A tightly wound trio of Hollywood dramas at the opening of the 50s comprised my viewing this week:
The Well (1951): In a small, racially mixed (black/white) American town, violence erupts when a black girl goes missing, last seen with a white man. Of course, it turns out she fell down the titular well, and then the whole town helps out to rescue her. The rescue takes far too long, the riot is stopped far too easily, and the acting isn’t superb, but I like the diverse cast — black actors billed equally with white — and the use of non-actors as townspeople. RECOMMENDED for its historical uniqueness.
Where Danger Lives (1950): Robert Mitchum is Dr. Jeff Cameron, a doctor who falls for lonely suicide patient Margo (Faith Domergue), only to discover the hard way that she’s a self-absorbed pathological liar (in today’s terms, she has borderline or narcissistic personality disorder or both). They end up on the run, Margo getting wickeder by the moment and poor Jeff growing increasingly dysfunctional from a concussion. Even if Domergue is less lively than she should be and the ending gives Jeff a happy ending that an adulterous woman never would, Mitchum is awesome and Claude Rains is fun as Margo’s violent husband. RECOMMENDED.
A Life of Her Own (1950): I read a review that called this Cukor film “noiresque,” and it was quite misleading. Sure, the opening credits over haunting music and the image of a car driving down a city street suggest noir. And the cast could certainly be noir, including Barry Sullivan, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, and Lana Turner as our tough gal heroine from a small town. But this is a woman’s film/melodrama from start to finish, and not a great one. Turner plays Lily, a determined loner ready to make it big as a model in NY. She does so in short order (despite the actress being too old and kinda chubby for the role plus outfitted in terrible dresses and hairstyles), but soon finds her greatest happiness is with Steve (Ray Milland), a wealthy (and married) man doing business in town. We’re supposed to find him earnest and kind and nothing like the other men in NY, but there’s little chemistry or clarity in their attraction. Eventually, this ends, for Steve’s incredibly sweet and pretty wife (Margaret Phillips) is bound to a wheelchair after a car accident Steve caused, and Lily finds she just can’t be so cruel as to take Steve away from her. The original ending had Lily commit suicide, emulating what she saw an older, alcoholic model (Ann Dvorak — the best part of the movie) do and after facing what oily manager Lee (Sullivan) said would come true: that she’d be lonely and go for any man who gave her a bit of comfort (like him). Instead, the censors demanded she be punished for her affair with a married man but not killed (too morbid). So Turner has to look like she’s about to kill herself, then change her mind for no reason we can see as the music swells. Even director Cukor said this film was a failure. NOT RECOMMENDED.