Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
USA, 1959. Warner Bros.. Screenplay by Delmer Daves, based on the novel by Sloan Wilson. Cinematography by Harry Stradling Sr.. Produced by Delmer Daves. Music by Max Steiner. Production Design by Leo K. Kuter. Costume Design by Howard Shoup. Film Editing by Owen Marks.
Delmer Daves follows a series of westerns examining corrosive American capitalism with the kind of splashy Cinemascope romances that were ruling the box office in the fifties, adapting the last part of Sloan Wilson’s novel as an investigation of American class corruption from a melodramatic angle. Cash-poor couple Arthur Kennedy and Dorothy McGuire run an inn out of their once glorious, now rundown seaside Maine mansion. They are happy to welcome self-made millionaire Richard Egan and his wife Constance Ford as guests despite the uncomfortable fact that Egan was once the inn’s lifeguard twenty years earlier. What we also learn is that Egan and McGuire were lovers in their youth, forbidden to marry because of their opposing stations in life, and now in their reunion find themselves awash in regret, she miserable with her alcoholic husband and he in agony with his resentful, bitter wife. Their finding each other again has an effect on the relationship that develops between her teenaged son (Troy Donahue) and his daughter (Sandra Dee), who fall in love and, upon meeting resistance from Dee’s snobby, desperate mother, only go further in their exploration of their desire for each other. A post-Peyton Place sexual frankness is spread quite generously throughout this picturesque and involving soap opera whose characters are all sympathetic despite the ridiculous places that the story goes, so that even when we catch up with Egan living in a Frank Lloyd Wright house that looks like something out of Forbidden Planet, we are still invested in seeing how things turn out. Questions about morality, examining the meaning of being “good” or “bad” when our very attitude toward sexuality is unnatural, is tossed into the mix along with theories of old money (corrupt, delusion) and new money (monstrously selfish), but Daves keeps the pulse of the drama going and it never feels like an intellectual lecture. Dee, who is now an almost campy image of idealized youth for her generation, never relies on her cute looks or stylish outfits and gives the film a great deal of dramatic weight, ably handling the torturous pain of being stuck between two warring parents while trying to be with a man she loves.
Golden Globe Award: Most Promising Newcomer-Male (Troy Donahue)