Rubenstien (Jo Van Fleet), and the director who little Lillian first auditions for growls, “Stage mothers, they’re all alike!” Sadly, he’s right, which makes one question why Van Fleet’s formidable talent wasn’t relied upon for much more than putting on a Brooklyn accent and going through the fuggy paces of celluloid mothership. In the Stage Mothers Pantheon, monster mom Katie bridges the gap between Ethel Gumm (Judy Garland’s bulldozing mater) and Rose Hovick, who had a dream to live through her daughters Gypsy Rose Lee and “Baby” June Havoc. It’s borderline impossible to regain faith in a mother who, after her 8-year-old daughter fails an audition, literally knocks the kid to the curb while a crowd gathers. No matter how many times Katie whispers the titular bromide in her baby girl’s ear, having a mother as suffocating as she is justification enough for any child to seek salvation in a bottle.

The script by Helen Deutsch and Jay Richard Kennedy is riddled with hooey. By the time the curtain rang down in 1954, the real-life Roth was on hubby No. 6. According to the film, the closest she comes to walking down the aisle is with the fictional David Tredman, played by Ray Danton. Tredman is Roth’s childhood pal with whom she reunites years later, just in time for him to up and croak on her. Of Roth’s numerous beaus, Tredman is allotted the least amount of screen time. He spends more time chatting up Katie than he does Roth. Rather than doting on a pace-slackening nice guy, the filmmakers, knowing of the scene-stealing brutes, drunks and rapists that lie ahead, work past Tredman tout de suite.

After a bed check at the hospital confirms Tredman’s death, Roth hops a tramp steamer, setting sail down a sea of booze, steered by one drunk after another. First comes Wallie (Don Taylor), a soldier on leave who admirs Roth’s stage presence. (A booze-soaked debate over the merits of plywood is a low point.) Next up is Tony Bardeman (Richard Conte), a lush who can hold his liquor long enough to convince Roth he has an “off switch” to combat drinking. If Bardeman detests men who couldn’t hold their liquor, imagine how he feels about drunken women. When the subject of abstinence comes up, Roth is rewarded with a beating. Oddly enough, it isn’t a man on the make who pours our heroine her first 8 oz. tumbler, but Ellen (Virginia Gregg), a registered nurse. It’s the caretaker’s sole function in the script. After suggesting Roth take a few snorts before bed to help her sleep, Ellen is shown the door. 

In no time, Roth is Broadway’s youngest star: next stop Paramount Pictures. The last thing one expects to see in an MGM picture from this period is the appearance of Paramount’s illustrious Bronson Gate. By their very nature, studios abhorred promoting the competition. Roth was in fact a Paramount contract player in the early ’30s. (She’s prominently featured in the Marx Bros. second feature, Animal Crackers.) For a film that contains more mistruths than a George Santos campaign speech, this unexpected jolt of verisimilitude almost results in whiplash injuries.

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Roth did fall in love at an AA meeting, but her last husband, Burt McGuire (Eddie Albert) was a member, not a peer-leader as depicted in the film. This would be the only time Albert and his wife Margo worked together onscreen. It would also mark the first time Hayward sang in a picture. (Her previous musical performances had been dubbed.) A vocalist was hired to impersonate Hayward’s singing voice, but after listening to her rehearsal, the studio decided to let the actress do her own singing. Roth felt the job of lip-synching should have gone to her. An album of Roth singing her greatest hits was released the week the film opened.

In his entry on Anthony Mann in The American Cinema, Andrew Sarris reminds us that the director of such dynamic genre films as The Naked Spur and El Cid was, “not to be confused with dreary Daniel and Delbert Mann.” The direction belies the work of a frustrated traffic cop, doing his best to steer actors away from bumping into the furniture. From Roth’s performing at the height of her stardom to hitting rock bottom singing for drinks in a gin mill, Hayward’s intensity steals the show.

Bonus features include the trailer and newsreels as well as period interviews with Hayward from “The MGM Parade” TV series. For those not familiar with Roth’s work, there’s Short Story Conference, a delightful 20-minute musical Vitaphone Short. And if it’s laughter you’re after, don’t forget Animal Crackers.

Roman Holiday

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 9/15/20;
Paramount;
Comedy;
$29.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert, Hartley Power, Harcourt Williams, Margaret Rawlings.

As this new “Paramount Presents” Blu-ray aptly demonstrates, 1953’s Roman Holiday manages to remain as fresh and vibrant as ever while simultaneously serving as a perfect time capsule of the era in which it was made.

In addition to just being a charming romantic comedy with a fun premise, the film managed to embody a number of significant elements of Hollywood history — not the least of which is the first major screen role for Audrey Hepburn, who snagged a Best Actress Oscar at age 24. Noted film critic and historian Leonard Maltin in the bonus materials calls it the greatest cinematic introduction anyone has ever had.

Then there’s the audacious decision by director William Wyler to actually shoot the film on location in Rome, rather than the more conventional practice of re-creating parts of the city on a soundstage in Southern California.

The delightful screenplay was largely the creation of Dalton Trumbo, though almost no one knew it at the time since he was blacklisted and attached his friend Ian McLellan Hunter’s name to it. At the time, the Academy offered separate awards for story and screenplay, unlike the distinct original and adapted screenplay awards offered today, and Hunter ended up as the named nominee for both awards on behalf of the film, sharing screenplay credit with John Dighton. It won for Best Story, an award credited to Hunter for 40 years until the Academy recognized that it was actually Trumbo’s Oscar.

Trumbo finally received an on-screen story credit during the restoration of the film carried out for its 2002 DVD release. The Writers Guild of America finally recognized Trumbo’s co-screenplay credit in 2011, so this new Blu-ray restoration offers the studio’s first chance to reflect that on-screen (the credits now attribute the story solely to Trumbo, with the screenplay by Trumbo, Dighton and Hunter).

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The story involves a young princess (Hepburn) from an unnamed European country who grows tired of being coddled and pampered during a tour of Europe when she can’t actually experience any of the places she’s visiting. So, during the Roman leg of the trip, she sneaks out the royal enclave at bedtime, despite her handlers drugging her to help her sleep. She ends up passing out somewhere in the city, where she is discovered by an American passerby named Joe (Gregory Peck), who ends up letting her sleep it off at his apartment after being unable to find a taxi driver who will take responsibility for her.

Joe turns out to be a journalist assigned to cover a press event with the princess the next day, but ends up oversleeping due to tending to the strange girl in his bed. He leaves her to sleep as he rushes to the office to try to bluff his editor that he conducted the interview, only to be called out by the fact that the event was canceled because the princess was “sick.” Recognizing her picture in the paper as the girl in his apartment, he quickly devises a scheme to sell an exclusive story about the princess to the paper.

When she finally regains her senses, the princess doesn’t admit to her true identity, but ends up unwittingly joining Joe and a photographer buddy (Eddie Albert) for a day of sightseeing around the city, thinking she is evading the royal guards sent to retrieve her when they’re busy chronicling her adventures throughout the city.

The idea of someone with a life of privilege wanting to experience how the other half lives was certainly not a new concept in Trumbo’s day any more than it would be today, but Hepburn’s performance as the princess makes her instantly relatable. Modern audiences accustomed to shows such as “The Crown” will be quite familiar with the responsibilities and expectations placed on royalty. Roman Holiday arrived in theaters not long after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, who herself ascended to the throne at age 25, and the film’s timelessness is only aided by the ease in which one can imagine the young queen or her sister, chafing against the constraints of their duties, ending up in an adventure not unlike this one.

Given its simple premise, how it ends, and how Peck and Hepburn made such a winning duo, had it been made in the past 20 years or so Roman Holiday would be practically begging for a sequel. Yet, while there were supposedly attempts to make one, it never happened, though the story has been recycled quite a few times since then.

Paramount’s latest restoration of the film looks great, considering how poorly the film’s original elements were reportedly in — likely a factor of it being shot on location and using local European development houses. The new digital restoration techniques bring out a lot of detail in the black-and-white cinematography, with the only real fuzziness coming from stock footage newsreels the film itself originally used.

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For the film’s Blu-ray debut, Maltin’s seven-minute analysis of the film turns out to be the only new extra produced, though the disc still has plenty to offer, carrying over most of the featurettes from the 2008 DVD release.

These include a 12-minute Hepburn tribute and a half-hour retrospective of her work at Paramount, plus a 12-minute featurette about Trumbo (made years before the biopic with Bryan Cranston), and the nine-minute “Rome With a Princess,” which profiles many of the film’s shooting locations.

The disc also carries over a couple featurettes that are more about Paramount than Roman Holiday — owing that they were intended to be used on many of Paramount’s anniversary releases when produced in 2008. These include a five-minute piece on costumes that appeared in the studio’s films, and a 10-minute rundown of Paramount’s 1950s films.

The Blu-ray also includes previously available theatrical trailers and still galleries.

While the inclusion of most of the previous disc’s extras is a significant step up for the Paramount Presents label, which typically jettisons almost all previous supplements, fans should note there are still some notable omissions from previous Roman Holiday disc treatments, particularly the 2002 DVD.

That disc had a featurette about the restoration of the film that was done at that time, which carried over to the 2008 DVD but is obsolete now given the latest restoration, so its omission is understandable. Strangely, though, there is nothing about the new restoration to replace it.

Other supplements from that 2002 disc that didn’t make it to 2008, and are likewise still omitted, are a half-hour retrospective on the film and a 14-minute profile of costumer Edith Head. However, it seems to be Paramount Presents practice to only carry over supplements that are available in HD, so that might explain why those earlier featurettes didn’t even linger onto the 2008 re-release.