"Autumn leaves" by Robert Aldrich (1956)

The old, classic 1939. original of George Cukor's "The Women" was such a fun, I actually don't remember when was the last time I laughed out so heartily. Good friend pointed quickly at another old movie that might appeal to me and I wasted no time to check it out, although there was not much laughter in this one - at least not intentionally. But it's good to know that almost two decades later, Joan Crawford was still going strong and was still captivating screen presence, in fact old girl metamorphosed into such overpowering amazon that her endless suffering comes out as slightly unconvincing. Beside that famous collaboration with another movie gargoyle Bette Davis, I knew Crawford from some of her early classics like "Our Dancing Daughters" and "Grand Hotel" where she was initially a glamour girl with dangerous edge - somehow you just felt this was someone who knew the struggle, hardships and hunger - but actually I was not familiar with her later work when she cultivated Hollywood matron image and fought tooth and nails to stay relevant in the business.

Robert Aldrich directed this one and was few years before "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" - it is a solid 1950s melodrama about December-May relationship between older woman and much younger man, something that wouldn't raise an eyebrow nowadays but it might have been controversial back in the day. By no means bad movie - director even won award on international film festival in Berlin - it has fairly decent script and young Cliff Robertson is actually excellent as schizophrenic who lies his way into a lonely spinster's heart but unfortunately the focus of the movie is not Robertson or the troubles brewing behind his back (that could have been better explored) but his older partner - blame it not on the script or the director, Joan Crawford (of all the people) was chosen to play lonely, middle-aged woman who falls for Richardson and she couldn't and wouldn't compromise an inch of her Hollywood glamour. Allegedly Aldrich was not amused when Crawford refused to appear as drab, ageing woman, and that threw off the balance of the picture - they didn't speak for the first week of production and diva demanded services of her own make up artist and the stylish costumes designed by Jean Louis.

I actually enjoyed the movie very much. Grinned like a Cheshire cat when puppy-faced Richardson rolled rusty ole Crawford on a sandy beach, loved her supposedly simple little bungalow that initially appeared small but later somehow grew bigger and bigger like "Rose Red"  and most of all I loved Crawford with all her exaggerated histrionics - who in a world would believe that dame with such padded shoulders, tits of steel and carefully coiffured helmet could be lonely, weepy and suffering wife is beyond me - eventually the movie slides in such camp extravaganza that I found myself giggling in spite of script's intended drama. When Crawford asks (all in tears) "Am I just a neurotic impulse?"  during a conversation with a doctor who might help her, I roared. Yes, you are my dear. Best of all is the moment when Crawford faces her husband's enemies - for all the carefully staged (and totally artificial) self-composure and class, Crawford is barely hidden menace and anger, so when she spits out "Where's your decency? In what garbage dump, Mr. Hanson? And where's yours, you tramp?...You, his loving, doting, fraud of a father. And you, you SLUT! You're both so consumed with evil! So rotten! Your filthy souls are too evil for hell itself!" it takes you aback, because this woman is far more dangerous than her supposedly mentally unstable husband. She might had make up artists, hairdressers and costume designers but under that mask there was a true rage and lifetime of bruises - you know, when the mouth smiles but eyes are cold. 

There is a very funny and enlightening encounter between young Richardson and Crawford written in his autobiography, when they met for the very first time in her house for a rehearsal and Richardson recalls how she took him from a swimming pool to her bedroom where she almost ate him alive. Poor guy had to run for his life.

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