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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS (1959)


This ‘daringly adult’ meller from the late-‘50s hopes to shock us by blowing the scandalous lid off the hypocrisies of the ‘haves’ and airing the dirty linen of the ‘have-nots.’ But it really just wants to tantalize mainstream audiences by testing the outer limits of the newly besieged Hollywood Production Code. Paul Newman is all lean & hungry ambition as a striving lawyer with one foot on each side of Philly’s Main Line and Barbara Rush is the rich society princess he woos. They each have their moments, but the script crams so much thudding exposition, incident & innuendo into every scene that the film quickly devolves into parody. While modern audiences tend to find risible elements in even the greatest examples of these films (i.e. WRITTEN ON THE WIND/Sirk/’56; SOME CAME RUNNING/Minnelli/’‘58 & the surprisingly strong PEYTON PLACE/Robson/’57), megger Vincent Sherman hasn’t the taste or technique to make this work either as Bildungsroman or as societal critique. It just lurches along until the decidedly goofy courtroom dramatics turn farcical. Richard Deacon, a fine sit-com comedian, is unintentionally hilarious as a supercilious butler with a nose for fine liquor; he should have switched roles with John Williams who’s equally miscast as Rush’s manipulative dad. It’s fun to see Adam West as a gynephobic groom & Robert Vaughan as a one-armed dipsomaniac in their salad days, and there’s a delightful late turn from dear Billie Burke, but it’s small recompense for sitting thru this clunker.

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