Sidney Lumet’s second Tennessee Williams* (adapted by Gore Vidal) comes from one of those hapless, if often intriguing, late plays that revisit familiar terrain with new frankness. But for Williams, candor proved a double-edged sword, revealing truth as it dulled character, and thinning the texture by having sub-text upgraded to text. On stage, where it ran a month, Brian Bedford, Estelle Parsons & Harry Guardino played the roles taken by James Coburn, Lynn Redgrave & Robert Hooks in a film largely noted for receiving a rare non-porno ‘X’ rating. Something of a wreck, but also pretty good late-Williams, especially as variant for fans of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF/’58 and BABY DOLL/’56. It’s a moss-covered inheritance tale, with melodramatic third-act revelations Lillian Hellman would have recognized, as Hooks waits for sick half-brother Coburn to die and leave him the decaying family manse. Instead, Coburn returns home with bride in hand (Lynn Redgrave, a bit too screechy), a stranger who picked him up on a tv game show. Slowly piecing together the relationship of brothers who once shared favors in bed (favors one of the two can no longer perform), the isolated threesome alternately scheme & ogle as rain beats down and levees threaten to break. Yikes! Subtle it ain’t. But decidedly tasty for those who can hold tight thru a lot of torpid exposition in the early going. Also, Hooks is very good.
DOUBLE-BILL: *Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, Joanne Woodward & Maureen Stapleton should give interest to Lumet/Williams’ THE FUGITIVE KIND/’60. Saner heads will head for Richard Brooks’ turgid, entertaining CAT and Elia Kazan’s delicious BABY DOLL.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Thematically, Coburn splits the diff between Brick and Big Daddy in CAT, but squint hard and you can just see what he’d be like as Blanche DuBois.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Don’t blame cinematographer James Wong Howe, in fine form on one of his last credits, for the Tinker-Toy® flood finale.