Joy in the Morning (1965) ****

Not a great movie by any means but I am drawing attention to it for other reasons. While entering familiar small town soap opera territory with malice behind every curtain and the repression rampant a century ago, it’s a fabulous exploration of character.

The narrative drive is slim, young couple coming undone by circumstance. But that is more than compensated by the preoccupation with their actual characters, marital bust-ups for no reason, insecurities to the fore, a daring sexual overtness that for the time it was made does not stoop to the lowest common denominator, and without doubt the best performance in the career of Yvette Mimieux (Dark of the Sun, 1968) here taking center stage rather than as was more usual a mere appendage to the leading man.

Not sure what the rival picture was. any ideas?

The story is told primarily through the eyes of Anna (Yvette Mimieux), a poor uneducated homely girl who falls for dashing virile law student Carl (Richard Chamberlain), both of Irish descent, who, against parental wishes, run off to get married.

But marriage instantly brings financial calamity. As a married man, Carl is ineligible for college loans, and his wife is forbidden, following aspirational middle-class custom of the day, to work except for a bit of babysitting. Viewing Anna, coming from poorer stock, as a gold-digger, Carl’s father Patrick (Arthur Kennedy) not only withdraws financial support but demands repayment of loans.

So the pair struggle through. And that would be par for soap opera.

What brings this to the fore is the director’s fascination with character, allowing personality, with all its inexplicable whimsicalities, full rein rather than making that subservient to a more dramatic story.

If you think couples these days have difficulty communicating, imagine the situation a century ago where a man made all the decisions and expected obedience from his partner. And a wife so fearful of announcing a pregnancy for fear it would force her husband to abandon his studies. Beyond obvious worry, there is little problem-sharing or joint resolution of difficulties.

For all his charm, Carl is pretty gauche. His ardent inexperienced love-making borders on rough. He is so out of touch with his wife’s passion that he takes a job as a nightwatchman. He plays a mean trick on her in a communal shower. And although he refuses to cower to his father, in general he kowtows to authority.

The French have a word for it.

Anna is more feisty, challenging his father, ignoring patriarchal rules, almost pathologically opposed to using the word “Sir,” but full of compassion, befriending the gay florist, object of public ridicule, encouraging him in his writing, standing up, too, for the widow, forced by circumstance to become the mistress of a rich businessman (Oscar Homolka), taking money for the privilege.

Yet for all her outgoing confidence, she is insecure, so desperate to learn that she sneaks into the halls of the college to overhear lectures, a dictionary her constant companion. Sexually, she is conflicted, memories of stepfather abuse arising too often, and yet intensely physical, adoring the touch of a loving male.

Despite her homely beauty, she follows a more obviously attractive woman, copying the way she walks, swings her hips, flicks her hair. She wants a tight sweater when the fashion is to wear them loose. Unable to afford a hair salon, she has her blonde hair cut short enough in a barber shop so that it will bounce when she walks. Due to her deficiencies and in constant emotional turmoil, she is liable to snap at perceived insult.

The story could easily have gone down a more fairy-tale route, of Anna finding herself, espousing independence, becoming a writer, instead of – anathema to a contemporary audience – finding expression by supporting her husband. But that would not be true to the times. That she has hardly any home to look after, little in the way of furniture to polish, no cosy gang of housewives for coffee mornings, so her efforts at expanding her education would simply qualify as a sensible way to spend her day.  

And while director Alex Segal (Harlow, 1965) does not trust her with the kind of soulful close-up accorded the likes of Elizabeth Taylor or Audrey Hepburn, where one look into the eyes reveals everything, and restricts emotion to dialog, he does provide countless small moments that allow proper character development. Nor does he trust himself much, only two compositions of any singularity; snow falling on a house that turns out to be a storekeeper tipping icing sugar over a model of a home for a shop window Xmas scene; and a shadow suddenly appearing when the couple are about to make love.     

And there is a role reversal of sorts. It’s television heartthrob Richard Chamberlain (Twilight of Honor, 1963) who regularly disports semi-naked rather than Mimieux. Chamberlain took the opportunity to boost his burgeoning singing career, crooning the movie theme song. Although the undoubted star, it was Mimieux, though lumbered with an Irish accent, who took the acting plaudits.

Sally Benson (a career stretching from Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, 1943, to Viva Las Vegas, 1964) and Alfred Hayes (The Double Man, 1967) wrote the screenplay from the Betty Smith (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) bestseller. Features one of the lesser-known scores of Bernard Herrman (Marnie, 1964) but you will instantly recognize swelling strings that wouldn’t be out of place in an obsessional Hitchcock piece.

An enjoyable picture, batting above average, almost Tarantino-esque in concentrating on character at the expense of story. Sure, there’s no equivalent to foreign hamburgers, but there is some quirky dialog and it’s worth it just to see what Mimieux can do when given the opportunity.

Seems easier to get hold of the Richard Chamberlain album than the movie, but it must be on streaming somewhere, it was on YouTube at one point so may return there.

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1963) *** – Seen at the Cinerama

With Hollywood already snagging the best characters of the Grimm inventory – Snow White, Cinderella, The Sleeping Beauty and Tom Thumb – and others like Rumpelstiltskin not deemed cute enough, George Pal (The Time Machine, 1960) had a battle on his hands to come up with a decent enough second string. Spurning for no obvious reason contenders like Hansel and Gretel and The Frog Prince, he plumped for a strange hybrid.

He incorporated three fairy stories – The Dancing Princess, The Elves and the Shoemaker and The Singing Bone – in a drama about the authors. Both sides of this tale had a common background, 19th century Germany with its rich vein of fairy castles and cobbled streets where kings ruled. The Grimms are posited as wannabe writers but with warring personalities.

Unmarried Jacob (Karl Boehm) wants to stick to the knitting and complete the work, a biography of the Duke (Oscar Homolka), they are being paid for while married Wilhelm (Laurence Harvey) prefers to use that time instead to write down the stories he has collected from a variety of sources.

The stories Pal chooses to bring to life pop into the narrative by the simple devices of telling kids a bedtime story or overhearing the tale. Jacob is actually more interested in academic writing; books on law and grammar are what capture his imagination. The narrative switches between the brothers falling out, enduring poverty and Jacob falling in love with Greta (Barbara Eden) but lacking the romantic touch mostly making heavy weather of it.

The first tale in the triptych – The Dancing Princess – is simple enough. A King (Jim Backus) promises the hand of his daughter (Yvette Mimieux) in marriage to whoever can find out what she does at night which a humble woodsman (Russ Tamblyn) manages with the help of a cloak that makes him disappear. In the second story elves come to life to save the skin of a shoemaker more interested in helping orphans than his rich clients.  

The third, demanding the biggest special effects, less successfully translates to the screen since it involves the creation of a dragon to be slaughtered. However, it is saved by humor, since the knight (Terry-Thomas) is too cowardly to do the job and relies on servant Hans (Buddy Hackett) for the actual slaying, and by the most gruesome of endings.

Plus, since it is in Cinerama, something speeding is required seen from the audience point-of-view or a hero who could fall into a canyon. And in the best fairy tale tradition the heroes are unsung and under pressure.

Laurence Harvey (A Dandy in Aspic, 1968), Karl Boehm (The Venetian Affair, 1966) , Claire Bloom (Two Into Three Won’t Go, 1969) and Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeannie television series, 1965-1970) are just about buoyant enough to keep the main story ticking along and carve out a piece of Disney territory without so much as a decent song to help proceedings. Three unexpected twists – four if you count a miraculous recovery from serious illness – nudge this in unexpected directions.

The first is the solidity of brotherly love, with one having to choose wife over his close bond with his sibling – the kind of emotional hit that would be more common in an adult picture, though kids obviously couldn’t care less. The second is the appearance of virtually all the famous Grimm characters in what amounts to a cameo. Last is a proper fairy tale ending where it’s the kids who elevate the brothers to literary success.

Laurence Harvey hides his snide side and does his best Dirk Bogarde impression as the errant brother whose imagination brings his family to near-ruin. Despite being offered love on a plate, Karl Boehm remains steadfastly dour, while Claire Bloom as Wilhelm’s wife has little to do. Scene stealing honors go to Oscar Homolka (The Happening, 1967) while Terry-Thomas (How to Murder Your Wife, 1965) just about shades it in the comedic duel with Buddy Hackett (The Love Bug, 1968).

George Pal concentrated on the fantasy elements with Henry Levin (Genghis Khan, 1965) directing the drama so it’s a mixture of very grounded and very flighty. It’s not really long enough for a true Cinerama roadshow movie but with an overture and intermission it stretches enough.

It was filmed with the traditional three Cinerama lenses and would have been projected with three projectors but at the Bradford Widescreen Weekend  I saw a new restoration that does away with the vertical lines. For contemporary audiences who only view fairy stories through the microcosm of animation and for whom live-action means Ray Harryhausen, the special effects here will come as something of a disappointment. But on the other hand it is still George Pal, so enjoy.

William Roberts (The Magnificent Seven, 1960), Charles Beaumont (Mister Moses, 1965) and David P. Harmon (Dark Purpose, 1964) cobbled up the screenplay.

As I said I saw this in the magnificence of the big screen and in widescreen Cinerama to boot so I am bound to be a shade benevolent but this still holds up, the drama dramatic enough, as a biopic interesting, and kids who might be taken with the fairy stories are way too young to complain about the effects.

The Happening (1967) ***

Poor casting blows a hole in this picture’s great premise and only an excellent turn by Anthony Quinn as an indignant kidnappee prevents it achieving “so-bad-it’s-good” infamy. In fact for the first third of the movie you could pretty much guarantee it’s going to be a stinker, so dire are the performances of the quartet of hippy kidnappers. Only when the camera cuts  Quinn a bit more slack and the script skids into a clever reversal does the movie takes flight although still hovering dangerously close to the waterline.

Faye Dunaway (Sandy), all blonde hair and pouting lips, looks for the most part as though she has entered an Ann-Margret Look-A-Like Competition. Michael Parks (Sureshot) resembles a fluffy-haired James Dean. George Maharis is condemned to over-acting in the role as ringleader Taurus while Robert Walker Jr. as Herby does little more than mooch around. None shows the slightest spark and behave virtually all the time as if they are in on the joke.

For no special reason, beyond boredom, they kidnap hotel tycoon Roc (Quinn) hoping to make an easy score with the ransom. Unfortunately for Roc, none of those he is counting on to cough up the dough – wife Monica (Martha Hyers), current business partner Fred (Milton Berle), former business partner Sam (Oscar Homolka) and offscreen mother – will play ball. In fact, Monica and Sam, enjoying an affair, would be delighted if failure to produce a ransom ended in his death.

Eventually, while the movie is almost in the death throes itself, Roc fights back, using blackmail to extort far more than the kidnappers require from his business associates and taking revenge on his wife by setting her up as his murderer. It turns out Roc is a former gangster and well-schooled in the nefarious. So then we are into the intricacies of making the scam work, which turns a movie heading in too many directions for its own good into a well-honed crime picture.

Quinn is the lynchpin, and just as well since the others help not a jot. From a kidnappee only too willing to play the victim in case he endangers wife and son, he achieves a complete turnaround into a mobster with brains to outwit all his enemies. But in between he has to make a transition from a man in control to one realizing he has been duped by all he trusted.

Director Elliott Silverstein, who got away with a lot of diversionary tactics in Cat Ballou (1965) – such as musical interludes featuring Stubby Kaye and Nat King Cole – essays a different kind of interlude here, fast cars speeding across the screen at crazy angles. But that does not work at all. Probably having realized pretty quickly that he can’t trust any of the young actors, he mostly shoots them in a group.  

Some scenes are completely out of place – a multiple car crash straight out of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, for example. But occasionally he hits the mark in ways that will resonate with today’s audience. Sureshot, confronted by a policeman, refuses to lower his hands in case he is shot for resisting arrest. Although drug use is implied rather than shown, Sureshot is so stoned he can’t remember if he has actually made love to Sandy. And like any modern Tinderite, neither knows the other’s name after spending a night together.  

The strange thing about the youngsters was that they were not first-timers. Dunaway had made her debut in Hurry Sundown (1967). George Maharis had the lead in The Satan Bug (1965) and A Covenant with Death (1967), Michael Parks the male lead in The Idol (1966) and played Adam in The Bible (1966) and although it marked the debut of Robert Walker Jr. he had several years in television. Oh, and you’ll probably remember a snappy tune, the music more than the lyrics, that became a single by The Supremes.

I’ve got an old DVD copy but I don’t think this is readily available but you can catch it for free on YouTube, although it’s not a good print. Via Google you should be able to see The Supremes performing the title song.

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