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Thursday, February 21, 2013

TEA AND SYMPATHY (1956)

While the title & curtain line remain indelible*, Robert Anderson’s film adaptation of his hit B’way drama can’t avoid the pitfalls of a once-timely ‘problem play’ whose bold progressive spirit now looks a bit tattered & naive. Worse, there are lines & situations booby-trapped with ‘bad laughs’ waiting to detonate in a crowd. (A problem largely alleviated in home-viewing.) Yet, in spite of embarrassing moments & overstatement, the basic story of a shy, ‘artistic’ freshman, branded as gay and bullied by classmates while secretly nursing a major heterosexual crush on the unhappy wife of his house master can still resonate. The unrelated Kerrs, Deborah & John (who died earlier this month), are wonderfully touching in the leading roles, and Darryl Hickman is just great as the ‘regular guy’ roommate who wants to help, but can’t. Helmer Vincente Minnelli, who knew a thing or two about being sexually typed, keeps his distance, using the broad CinemaScope frame to let stage rhythms take hold, with more camera movement than edits. Sometimes this can feel too ‘hands-off,’ but it pays big dividends in the elegantly lit climax he worked up with lenser John Alton. Current ‘Queer Theory’ commentary sees John Kerr’s character as a classic ‘50s closet case. Maybe, maybe not. But Leif Erickson, playing the husband/house master who’d rather roughhouse with the boys then show some physical affection toward his wife certainly fills the bill.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *That 'indelible' line (it’s even on our poster) brought down the curtain in Elia Kazan’s original B’way production. But the film had to be book-ended with a framing device to allow some sort of punishment for the act of adultery, still a no-no under the slowly crumbling Motion Picture Production Code.

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