Unexpectedly tasty ‘Lewdsiana’ political drama, larded with bad Southern accents & zero period flavor (only the cars know it’s the late ‘30s*) as newbie Governor Dean Martin weds Happy Hooker Susan Hayward. Characters based, ever so loosely, on Earl Long & Blaze Starr (Paul Newman & Lolita Davidovich in BLAZE/’89). Quality-wise, it’s no ALL THE KING’S MEN, Robert Penn Warren’s novel on older brother Huey Long, but a trashy affair with Martin’s hapless Southern Governor led by the nose for fun & profit by political boss Wilfred Hyde White (Dixie drawl smothered by flinty British accent). But that all changes once Hayward wins over the Doubting Ladies Brigade and lends the Governor a spine. Or would change if her horizontal past didn’t come back to haunt her. The film’s first half is hard to swallow, but as the plot ramps up from tall to outrageous tale, everyone seems to relax. Even Daniel Mann, usually a drab director, loosens up with cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg. They’d just collaborated on some wild mise-en-scène in BUTTERFIELD 8 and now alternate between over-decorated interiors and bare washes of background color. It does wonders for Hayward who gets to hold back, for a change, and even play someone her own age. Martin is no longer showing the respect toward acting briefly seen in SOME CAME RUNNING/’58 or RIO BRAVO/’59, but can still get his licks in. And there’s good support from Martin Balsam as a good guy and from a demonically smiling Ralph Meeker as a baddie. A final showdown in the capital is just icing on the cake; empty calories in a good cause.
DOUBLE-BILL: As mentioned above, BLAZE.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *A movie marque advertizes William Powell & Luise Rainer, presumably in THE GREAT ZIEGFELD, so you know it’s supposed to be 1936.