Right after HIGH NOON/’52 and right before FROM HERE TO ETERNITY/’53, Fred Zinnemann made this crushing flop. Minimally adapted from Carson McCuller’s semi-autobiographical play & novel, it remained his personal favorite. You’ll see why it didn’t connect, it’s almost uncomfortably true to McCuller’s poetic realism, but with it’s stylized theatricality retained it gets inside some of the fears of adolescent passage in a manner rarely seen. (Charles Laughton’s THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER/’55 and Delmar Daves’ THE RED HOUSE/’47 find similar notes.) Julie Harris (debuting @ 26) is all exaggerated elbows & social frustration as 12-yr old Frankie who dreams of riding off with her older brother on his honeymoon. More situation than narrative, we’re stuck with Frankie in the alternately comforting & claustrophobic confines of a hot kitchen along with her young cousin (the heartbreakingly splendid Brandon de Wilde) and a black domestic with troubles of her own (a magnificent Ethel Waters). Lenser Hal Mohr reaches all the way back to SPARROWS/’26, his great Mary Pickford film, in some of his effects, and movie mavens will spot an almost grown up Dickie Moore as a soldier who tries to pick up Frankie. But the real magic comes at the end of Act II when Waters, de Wilde & Harris join in singing HIS EYE IS ON THE SPARROW. A bit of B’way magic, turned into cinematic gold by Zinnemann’s tact, taste & reserve.
CONTEST: This was a Stanley Kramer production, now released as part of a big DVD set with intros by professional widow & keeper of the flame Karen Kramer who makes yet another gaffe by claiming film debuts here for original cast members Harris, de Wilde and Waters. Hmm. Ethel Waters had actually made occasional film appearances starting in ‘29, working under such little known directors as W. Van Dyke, Minnelli, Duvivier and Elia Kazan. (With an Oscar nom. for his PINKY/’49.) Kramer misses the fourth member of the original B’way cast kept in the film. Guess who to win our usual MAKSQUIBS prize, a Write-Up of the NetFlix DVD of your choice. And no Googling. Thanks.