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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

SUMMER AND SMOKE (1961)

SUMMER AND SMOKE didn’t have the initial success of Tennessee Williams’ first two B’way dramas, GLASS MENAGERIE and STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, but an Off-B’way production in ‘52 established both the play & its leading-lady, Geraldine Page. Yet this film version has sunk under the radar (possibly due to Williams reworking the material into ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE), and the loss is significant since the film isn’t far behind Elia Kazan’s famous adaptations of STREETCAR/’51 and BABY DOLL/’56. It's yet another of Tennessee’s Sacred & Profane love stories, sort of a deep-fried TANNHÄUSER, about a Reverend’s daughter ( Page as spinster-in-training) who yearns for the hedonist next door, Laurence Harvey’s doctor’s son. Between stops for guilt, redemption & cockfights, these two opposing forces transmogrify into . . . opposing forces! Harvey finds his soul & a bride while Page ends up with one of Williams’ Angel-of-Death types, playing a liebestod by bringing in a sexually available traveling salesman (Earl Holliman!) right at the end. A shame that the film gets off to such a poor opening, a couple of lousy soundstage exteriors defeat helmer Peter Glenville, not a fluid director at the best of times. But things quickly improve and you adjust to the slightly poetic, elevated dialogue as Charles Lang’s fever-pitch lensing starts to add shadow & heightened realism. The perfs are big (Rita Moreno, Una Merkel, John McIntire, Thomas Gomez), but not coarse, as in Richard Brooks’ film of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF/’58. The effect is big, too. And if Page is almost too expert, she’d just done Williams’ SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH on B’way (it would also be her next pic), an underrated Laurence Harvey looks to be a natural Tennessee Williams’ stylist. What a Shannon he’d have made in NIGHT OF THE IGUANA/’64.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: This was the year Paramount threw in the towel on their wonderful VistaVision film format. In fact, lenser Lang had just shot ONE-EYED JACKS/’61 for Marlon Brando in VistaVision. But his Panavision work (2.35:1) looks ravishing in this DVD from the good folks @ OLIVE who’ve been combing the Paramount catalog for goodies.

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