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Monday, March 12, 2012

UNTIL THEY SAIL (1957)

WWII tale from James Michener centers on four lonely sisters in Christchurch, New Zealand, where the local men have all gone to war and the Yanks are here to play . . . until they sail. In Robert Anderson’s smart, economical script, it’s a superior soaper with a big black mark against it, a Scandal-Sheet worthy trial that bookends what’s otherwise an unusually grown-up look at love & sex in the pressure-cooker environment of wartime. (And now, the film also serves as a living scrapbook to the city & Cathedral before the recent earthquake.) At first meeting, the sisters function like the Three Bears: eldest Joan Fontaine is Too Cold; Piper Laurie is Too Hot; Jean Simmons is Just Right; and Sandra Dee, a previously unknown Fourth Bear, is the kid. (She’s sweet, but too American-teen to pass for Kiwi.) They each have their own rite-of-romantic-passage, but the emphasis is largely on Simmons, a recent war-widow, and Paul Newman, cold & cynical from a quickie divorce (and still showing a touch of baby-fat in his face). Robert Wise, who groomed Newman’s screen acting chops in SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME/’56, keeps things from turning sticky. And under Joseph Ruttenberg’s glamorizing WideScreen b&w lensing, 40 yr-old Fontaine easily passes as sister to 15 yr-old Dee.

CONTEST: Ruttenberg got Oscar’d the year before & the year after this one. Without looking it up, name the two films and the likely reason this one was ignored to win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of a NetFlix DVD.

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