Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
USA, 1962. Marten Pictures. Screenplay by Isobel Lennart, based on the play by Tennessee Williams. Cinematography by Paul Vogel. Produced by Lawrence Weingarten. Music by Lyn Murray. Production Design by Edward C. Carfagno, George W. Davis. Film Editing by Fredric Steinkamp.
A whirlwind romance plays out under the opening credits as Korean war vet Jim Hutton is administered to by hot blonde nurse Jane Fonda and, after cementing their mutual attraction, the two get married, she quits her job and they hit the road towards their Miami honeymoon.
The problems begin almost immediately and constant bickering threatens to split them up before the ink has dried on the marriage licence, a funk they’re still in when they pull up to a planned stop in Tennessee where Hutton has a war buddy (Anthony Franciosa) he wants to visit. Franciosa has been married for years to Lois Nettleton and they are raising a son that he feels is turning sissy because of his wife (the kid just can’t be parted from that doll). The tension between this established couple bursts into flames when Franciosa comes home with the announcement that he has told Nettleton’s father, who is also his boss, where to shove the job he has been working for him.
Nettleton heads back to her parents’ house just as Hutton and Fonda show up, their explosive arguments engendering Franciosa’s sympathy, who tells them that they simply need to accept that there’s a “period of adjustment” that occurs when two independent people enter the interdependence of marriage. When Nettleton’s in-laws come back to settle scores and it leads to husband and wife squaring their differences off at a police station, it inspires the newlyweds to give each other a second chance, while the married couple have come to a moment of crisis in their relationship that they need to solve once and for all.
Based on the play of the same name by Tennessee Williams, this adaptation by Isobel Lennart lays the rich interactions of the characters bare and, while never hiding its theatrical origins, keeps the drama from feeling stagebound. Williams reconfigures two very familiar female stereotypes from his better known plays, Fonda and Nettleton are basically a more optimistic Blanche and Stella, while the surprisingly upbeat source material remakes A Streetcar Named Desire with an It’s A Wonderful Life upgrade to powerful effect.
Never sappy or trite, it’s a movie about communication and the reality that Happily Ever After is the beginning of the story, not the end, and that in both cases these couples find the middle of the road the less they talk and the more they listen. The intelligent, exuberant performances by the whole cast are exciting, Fonda has a great time trashing it up as a careless southern sexpot, and Franciosa is all sexy confidence as the alpha male whose conflicts with his own masculinity blinds him to the happiness around him.
Academy Award Nomination: Best Art Direction-BW
Golden Globe Award Nominations: Best Picture-Comedy; Best Actress-Musical/Comedy (Jane Fonda)