Sweet Bird of Youth (1962) – Tennessee Williams’ 1959 Broadway hit brings back four performers—Paul Newman, Geraldine Page, Rip Torn, and Madeleine Sherwood (as mistress Miss Lucy)—to reprise their stage roles in a 1962 movie adaptation written and directed by Richard Brooks (who had an earlier success with a film version of Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). Aspiring actor Chance Wayne (Newman) has been reduced to working as a gigolo for faded film star Alexander Del Lago (Page), who’s traveling incognito as the Princess Kosmonopolis. He’s returned to his hometown of St. Cloud, Florida with the hopes of getting with the girl he’s always loved, Heavenly Finley (Shirley Knight)—but Wayne has run afoul of her father, “Boss” Thomas J. Finley (Ed Begley), many times in the past…and is scheduled to do so again. Boss Finley is a former governor turned political machine operative who believes his daughter Heavenly is sweet, pure and virginal…and to preserve this allusion, had doctor George Scudder (Philip Abbott) abort the baby she was due to have (courtesy of Chance). In a precursor to the amorality Newman would later display in Hud (1963), his character here is a bit of rake—even to the point of blackmailing Del Lago for an opportunity to jump-start his movie career.
I thought I had watched this one many years back on Georgia Public Television but it must have been another one of those instances where I dozed off during the proceedings, so technically this was all new to me. I enjoyed the film; it’s your typical Tennessee Williams mellerdrammer but the subplot of the political shenanigans held my interest, with good performances from Page, Sherwood, and Torn as Begley’s venal thug of a son. The role of Alexandra would bring Geraldine her third Academy Award nomination (she was tabbed previously for a Best Supporting Actress nod in 1953’s Hondo and for Best Actress in 1961’s Summer and Smoke, another adaptation of a Williams play) but it’s Begley who took home an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor (Knight was also nominated as Best Supporting Actress). Oh, and I seem to be running into Mildred Dunnock a lot lately—this is the second film I’ve watched recently that she graces, and I caught a third one the other night (to be discussed in an upcoming post).
You’re a Big Boy Now (1966) – Rip Torn and Geraldine Page (Oscar nomination four—she would eventually win for 1985’s The Trip to Bountiful) encore in this one; they’re the parents of one Bernard Chanticleer (Peter Kastner), who’s out on his own in New York City and in love with flaky actress Barbara Darling (Elizabeth Hartman). Bernard is the “Big Boy” of the film’s title; a mama’s boy who’s renting an apartment from an eccentric landlady (Julie Harris) named Miss Thing (I’m not making this up) who’s been asked to keep a close watch on Bernie by his overprotective ma. (His apartment is guarded by a rooster—a none-too-subtle symbol for “Chanticleer.”)
You’re a Big Boy Now has acquired somewhat of a cult reputation: it precedes the better known The Graduate (1967) in its portrayal of a wide-eyed innocent protagonist engaged in an unconventional love affair in addition to capturing the zeitgeist of the 1960s…plus it was directed by future Oscar winner Francis Ford Coppola (his UCLA thesis project, picked up by Warner Bros.-Seven Arts). I have to be honest—I thought the movie dull and embarrassingly dated; the characters are one-dimensional and the romance between Kastner and Hartman made me concerned because I was completely convinced that Hartman’s character was a psychopath. It’s worth a look for one of the late Karen Black’s early showcases (as Kastner’s fellow employee who pines for him), plus some interesting footage of ‘60s NYC and the soundtrack from The Lovin’ Spoonful (Darling, Be Home Soon is one of my favorite songs); movie buffs might notice that Coppola sneaks in a little footage from his cult horror movie Dementia 13 (1963) in a nightclub sequence.