Hollywood hadn’t seen this much hair in a decade, not since Elvis burst onto the screen in Love Me Tender (1956), but Robert Redford’s blond barnet would be his calling card for the next half century. This was his fifth picture and his second with Natalie Wood after the previous year’s Inside Daisy Clover.
This Property Is Condemned doesn’t go much further in cinematic terms than the one-act play by Tennessee Williams on which it is based. Wood is a small-town girl living a life of fantasy in the Depression to cover up the reality of her situation, almost pimped out by her mother who owns a down-at-heel boardinghouse, Redford the latest in a long line mostly unsuitable suitors to whom she clings for escape.
There’s an unnecessary prologue and epilogue, the former’s existence justified only by necessity for the latter to round off the film in a rather abrupt manner, and a bit of a cheat in Redford’s screen introduction whereby the audience is set up to imagine him as a drifter rather than a railroad official coming down the line to lay off workers.
Charles Bronson, a revelation as the predatory older man making play for the mother in order to gain access to the daughter, shows how mean a guy can be when he doesn’t have a pistol to hand. He foregoes the brooding laconic persona of later movies to deliver a rounded performance. Kate Reid is the kind of mother you would never forget but wished you could.
Director Sydney Pollock in his sophomore venture after The Slender Thread (1965) does his best with the over-dramatic material and there are several nice touches, the opening with a young girl in red balancing on railroad tracks, a scene that fades in a bedroom until only light from a window remains, and lovers meeting by reflection across a pond.
But it’s an uneven picture, the grim first half in Mississippi at odds with the almost fairy tale second section in New Orleans as the lovers develop a badinage that did not previously exist and you just wait for the explosive revelation that must come.
Wood is as good as the material permits, a woman prone to exuberant spirits is always a whisper away from hysterics, and it is only when she invests the situation with her own steely-eyed reality that the character comes alive. At this point Redford was an actor with potential rather a star and his personality does not bounce off the screen the way it would with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where Paul Newman provided an able foil.
You can catch this on Amazon Prime.