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.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

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.

World War II Classic ‘A Walk in the Sun’ Headed to Blu-ray Feb. 8 From MVD

The 1945 World War II film A Walk in the Sun will be released on Blu-ray Disc Feb. 8 from Kit Parker Films and MVD Entertainment Group.

The film is also available on DVD.

The release features a 4K Master from the UCLA Film and Television Archive’s 35mm photochemical restoration.

Lewis Milestone, Academy Award Best Director winner for All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), directs the drama of American soldiers in combat during the Allied invasion of Italy in September 1943. Dana Andrews, Richard Conte, John Ireland, Lloyd Bridges and Norman Lloyd head an ensemble cast comprising the lead platoon of the Texas Division of the U.S. Fifth Army. The eclectic group of citizen-soldiers are thrust into a life-or-death mission to blow up an enemy bridge while attempting to capture a strategic farmhouse heavily garrisoned by German troops. The dilemma of the common soldier trudging to an unknown fate under a blazing Italian sun is captured by the different thoughts and personalities of a disparate group of men under stress. Robert Rossen’s script dramatizes the narrative from the perspective of the infantryman whose mundane routine of service-related ennui is interspersed with heart-pulsing action amid the ever-present specter of sudden death. 

Camerawork by six-time Academy Award nominee Russell Harlan is supported by the title ballad written by Millard Lampell and Earl Robinson and performed by renowned African-American operatic singer Kenneth Spencer.

A Walk in the Sun was named as one of the year’s top films by the National Board of Review, was nominated for Best Film by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and was added to the National Film Registry in 2016 for its cultural, historical and aesthetic significance.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Special features include commentary by Alan K. Rode; “Zanuck Goes to War: The WWII Films of Fox”; “Living History: Norman Lloyd on Saboteur and A Walk in the Sun” (2014); “The Battle of San Pietro,” an uncut version from the Academy Film Archive preservation negative; WWII Fox Movietone newsreels; and the theatrical trailer.

Whirlpool

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via ScreenArchives.com;
Twilight Time;
Drama;
$29.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Gene Tierney, Richard Conte, Jose Ferrer, Charles Bickford.

As movie-related tantalizers go, Whirlpool’s casting of a young Jose Ferrer as a sociopathic quack astrologer easily tops most, and it’ll continue to do so until the day when concession stands once again begin selling Jujyfruits and Dots (I’m partial to the green ones). This is especially true when we’re also talking about a straight-faced narrative with “A” production values — and also when the Ferrer character proves to be far more than a stock villain, given that he does have intellectually powerful hypnotic powers, notwithstanding his quack-dom. Given that few actors could do “smarmy” as well as Ferrer, the picture gives us a hook that challenges the rest of the package to live up to its potential.

Despite a narrative that gets loopier in increments after a terrific extended set-up, Otto Preminger’s prototypically cool cookie (script by heavyweights Ben Hecht and Andrew Solt, from an interesting sounding novel by Guy Endore) gives it a polished shot that qualifies as a clean standup double. And, actually, it’s one of the better movies the famously tyrannical one directed during his long early career tenure at 20th Century-Fox — a few years before he ultimately “went indie” with the once scandalous The Moon Is Blue, which got all Dinner Theater-ribald about Maggie McNamara’s virginity.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

But 1949’s Whirlpool is a studio product all the way, laced with in-house craft contributions that were once almost unfathomably routine: Alfred Newman conducting an instantly peggable David Raskin score; three-time Oscar-winner Arthur C. Miller as cinematographer; and, in a guest shot, Oleg Cassini as the costumer for Gene Tierney (the movie’s lead) at a time when they were married in real life. In other words, we’re not exactly talking Attack of the Crab Monsters, though there’s probably no shortage of jumbo shrimp at the fancy parties where Ferrer has recently been showing up with married Tierney at his side as his mind-reading (he does that, too) wows posh L.A. society.

This is not, though, the setting in which the two of them meet — which, in its grabber of an opening, might offer a perverse twist on the old “meeting cute” screenwriters’ concept were Ferrer only interested in her money. With a psychoanalyst husband (Richard Conte) who does fairly well on his own plus inherited family riches that can satisfy just about any whim on her frivolous wish list, Tierney suffers from kleptomania and has just been busted for snatching a $300 pin from a posh department store where she has a large charge account. Opportunist Ferrer just happens to be on the scene, and, like an ambulance-chasing lawyer who in those days might have been putting a happy face on another Tierney (Lawrence’s) real-life rap sheet, defuses the situation in a smoothly executed scene. Say what you will, the guy is competent.

So we have a kleptomaniac and an astrologer who has at least some knowledge of the human mind, which isn’t exactly your everyday 1949 screen twosome. Of course, there’s also the husband, but Conte’s role is unwritten (in contrast to his co-stars’), and a key sub-topic here is his significant ignorance of his wife’s hangups, even though he treats patients in their home all the time. In a way, Ferrer fancies himself as an under-appreciated professional rival to Conte, the way a chiropractor might when being compared to an NFL orthopedic surgeon. And yet, we also get the sense — is this Preminger’s much written-about “objectivity” in action? — that were Ferrer willing to clean up his act and use his gifts in a positive way, he might be be seen as some sort of genius practitioner, as opposed to Conte’s more common competence.

Ferrer’s act is hardly clean. He has a history of fleecing women patients in sometimes dreadful ways and now has his eyes on Tierney’s fortune. This occurs just as a previous one-sided relationship goes bust to launch the movie’s second half on a melodramatic path — one that gives audiences a lot to swallow and is perhaps less interesting than Ferrer’s initial and artful burrowing into Tierney’s mind. This said, the film’s second half has a lot of Charles Bickford, an actor who always merely had to show up to convey instant credibility. As for Tierney, she goes through much of the movie in a wide-eyed daze but effectively so: a risky performance in a difficult role that doesn’t rate that far behind her defining roles in Laura, Leave Her to Heaven and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Too be sure, it’s a bit creepy watching her with knowledge of the own real-life mental breakdowns that kept Tierney off the screen for protracted periods. If you know something of Tierney’s background or have read her excellent autobiography (Self-Portrait), you know the degree to which her emotional problems were not just honestly earned but tragically so.

Preminger, and not just at Fox, had a way of treating melodramatic material with exceptional restraint, and the combination made his best films (and this doesn’t mean Hurry Sundown or Skidoo, whose rewards are more perversely twisted) come off as exceptionally grown-up for their day while perhaps not delivering the catharsis melodrama fanciers demand. Twilight Time’s release, which adds a commentary by the late Richard Schickel carried over from the long-ago DVD, delivers another keen rendering of that Fox black-and-white “look” that has given me so much pleasure over so many decades.

I’ve said this before, but I think that from about 1945 to ’55, Darryl Zanuck was the most competent studio head ever. By no means were all the Fox films of this period masterpieces, and, in fact, few of them were — though Joseph Mankiewicz and Henry King were fashioning the best work of their careers around this time. But nearly every example of the studio’s output gave you something, and here it’s a pro job with one performance that’s so inarguably great that I can’t believe that it has fallen into obscurity. I first saw Whirlpool for the only previous time in 1961 almost immediately after it was sold to TV, and Ferrer’s oiliness has stayed with me for almost 60 years.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Local Hero’ and ‘Whirlpool’