Touted as Tennessee Williams’ first comedy (the sublimely funny BABY DOLL/’56 doesn’t count?), this modest domestic dramedy (with an equally modest B’way run) badly oversells its comic premise before settling down for a sadder-but-wiser last act that rehashes themes from CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. Two marriages in crisis: Newlyweds who hardly know each other (Jane Fonda, in sex-kitten mode; Jim Hutton, too nervous to consummate); and the groom’s Korean war bud (Anthony Franciosa) whose wife & boy have just walked out after he quits a cushy job from combustible father-in-law John McGiver. These guys are both playing Brick from CAT. Or rather, they each get about half a Brick.* Fonda and Lois Nettleson, the other wife, have lesser problems to work thru (mostly self-image stuff), but Williams neatly fillets this morass of identity issues into what might pass as a wise & witty third-act . . . if you downed enough cocktails during intermission. (Oops, that only works at the theater.) Lost (to censorship?) is a fascinating sidebar involving Franciosa’s ‘sissified’ son. Was there more in the play? The trouble with the film comes early, with the first two acts played at an unsustainable fever-pitch meant to pass for comedy under George Roy Hill’s stagey direction. (His first feature film gig after doing this on B’way.) Fonda is very green here, screaming at poor Jim Hutton in place of any real comic technique. But then, only Franciosa gets anything like a comfortable Tennessee Williams rhythm going. Even the reliable John McGiver looks a little lost. If only they weren’t working so hard to make this fun, fun, fun, it might have come off.
DOUBLE-BILL: *As mentioned, Richard Brook’s coarsened & bowdlerized CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF/’58.