Tuesday, April 2

4 Recommended Soap Operas

When soap opera movies are good, I lap them up.  I make no apologies either.  They are, after all, about little more than tangled interpersonal relationships with great brushes of drama and sentimentality.  Sounds a lot like real life, doesn't it?  I like movies about real life.  Bring on the drama and sentimentality.  Get a tear or two out of me, serve me a big dollop of love... oh I am so there.  And here are four films that I find to be among the best in soap opera:

Peyton Place (1957) was the rage.  It was based on a sensational novel by a woman who apparently knew a little something about  smalltown shenanigans.  It was considered a dirty book of sorts and one was careful in the chaste mid-fifties where one read it in public.  It was said they would never make a movie from such a book but 20th Century Fox had other ideas.  When the movie was announced, the buzz became a little deafening.

It would have a dream cast... 15 of them, really.  Some were superb character actors like Arthur Kennedy, Lloyd Nolan, Mildred Dunnock, Betty Field and Leon Ames.  Some were young and still largely devoid of  big hits on their resumés like Russ Tamblyn, Terry Moore, Lee Philips, David Nelson, Barry Coe.  Two more young ones were new to films but would explode in the public consciousness after Peyton Place... Hope Lange and Diane Varsi.  One was an established actress badly in need of a hit, Lana Turner.

It was essentially about the lives of Varsi and Lange.  The former was a backward New Englander on the cusp of adulthood who wants to write a book about her gossipy town, with a sexually frigid mother and a platonic boyfriend.  The other, her friend, is living in squalor on the other side of the tracks from the good people and she is raped by her stepfather which sets the town on its collective ass.

So successful was Peyton Place that it spawned a sequel, The Return to Peyton Place, and television's long-running, first nighttime soap opera.  The original film is soap opera at its finest.

Written on the Wind (1956) should probably be on my 50 Favorite Films list, but alas, it was edged out.    In 1956 this was a dream cast... Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone... in the story of an alcoholic brother and sister in an oil  family and the people they love.  It allowed for some dramatic turns particularly from Malone and Stack as the siblings.  Both were nominated for supporting Oscars and she would win and both certainly had the showier parts of the foursome.

There is a perversity that bubbles over into parody but director Douglas Sirk knew what he was doing.  Neither sibling is able to sustain a loving relationship with another and they intensely dislike one another.  Never mind that they are grownups still living at home with Daddy.  Stack is a playboy who tries to settle down when he meets Bacall.  Malone has always loved Hudson (and why they've never boinked is just plain silly) and he, in turn, loves Bacall and thinks she got a raw deal in marrying his best friend Stack.

It all results in the death of one of the principals with the other three involved in a lurid trial.  Like all good soapers, it's not quite as real life would be.  Dramatic licenses have been issued a number of times, but along with an equally dramatic (and popular) title tune, it's a honey.  Watch it (again?) when it shows up on TCM and have yourself a merry little time.

Youngblood Hawke, released in 1964, was not as popular as I think it should have been.  Perhaps it should have starred one of the box office sensations at the time rather than James Franciscus who was pawing at the gates for a big role (which this became for him) but the critics found him too blond and bland, I guess.  Too bad.  Yeah Newman or McQueen would have handled it their special magic but I thought Franciscus acquitted himself quite nicely.

 Based on a book by Herman (The Caine Mutiny, Marjorie Morningstar) Wouk, it is the story of a young backwoods writer who goes to New York to work on his novel with a beautiful editor.  They carry a torch for one another but he is seduced by an equally beautiful married woman with whom he has a long and disastrous affair.  He is also sucked in by Manhattan and money and fame.  I don't think it would have been much different for most young writers in the same situation.

Most of my panting was reserved for Geneviève Page, a French enchantress whom I found so sexy, so seductive that I have never forgotten her.  While she appeared in two other films I have, El Cid and Song Without End, she was never showcased as excitingly as she is here.  That voice, those eyes.  I have always had a thing for French actresses.  Suzanne Pleshette was yummy as the editor and a great cast of character actors including Eva Gabor, Mary Astor, Edward Andrews, Mildred Dunnock, John Dehner and Kent Smith are along for the ride.

From the Terrace (1960) was the third of the 10 onscreen theatrical pairings of Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman and one of my favorites.  I'm not saying they didn't make better movies together but I have a special affection for this one.

Directed by Mark Robson (who also steered Peyton Place) and based on John O'Hara's popular novel, it concerns the entrapment of wealth.  A poor but ambitious young man marries a wealthy young woman that he doesn't really love and with whom he doesn't have much in common.  After awhile he becomes wealthy himself and meets another woman with whom he falls passionately in love.  He sees his money, wife and future vanishing if he pursues this new relationship.

I am guessing this is the most hateful the Newmans ever were to one another in any of their films and hands down Woodward has never looked more glamorous.  Brava to Ina Balin as the other woman and Myrna Loy as Newman's alcoholic mother. 

Favorite Movie #13

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