Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.
So, here is what I watched this past week:
Everyone loves a good romantic comedy or a good romantic drama, but major motion pictures are so focused on keeping their films entertaining for the length of the film that they stuff them full of extraneous material, challenges, threats, recriminations until love is fully realized by film’s end. It creates a roller coaster that keeps the audience engaged without getting too deep. Before Sunrise has no ups-and-downs, just a simple, straight-forward love story about two strangers meeting on a train who fall in love over the course of an evening in Vienna.
My first exposure to Richard Linklater was the awful Waking Life, a film that had more benefactors than detractors. I was in the minority, but it soured me on possibly catching up with what many called a great film. Before Sunrise is one of the great all-talking films, there are few moments where dialogue isn’t a part of the encounter and Linklater goes through a vast swath of topics as his two leads, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, slowly come to the realization that they are, in fact, in love.
Hawke and Delpy have natural charisma together, creating a soothing exploration of romantic nurturing. These are fractured people who haven’t had perfect lives, but aren’t so destroyed by their pasts that they fail to be able to enjoy each other’s company. As they encounter a handful of colorful characters, the two develop feelings that may have been established from the first time they met, she escaping a bickering German couple and he enjoying the last of his Eurorail pass before hopping on a plane the next morning back to the United States. If you don’t mind long, natural conversations about life, belief, faith and of course love, it might be a challenge to get through. There’s no action, no drama, no tension, just two people falling in love with the audience as a welcome eavesdropper.
It would be too easy to call Peyton Place dated. The film may take place before World War II and has the look and feel of a film of that era, but beneath its dated veneer is a pulsating drama that has resonance 56 years after the film was made.
One of the chief influences of the Primetime Serial (shows like Dallas, Dynasty, Knots Landing), Peyton Place takes place in a small Massachusetts town where secrets, gossip and love are submerged beneath the darker elements of human nature. The film begins innocently enough as the senior class presents a special gift to a longtime teacher (Mildred Dunnock) whom they are certain will be named the school’s new principal. Instead, the school board chooses the much younger Michael Rossi (Lee Philips). The school’s students are key players in the film, including Allison MacKenzie (Diane Varsi), the daughter of a widowed dressmaker (Lana Turner); Selena Cross (Hope Lange), daughter of the MacKenzie’s maid (Betty Field) whose drunken and abusive husband (Arthur Kennedy) has already driven off one child and now is turning his abuse to Selena; a sheltered boy (Russ Tamblyn) more interested in books as a way to escape his dreary life; and a slew of other central figures that flesh out the compelling town.
As you would expect from any melodrama, nothing is as it seems, forcing residents to shelter their secrets or have them blurted out, potentially ruining lives. These people, as rooted as they are in the past, face problems that aren’t so different from today. Going into many of these issues might ruin some of the more fascinating plot twists that emerge in the film, but if you are at all a fan of the primetime dramas of the 1980’s or even of soap operas, you’ll absolutely love what has to be considered one of its progenitors. Daytime serials had existed long before, but Peyton Place helped define a way of visualizing the stories that made the genre more mainstream than it might ever have been without it.
The performances are all fairly strong, though steeped in the over-acting tendencies of the genre. Special recognition go to young actresses Varsi and Lange who command their scenes, acting circles around their older counterparts. Kennedy is sufficiently sleazy and Turner does a fine job on her own. A special recognition to Lloyd Nolan whom I didn’t mention above. Nolan plays the conscientious doctor of the town who seems to be on of the few citizens with a level head on his shoulders. His is a grounding force that brings the entire picture together even if he isn’t around much.