Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sweet Bird of Youth (1962)

Chance Wayne never gets a break in Sweet Bird of Youth.

Wayne (Paul Newman) dreams of making it big in Hollywood. But sure things he's confident will lead, he thinks, to something big always fizzle out. He talks about scaling the wall into the moviemaking, castle. But there's no ladder to help him on the way up and over.

His latest meal ticket is washed up actress Alexandra Del Lago (Geraldine Page). While Chance dreams of stardom, Alexandra's days of glory are long past. "The camera doesn't know how to lie," Del Lago laments. She's a drunk and drug addict. With an oxygen bottle nearby, she also appears to be a hypochondriac.

But Del Lago is also the closest thing to a break Chance has. A prospect of a contract for a film role through Del Lago has Chance motivated. And desperate. "All my life I've been on the outside and time is running out," he notes. Del Lago is more interested in his good looks. "Let's comfort each other," she suggests.

With the former star crashed out in the back of his convertible, Chance heads home. He wants to reunite with Heavenly Finely (Shirley Knight). She's still sweet on him, even though Wayne has essentially worked as a male escort to survive.

His return doesn't sit well with local politician 'Boss' Finley (Ed Begley). He's your typical political heavy, using whatever tricks he can to get what he wants. Finley has long had a mistress, Miss Lucy (Madeleine Sherwood), who he puts up in a fine hotel suite.

Finely is prepared to use a little muscle to keep Wayne away from his little girl. That's where his son, and henchman, Thomas (Rip Torn) steps in.

Political opponents eager to take 'Boss' Finley down, an ultimatum for Wayne to clear out of town and the young hopeful's crumbling relationship with Del Lago all come to a boil at a political rally.

Sweet Bird of Youth earned three Oscar nominations, with Begley taking home an Academy Award as best supporting actor.

Newman's character here as a few things in common with Hud, reviewed on this site last week. Both have numerous female lovers, but neither is happy. Hud, drowning in drink, doesn't have the brains, or the wisdom, to manage a cattle spread like his dad can. Chance's window of opportunity to making his mark in Hollywood is over. His good looks won't help him with ladies who can support him much longer.

Sweet Bird of Youth boasts a fine cast with some nice support work from Canadian Sherwood as 'Boss' Finley's lover. Her showdown with him over public comments about his, uh, poll performance is a memorable one.

Paul Newman, you rock. Hud and The Hustler rock. The Color of Money, not so much. But a copy of The Verdict arrived in the mail. I haven't seen this 1982 drama from director Sidney Lumet since I saw it on the big screen 32 years ago. That review is coming up.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Richard Brooks, director of Sweet Bird of Youth, also directed Blackboard Jungle and In Cold Blood.

Geraldine Page was nominated for eight Oscars. She didn't win until that last nod, for The Trip to Bountiful.

Ed Begley was Juror No. 10 in 12 Angry Men.

Mildred Dunnock, the kindly Aunt Nonnie who supports Chance, starred in the stage and film versions of Death of a Salesman. Her last role was with Molly Ringwald and Robert Downey, Jr., in The Pick-up Artist.

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