We recently acquired the “box set” of all of the Tennessee Williams movies. For a long time I have been a fan of the “Southern Gothic” genre. William Faulkner’s Absalom Absalom is one of my most favorite books ever. So, I waded through the movies with interest. Here is a quick review:
1. Unquestionably “Sweet Bird of Youth” and “Baby Doll” are the best. Ed Begley’s portrayal of Tom “Boss” Finley is sans pariel, as is Eli Wallach’s as Silva Vacarro. Carol Baker as Baby Doll Meighan squirms all over the screen; an interesting contrast to Shirley Knight as Heavenly Finley, who basically just stands around looking pretty.
2. “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone” is the worst. Vivien Leigh (as Karen Stone) is stiff as a board, and, though he strives mightily, Warren Beatty (as Paolo di Leo) is not even remotely convincing as an Italian gigolo.
3. This leaves “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and “The Night of the Iguana.” Although Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman are great in “Cat,” casting the congenial Burl Ives as Harvey “Big Daddy” Pollitt was a gross mistake – he’s totally unbelievable in the role. Such a contrast to Ed Begley as Boss Finley, who totally dominates the screen. Madeline Sherwood also suffers as Mae Flynn Pollitt, mother of the “no-necked monsters;” what’s up with her, and why did she keep getting cast in these movies? [She also was Miss Lucy in “Sweet Bird.”] I know that “Cat” is supposed to be some kind of iconic movie, but I’d put it pretty much in the middle of the pack.
4. This leaves “Streetcar” and “Iguana.” “Streetcar,” of course, has Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski, together with a much more believable Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois. And then there’s the funny guy from the insane asylum at the end who looks a little bit like LBJ. “Iguana” has Richard Burton as the Rev. Dr. T. Lawrence Shannon; Ava Gardner as Maxine Faulk; and the luscious Sue Lyon as Charlotte Goodall. In a celebrity wrestling death-match between Ms. Lyon and Carol Baker, it’s hard to say who’d win. Burton’s performance, and Gardner’s, both are great; however, those of Grayson Hall (as Judith Fellowes), Deborah Kerr (as Hannah Jelkes) and Cyril Delevanti (as Nonno) are too mannered to be convincing, they’re nowhere near as loose as Burton and Gardner. Maybe they were supposed to be that way, but, considered as a whole, it just doesn’t hang together. And, the bongo boys seem much too eager. So, I’d probably put “Streetcar” and “Iguana” at the bottom of the list.