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Tennessee Williams


JCDaily
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I recently had a chance to watch "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone," which starred, as you all know, Vivien Leigh. I thoroughly enjoyed the picture. I'm a fan of Tennessee Williams' work. Even though he's not the cheeriest of writers and though his scripts were often changed for the screen, I think that most of the film versions of his plays were very well executed. I was just wondering what anyone else's favorite Tenneesee Williams' film is. I'm partial to "Streetcar," of course, but, also "Summer and Smoke."

 

Looking forward to your answers.

 

Joseph

 

 

 

 

Follow me at http://stalkingthebelleepoque.blogspot.com to join me on my quest for all things gracious, grand and glorious from antiques and art to classic films and cuisine.

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> {quote:title=finance wrote:}{quote}

> CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF

 

I really wished they played up the homosexuality theme for the film though.

 

I think THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED is my new favorite Tennessee Williams adapted film. And yes, if it isn't sad, it isn't Tennessee!

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That's a tough one. "Menagerie" is the playwright's master work. What it lacks in brutality, it features in quiet despair. Beautiful in dialogue and structure, I feel the characters more than in his other plays. But you asked about movies, and "Streetcar" is the better of the two. The combined talents of Kazan, Brando and Leigh, not to mention the fine script, make for a dramatic and poetic film. I'm glad somebody mentioned SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH. I like that one more than I thought I would. It's not a brilliant movie. But it's interesting, stimulating, thought provoking. Not bad.

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Good question. I guess my favorite would have to be STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. That movie has always gotten to me on some deep level. It's all very stylized (as Williams' dialogue usually is), but man, it packs a punch. The film version of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF is a bit much for me to take; not only because of the watered down gay aspects, but some of the acting just seems to me a bit over the top. I'm usually an Elizabeth Taylor fan, but I just don't think this is one of her best efforts. I do think GLASS MENAGERIE is a very good movie. I especially liked the performances of Gertrude Lawrence, Jane Wyman and Arthur Kennedy; side note: did you know that Tennesee originally wanted Ethel Barrymore and Judy Garland for the female leads? Anyway, I tend to prefer Williams' original plays over the movie versions. I remember reading those last few scenes of MENAGERIE as a teenager over and over..what language..

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>Swithin you wrote:

 

> I wish someone would try to make a real film (as opposed to televised play) of Camino Real.

 

Well, for years there was talk of a possible film version. At first, it was thought to have Marlon Brando star and then Paul Newman. However, because of the strange nature of the story, it became something of a difficulty to translate what would be considered a practical film for audiences to accept or understand. Tennessee never really thought that the play could be successfully transformed to the screen, despite movies having the ability to create the needed special effects that the stage version had no means to easily recreate. Williams then decided to take the option to rewrite the play, add a few new scenes and offer it to a network television production team. The 1966 television version was in a technical sense, outstanding with a cast that was as good as it gets! Interestingly, the title of the play was changed to read: "Ten Blocks on The Camino Real." Williams did more to update the story with an imagined sense of devise simplicity that the original play lacked and made it problematic to understand. The play isn't as popular these days as Williams other more noted works, but it's perhaps his most mystical work he ever wrote, posing the questions and mystery there is to life.

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Thanks, Movie Professor, very interesting. In these crazy days, I think *Camino Real* would be particularly suited to filming -- great potential for a non-traditional director. By the way, I know Eli Wallach, who originated the role of Kilroy on stage. He had promised Cheryl Crawford (the producer) and Williams that he would be ready for *Camino* when they got the funding to produce it on Broadway. When that time finally came, because of his commitment to Crawford and Williams, Eli had to turn down the role in *From Here to Eternity* that went instead to Frank Sinatra.

 

The relationship between Eli and his wife Anne Jackson and Cheryl Crawford and Tennessee Williams is one of the most interesting and fulfilling collaborations in the theater. Eli was of course also the male lead in the Broadway premiere of *The Rose Tattoo*.

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I like THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA...great cast (Burton, Gardner, Kerr) and Huston's superb direction, plus Mexican locales.

 

As Katharine Hepburn said, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER is a botched film, but it does have some great moments.

 

And CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF boasts strong performances. SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH does too. Then, there's Vivien in her two great Tennessee film roles.

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> {quote:title=faceinthecrowd wrote:}{quote}

>

> THE FUGITIVE KIND -- don't be put off by Leonard Maltin's comments -- "Even the worthy Homer sometimes nods."

 

Maltin used to say "the film goes nowhere." Well, the film is about people who are going nowhere, they are trapped, everyone of them, by various things. As might be guessed from my handle, *The Fugitive Kind* is my favorite Brando film, and favorite Tennessee Williams film. But, it is a very sad film, filed with great performances.

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BABY DOLL 1956

 

What a mess this motion picture turned out to be. When it was released, it created such a furor that it could have ruined the various careers of those who had participated. First off, the original version was a one-act play, Tennessee had written in the 1940s, entitled ?27 Wagons of Cotton.? The play was written during the legendary writer?s early years of trying to get established, if not, noticed. The play was nearly forgotten, until Tennessee?s fame had reached unsurpassed heights during the late 1950s. A revival of sorts was created in 1955. However, Tennessee had essentially rewritten the play or updated its content.

 

By this time in the American Theater, Tennessee was along with Arthur Miller, the two biggest playwrights going. With so much success having come his way, it was enviable that Tennessee?s one act play having had a somewhat successful Broadway run became a hot property for a possible motion picture. The idea was to have Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe star! It was already planned to have noted and respected director (close friend to Tennessee) Elia Kazan direct the motion picture version of the play. Tennessee was then called upon to rewrite the script for the film version.

 

What resulted was a story that surprised most of everyone who had known something of the original stage show. The original version was at times considered a mild comedy. By the time of the 1955 version, the story had taken on some very serious overtones. It was now an adult drama that gave off with an immense amount of controversy. This change in the plot was the signal for director Kazan to consider producing a motion picture. He was fresh from his two recent, back to back successes, ?On The Waterfront? and ?East of Eden.? Naturally, Kazan being looked upon as the foremost dramatic director in American cinema, plus his renowned association with Tennessee, made the whole idea for the film version of the play another promising venture for Kazan.

 

At the time the planning for the film version got underway, Kazan had just ended an affair with Marilyn, due in part to her deciding on marrying playwright and another close friend to Kazan, Arthur Miller. This pretty much ended the whole idea of Marilyn playing the lead role. Then, to make matters even worse for Kazan, Marlon bowed out, due to his frustrations over Kazan having collaborated in the government witch-hunt of suspected communists. So, the celebrated director had to settle on newcomer Carroll Baker, veteran Karl Malden and Eli Wallach. All three performers had been associates of Kazan, during his years in and around the legendary ?Actor?s Studio? school in New York. Kazan was an important exponent of the ?methold acting? formula that had taken hold of the American theater and the various performers from Broadway who made it to Hollywood.

 

Kazan made ?no bones about it,? when he turned Tennessee?s play into a rather brazen attempt to make an American film have a sort of explicit feel and look, similar to that of the adult foreign films that had become popular in America. While Carroll Baker was a fine and wonderfully trained actress, she was about to be showcased by Kazan?s film version of the stage script as ?The American Brigitte Bardot!? Adding to this situation was that nobody ever thought the original title to the play was all that interesting, if not, inspiring. So, Kazan together with Tennessee pulled out all the stops and came up with the provocative title of ?Baby Doll.? The now world famous poster of the film version (that of Baker lying on the bed) said it all or enough to convince anyone that this movie wasn?t going to be your usual weekly movie excursion of something so lightheartedly easy to accept. As soon as the production got underway, the publicity surrounding ?Baby Doll? took a turn for chaos and much debate.

 

The movie?s release was met with a lot of scorn and distaste. Despite the reviews being fairly good, the film couldn?t get passed any of the negative connotations by religious and moral groups in various cities that found the movie an offence to daily decency. Right away, the movie was tagged by word of mouth as ?the dirtiest film ever made in America!? Of course, this was at the time a lot of hoopla over nothing so serious to consider in the film, accept its suggestiveness towards a few issues that were of a sexual nature. The movie got into a lot of trouble along the way of its release, due to all the fuss made about Baker playing what was seen as a teenage girl, turned into a married ?love slave.? Then, there was the sinister way Eli Wallach seduced Baker?s character that for its time created a bit of tension and disgust. All the criticism aimed at the movie didn?t really matter, while scores of people went to see what all the fuss was about. In the end, the film earned for Baker an ?Oscar? nomination and another for actress Mildred Dunnock in a supporting role. Although ?Baby Doll? was somewhat of a financial success, it would never be the big hit that might have been anticipated. The movie became nothing more than a footnote in the history of American cinema. It turned out to be a movie that made a lot of heads turn and take notice to what would later turn out to be the road towards an open and ungoverned form of adult filmmaking.

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Sweet Bird of Youth was good--the final scenes when Alexandra is offered a part...well, the cold-bloodedness of her treatment of Chase are chilling.

 

I also like Night of the Iguana, though that may be for the exuberant paganism of Ava Gardner as much as anything. Can't picture Bette Davis in the stage play, however--she's too brittle and hard to be the earthy Maxine.

 

I'd like to have seen Tallulah Bankhead in "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore." I've read that Liz and Dick kind of made a mess of it on the screen in Boom! Has anyone scene it and can comment?

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*I'd like to have seen Tallulah Bankhead in "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore." I've read that Liz and Dick kind of made a mess of it on the screen in Boom! Has anyone scene it and can comment?*

 

It's pretty much a mess but you can judge for yourself when TCM shows it in November!

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>redriver you wrote:

> I didn't even know BABY DOLL was based on 27 WAGONS. I know the play and didn't recognize it!

 

This has always been the problem with what Tennessee did in producing a new version of the original play and then the motion picture was even more complex or created a whole different outlook to what turned out to be a rewrite of the script. Whether or not all of this was an improvement is still a fiery debate among dramatic scholars and fans of Tennessee. Certainly, the motion picture version caused a bit of a stir and yet it is today considered ahead of its time in the content of its style and the subject matter.

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> {quote:title=lzcutter wrote:}{quote}

> *I'd like to have seen Tallulah Bankhead in "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore." I've read that Liz and Dick kind of made a mess of it on the screen in Boom! Has anyone scene it and can comment?*

>

> It's pretty much a mess but you can judge for yourself when TCM shows it in November!

 

 

I will definitely look for it. Thanks!

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  • 5 months later...

Do you know if cannibalism of tourists a problem in the beach resorts of southern Spain? I had thought about some day taking a vacation there, but after seeing ?Suddenly Last Summer? in 1959 I decided against it. How about France? Are American tourists safe from being eaten alive by the local inhabitants on the beaches of France?

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I've always felt that the "cannibalism" tag attached to Suddenly Last Summer is (somewhat) inaccurate and was more tacked on to amp up the sensationalism (like you need anything more sensational that Liz Taylor in that white bathing suit, YOWZA!)

 

I throw in here that the BEST BIOGRAPHY I HAVE EVER READ IN MY LIFE is Lyle Leveritch's (sic?) Tom: The Life of Tennessee Williams . It is fascinating, funny, full, rich, touching (really reads more like a novel)- and it only takes you up to the publishing of The Glass Menagerie. For years I anxiously awaited the promised sequel which would delve into the successful years of Tennesee's life, only to find that Leveritch died shortly after writing Tom

 

Major bummer.

 

Also excellent is Five O'Clock Angel which is a collection of correspondence between Williams and his friend Maria St. Just, a Russian ex-pat with whom he formed an unusual friendship (as I think were all his friendships.)

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> {quote:title=JonnyGeetar wrote:}{quote}

> I've always felt that the "cannibalism" tag attached to Suddenly Last Summer is (somewhat) inaccurate and was more tacked on to amp up the sensationalism

 

I haven't seen it in a while. Doesn't she say "they ate him" or something like that? Is it metaphorical?

 

It seems to be an unusually cruel death for a character. Not to mention a head-scratching non-sequitur (though it makes the movie pretty unforgettable). Was this some kind of self-loathing on Williams' part?

 

John Waters' latest book has a great chapter on Tennessee Williams. Clearly Waters was inspired by the morbid portrayals of American families.

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I think things are always lost in translation when adapting Williams to the screen, but it's interesting to watch the progression of what they were able to get away with. I think, in the end, he may be more responsible than any other writer in the 20th century for breaking down what you could and could not say or do in a movie.

 

I think Streetcar is hands down the best adaptation of Williams on film, but there are others I prefer to watch.

 

I don't think I've ever come across anyone on these boards who didn't dislike Baby Doll (myself included.)

 

I think Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a _very_ well-acted, tedious mess wherein everyone seems to be bending over backwards to not mention the giant pink elephant loudly stomping in the corner of the room. I throw in here that I think Judith Anderson and Jack Carson are both sensational in that film and it's a shame they didn't get Oscar nods for their work.

 

I really like The Rose Tattoo and j'adore Magnani in that film, but in the end, it's a little overlong. I like The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone and j'adore once more the performance of Vivien Leigh- who is every bit as devastating in that film as she was in Streetcar , but it is a film that is aggresively downbeat . I like The Fugitive Kind but feel like the metaphors and imagery are a little stage-bound (with all apologies to Valentine Xavier.) I enjoy Summer and Smoke but have a hard time figuring out just what the hell the deal is with Sweet Bird of Youth. I really, really like Night of the Iguana : it's the best performance I think Burton ever gave and I know it's the best Ava Gardner ever was in a film hands down.

 

The one that I find the most interesting (but certainly not the best) is 1959's Suddenly Last Summer which misses the potential to be a really rich suspense thriller, or a Rashoman style retelling of a tragic event. It's overly theatrical (it is a rare performance of Kate Hepburn's that I classify as a genuine failure) the characters are confused (who the hell is Monty Clift in that film?) and the metaphors are too overt in the end (as is often the case with Williams.)

 

I do think it is an absolutely sensational turn by Liz Taylor, who aces the really tough scene in the end with flying colors. It's my favorite performance of hers and I actually think it may be the best acting job of 1959.

 

In the end, I blame the director Joseph Mankiewicz for Summer's lack of focus, missed oppurtunities at suspense, ambiguous morals, overly theatrical (sometimes campy) tone and the fact that Clift gives a (rare) bad performance (numerous sources have claimed Clift was bullied and mistreated by Mankiewicz and the producer, which had to be awful for him as he was just coming off the near fatal car crash that had disfigured him.) Only a few years after this, he was dead,

 

I find it ironic that a film about a gay man who is turn apart in an act of hate itself had a behind the scenes scenario wherein that exact same story was played out in real life.

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> {quote:title=ChorusGirl wrote:}{quote}>

> I haven't seen it in a while. Doesn't she say "they ate him" or something like that? Is it metaphorical? It seems to be an unusually cruel death for a character. Not to mention a head-scratching non-sequitur (though it makes the movie pretty unforgettable). Was this some kind of self-loathing on Williams' part? John Waters' latest book has a great chapter on Tennessee Williams. Clearly Waters was inspired by the morbid portrayals of American families.

 

 

Yeah...it is something like that. The 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet does a fascinating comparison between the death scene in Suddenly Last Summer and the scene of the monster being "lynched" in 1935's Bride of Frankenstein. There quite possibly was some self-loathing at play...I know it's meant to tie in to the seagulls eating the turtles metaphor from Act One,

 

Any way you slice it, it's some weird s***.

 

John Waters claimed Baby Doll was a seminal experience for him, it's when he decided he wanted to be a filmaker, On that alone, I have tried to like Baby Doll but it has never clicked with me.

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> {quote:title=ChorusGirl wrote:}{quote}

> > {quote:title=JonnyGeetar wrote:}{quote}

> > I've always felt that the "cannibalism" tag attached to Suddenly Last Summer is (somewhat) inaccurate and was more tacked on to amp up the sensationalism

 

She said they ?devoured? him, they cut ?chunks out of his flesh?. She also said the boys were poor hungry boys.

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