Sweet Bird of Youth – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

We finished up our Robert Redford season with The Sting, which is still rather good.

The Choice

It was back to the warm embrace of Paul Newman, and I had first pick. We’ve already tackled a few Newman films as part of CRFC – The Sting of course, plus Butch Cassidy, Pocket Money, Harper, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, The Prize and Torn Curtain. I had a look through his filmography and had to stop myself getting too overwhelmed. Limiting myself to just his 50s and 60s output I had a list of ten films I was pretty keen to try, but one stood out above the others – Sweet Bird of Youth.

Sweet Bird 04

Sweet Bird of Youth and me

Sweet Bird of Youth is an adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play. I’ve not seen it on stage or read the play (and his plays are worth reading, not just seeing – his stage directions are wonderful; here’s an excerpt from the stage directions of A Streetcar Named Desire: ‘Her delicate beauty must avoid a strong light. There is something about her uncertain manner, as well as her white clothes, that suggests a moth.’). A few weeks back we watched The Chase, which I described as being a sub-Tennessee Williams melodrama. Ever since I’ve been hankering after a bit of the proper stuff, and so here we are. Other than its provenance I know nothing about it going in.

IMDB says

Sweet Bird of Youth (1962): Drifter Chance Wayne returns to his hometown after many years of trying to make it in the movies. Arriving with him is a faded film star he picked up along the way, Alexandra Del Lago. 7.4 stars

I says

Well this was exactly what Doctor Melodrama ordered.

Sweet Bird 01

Ain’t nothing mellow about this drama

  • An Oscar-winning performance as a controlling patriarch from Ed Begley (not junior)? Tick.
  • Faded star with all the airs and lack of graces you might expect? Tick.
  • Son stewing with emasculated rage? Tick.
  • Lovelorn daughter waiting, but not hoping, for the return of her troubled sweetheart? Tick.
  • Town that’s wired like a powderkeg and ready to blow? Tick.
  • Paul Newman as a drifter who likes taking his shirt off? DOUBLE TICK.

It’s a brilliant, heady trip below the surface of a small town, secrets being revealed like scabs being picked off a wound. The central relationship between Newman’s drifter (Chance Wayne, would you believe) and Geraldine Page’s glamourpuss Alexandra Del Lago is steamy in a way I wasn’t quite expecting for 1962. It’s where those Newman gifs come from.

Sweet Bird 02

Ed Begley is delightfully horrible as the town bigwig, particularly in a tense scene with his long-term mistress, and a young Rip Torn is his perfectly malevolent brat of a son.

Sweet Bird 05

Ed Begley chewin’ scenery and slappin’ dames

The whole thing is heavy like a late summer sun, exactly the way Tennessee Williams should be. Except… (SPOILERS AHEAD)

While some aspects were more daring than I expected, the censors took the explosive ending and turned it into a blank. In the film, the lovelorn daughter’s pregnancy and illegal abortion is changed to venereal disease leading to a hysterectomy. Still pretty hard stuff for the early 60s. But then at the very close of the film Chance Wayne is beaten up and told never to return, as “no woman is going to want him now…” He’s been whacked in the face a couple of times, but is otherwise pretty unaffected. In the play… he’s castrated. Bit stronger, right? And it unfortunately completely deflates everything that’s come before, everything that has been building to this pivotal, unspeakable moment.

Still very much worth watching though, as up until that final moment it’s pitch perfect.

The Verdict

A great effort, but a shame it didn’t quite have the balls to go all the way. Impotent at the climax. A bit limp at the end. You get the idea. Now for a NEW CATEGORY:

Paul Newman Shirtless-o-meter

10/10

Sweet Bird 03

Yes, technically there’s a shirt in the picture, shush.

Coming Attractions

I’ve still got a long list of Newman films just from two decades of his career that I want to see, but will Tim humour me with one of them or pick something a bit more recent? We shall see…

@BornToPootle

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The Sting – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

We watched All is Lost, which is pretty much how I felt while watching it.

The Choice

We’ve been in a Robert Redford season for a fair while. Now, there are still a few films of his we’d like to tackle, but it also feels like the time to move on and perhaps circle back for another pass. With that in mind we had a bit of a think about where we wanted to go next (meta-gaming!).

Most of the ‘seasons’ we’ve tackled have been based around a male star (Sarandon Season being the only exception so far), so a Jane Fonda season was quite tempting (and gave us a few options to pick from to start it off). But… we got into Redford after a brief Paul Newman season. So perhaps this whole thing could merely be an interlude in a longer Newman season… Also, Tim really fucking loves The Sting.

The Sting 01

The Sting and me

I think I’ve only seen it once before. I saw it after having seen Butch Cassidy, and although I enjoyed it my overriding memory is that it’s a poor relation. But then my memory of Butch Cassidy was slightly harsher than it needed to be too, so all bets are off. In recent years I’ve thought about The Sting more because of this brilliant hit piece on some terrible copywriting than anything else. So I’m looking forward to reappraising.

IMDB says

The Sting (1973): Two grifters team up to pull off the ultimate con. 8.3 stars.

I says

I’ve been a bit hard on Robert Redford recently while we’ve been slogging through some of his more mediocre films. We haven’t watched All The President’s Men as part of CRFC, which is a flat-out doozie. Butch Cassidy and The Great Waldo Pepper seem like distant memories. But the thing is, Robert Redford is fine. He’s horrendously handsome, like tooth-achingly good looking. His charisma bubbles over. I suppose someone like Ben Affleck is probably a good touchstone. He’s fine. I find myself not that interested in much of his work, but occasionally there’s something that crosses over.

The Sting 03

What an uggo.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in The Sting. We start off following Newman’s small-time con artist who gets in a little too deep. Eventually we’re introduced to Paul Newman, an old hand at the big-time con. And then, when they’re setting up their big score, we see the magic. Paul Newman must pretend to be a boorish drunk at a high-stakes poker game. And there it is. Robert Redford is a distant memory as Paul Newman shines. It’s like if Ben Affleck was acting opposite… I dunno, Paul fucking Newman.

The Sting 04

Drunk Paul Newman is best Paul Newman

Redford has the lion’s share of the screen time here, but this is the Paul Newman show. In Butch Cassidy they felt a bit more evenly served, Butch and Sundance sparking off each other wonderfully. Here they’re kept separate a lot of the time, and it’s Redford who suffers. I mean, he’s fine. He’s absolutely fine. He does a bang-up job. And the film is great too, zipping along nicely. But when it’s all over I just want to watch the scene of Paul Newman being a boorish drunk over and over again.

The Sting 02

“Handsomest man in the room, raise your hand!”

He’s an absolute master.

The Verdict

If forced to only watch one of the Newman/Redford films again, I’d pick Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But I hope I’m not forced.

Coming Attractions

Well. That’s definitely it for Redford season. Paul Newman has charmed me utterly, and despite watching a few mediocre ones in our first Newman season, I’m feeling pretty excited about delving into his back catalogue again.

@BornToPootle