Tuesday, November 09, 2010
Alert: Rare Joan Fontaine
The Siren got another email from a pal late last week, this time alerting her to a YouTube rarity: Something to Live For (1952). "I've been wanting to see this practically my whole life," said her correspondent; "it's never shown anywhere, at any time." Why should it be, really, directed as it was by Hollywood small fry George Stevens, sandwiched between two pieces of indie esoterica called A Place in the Sun and Shane. Seriously, the Siren has no flipping idea why this one is rare, since it appears to have been written directly for the screen, and come on, George Stevens?
But of course, we know why the gentleman emailed the Siren, and it wasn't to stoke any latent auteurist leanings, although the Siren is a Stevens fan: "It stars Joan Fontaine. As a drunk."
Naturally the Siren watched in one quick hurry, and she suggests her fellow Fontaine obsessives do the same, since who knows when Something to Live For will turn up again. The version posted has Spanish subtitles and one of those cable watermarks that never fail to inspire murderous thoughts in the Siren. The recording is decent, no more, although the Siren warns there are a couple of scenes in darkened theaters that may make you think you're watching The Light That Failed. But overall it's good enough and the film is worth your while, with a warmth and sincerity that grew on the Siren.
Although there's plenty of Fontaine, and she's in good form, it's really Ray Milland's show, a pendant to The Lost Weekend that shows what Don Birnam might have been facing 14 months after going on the wagon. Milland plays Alan Miller, an ad executive whose participation in AA leads him one night to the shabby Times Square hotel room of Jenny Carey (Fontaine), an actress whose crippling insecurity and busted romance have contributed to her drinking. He's drawn to her immediately. Although Jenny's able to stop drinking soon after Alan comes on the scene, her fledgling struggles to stay off the sauce mirror the trouble he's having with his own sobriety.
In fact, what's most interesting about the plot and characters isn't that they fall in love. It's the way the movie bypasses the initial battle to quit drinking in favor of looking at just how hard it is to stay quit. Alan's advertising job is yet another forerunner of "Mad Men" and that show's take on the industry's socializing, so often more grisly than anything that goes down at the office. The hard-drinking nature of the era and the job test Alan constantly--the people who press him to drink a toast, the maitre d' who keeps telling him to wait at the bar where a visibly irritated bartender repeatedly asks him for an order, the office party where the same boss who was gossiping over whether he was "nipping again" pours him a drink. And when Alan goes home, his loving and supportive wife still jerks bolt upright if he happens to stumble on the way into the bedroom. It helps that the wife is played by Teresa Wright, who could make simple feminine decency more interesting and moving than just about any other actress.
Still, it's logical that Alan would fall hard for Jenny, who understands his ordeal in a way no one else does. Plus, Fontaine looks so beautiful that you believe a man would fall in love with her even when she's so sloshed she can barely raise her head off the pillow. Fontaine's part is harder than Milland's--her sobering up is abrupt, her psychology isn't explored as much and the script asks her to go from alcoholic defensiveness to gentle adoration without much of a way station in between. Her talent enables her to pull most of it off, however, and Fontaine's pained reactions at a chic party are especially wonderful.
Downsides include a certain predictably of plot and dialogue and a saccharine, repetitive score that irritated even the Siren, who usually thinks any decent screen kiss should include a full orchestra. The opening is marvelous, with some of the most interesting visuals--lots of "cage" shots through the paned windows and the grille of the elevator. And as the Siren's email pal pointed out, the movie is full of luxurious dissolves and many close-ups of Fontaine and Milland. There's a couple of beautiful process shots of the old Penn Station that will make New Yorkers weep.
AND, at the end, you get Joan Fontaine's bare midriff, with a jewel in her navel. If that doesn't make you click through, the Siren doesn't know what will.