I came across Smash-up: The Story of a Woman (1947) while engaging in a combination of research on the Hollywood Blacklist and searching for new films to livetweet on Sunday evenings (via hashtag #BNoirDetour).
To fill my HUAC research interests, I learned the picture was written by Hollywood Ten member John Howard Lawson based on a story by Dorothy Parker. It also co-stars blacklisted actress Marsha Hunt.
But it’s noir this blog is about, so let me hasten to that subject. Several sources list Smash-Up as a dark drama with noir elements. Looking at the publicity posters definitely leaves a noirish impression:
In actuality, however, this film is more a gender reversal of A Star is Born (1937) x Lost Weekend (1945). Talented club singer Angelica Evans (Susan Hayward, with singing dubbed and earning an Oscar nomination for her performance) marries budding composer and singer of popular songs Ken Conway (Lee Bowman, also dubbed whenever he sings, and rather flat throughout as a performer). They have a baby. He gets a break thanks to her help and quickly becomes a HUGE singing star. As a result of his ability to support her in high style, she loses all contact with the outside world — except for the gala parties he continuously throws — increasingly with the help of his ultra-competent and beautiful secretary Martha (Marsha Hunt, sporting a bitchin’ bumper). Ken’s best pal/accompanist Steve (Eddie Albert) tries to help as Angie becomes a lush, and things spiral downward from there. Hubby travels and revels in his fame, having less and less patience with a wife who can’t stop drinking. Eventually, divorce and loss of custody of daughter looms for Angie! (I won’t give away the ending, but suffice it to say the studio insisted on it, and I’m not even convinced it is Susan Hayward — facing away from the camera — in the final scene.)
Now, the film does have some noir in it. Just not much. Here’s a rundown:
The film is all done in flashback after an opening in which Angie is in a hospital bed, wrapped to the gills in gauze, calling for her daughter.
On her downward spiral, Angie wakes without Ken and has no idea what she’s done or said the night before. Knowing she’s ruining her own life and unable to stop, she looks into her vanity mirror and directly speaks to/at herself, stating how much she hates “Angie.” Other moments have her inner thoughts externalized as voiceover, but it’s quite noir to actually verbally abuse oneself out loud.
There’s a montage of neon signs that rings loudly of noir on one of Angie’s lowest nights, when a newly minted dad hands out cigars in a bar (why isn’t he home with his wife? I wondered). He helps her into drunkenness after she tells him that she, too, has a baby, but she cannot see her. He tells her never to let anyone take her baby, and this drives her into such an alcoholic binge and stupor that she passes out on a doorstep. She wakes in a flop house with a generous couple having taken her in when they found her unconscious in front of their building. As fate would have it, she sees a school next door out their window, and determines a plan to kidnap her kiddo. The darkness of noir is seen in motive and music of these scenes if not cinematography. Angie quietly coaxes her toddler away from others under the momentarily averted eye of the Irish nanny (who keeps calling her a “wee bairn” until you want to throw up from stereotype overdose).
Again, I’ll refrain from giving everything away here, but suffice it to say it is alcoholism again that is to blame for what lands her in the hospital and back to the present where the narrative ends in a code-pleasing moment of utter non-noirness even cheesier than the terrible final moments of Gilda (1946).
If I want to be generous, I might note how we can see Ken’s secretary Martha as a potential femme fatale, as she seems to embody the perfect “other” woman, but the film spoils that, too. Still, there is a cat fight, started by drunken Angie when she’s had enough of Martha’s perfection.
I can add that Hayward is gorgeous and that Eddie Albert is as likeable as I’ve ever seen him. Nonetheless, between Lee Bowman’s lack of charisma and my disappointment that the film really just isn’t noir, I gotta give this low marks overall. Since it is in the public domain, though, you might as well give it a gander. Just beware that the lullaby the parents sing to their baby girl “Angel” is a bit of an earworm!
August 4, 2018 at 1:40 AM
Uh oh. Sounds like it might be ripe for send-up! 🙂
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August 4, 2018 at 1:43 AM
Awesome review! I’ve been meaning to watch this film for awhile – thank you for reminding me I need to get on that! 😉
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August 4, 2018 at 2:49 PM
As you say it’s not very noirish, but I found it a great watch anyway (I’m kinder to Bowman than you).
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August 4, 2018 at 5:11 PM
Did you truly find Bowman engaging in the film? Eddie Albert surprised me by having more charisma than Bowman or Hayward! Thanks for the praise!