Friday, November 10, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Another World

Constance Ford in A Summer Place — "This tree should last at least 10 years ..."
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Always Appreciating the Great Constance Ford ... And, Finally Appreciating Adam Sandler?!

“YOU can't ever let him think your kisses come cheap,” snarls Constance Ford in 1959’s over-heated tale of teen-age love and lust, “A Summer Place.”
WHAT reminded me of the late, great Connie Ford and the loony carrying-on of that film, was a note from a reader, one Wendy I. Willis.

Constance Ford shakes Glynis Johns in “The Cabinet of Caligari.”
She is part of “a small group of middle-aged women in Louisiana who are big fans of Constance Ford.”  This admiration for Ford came not with “A Summer Place” or Ford’s later long-running famous role as Ada Lucas, on the daytime soap “Another World.”  Nope, Wendy and friends somehow happened upon the 1962 version of “The Cabinet of Caligari.” (Not to be confused with the great 1920 silent masterpiece of the same name, although this one has its own merits.)

Now, Wendy and her friends (they play dominoes every Saturday night) have become fascinated with Miss Ford, and are searching out her films.  Wendy asked if we knew if Connie was particularly proud or fond of any particular role?  The truth is, I don’t know.  Ford — a hearty, realistic woman — wasn’t one to carry on about herself or her career, which began on TV in 1949, and ended in the same medium in 1992, a year before her death, after 2, 518 appearances on “Another World.” 

She appeared, generally as a very no-nonsense type, on every television program of the era — from “The Untouchables” to Dr. Kildare” to “Gunsmoke” to “Surfside Six” to “The Twilight Zone.” She was a beauty, but not the delicate sort. She suffered a lot in her roles.  And others suffered too!
Constance Ford mortally wounded in “Gunsmoke.”
In between there were movies such as “The Iron Sheriff,” “Bailout at 43,000 Feet,” “Claudelle Inglish,” “House of Women” (lurid prison picture), “The Caretakers” (a psych ward film with Joan Crawford — need I say more?)  And also a small role in one of Warren Beatty’s rare good early films, “All Fall Down.” (Best known for the terrific performance of Angela Lansbury, who was, in those days, still a young woman, but somehow playing everybody’s mother, even if they were only a few years her senior.)
On the set of “The Caretakers” with Joan Crawford.
But it is “A Summer Place” that assured Constance Ford’s elevation to the pantheon of monstrous big-screen mamas.  With ripe dialogue, rich color, an absurdly preachy script, and close-ups that froze the blood or melted the heart, the movie is deliriously over-the-top.  Ford is the materialistic, ferociously frigid but sex-obsessed mother to sweet Sandra Dee.  Her father (the handsome but wooden Richard Egan is more liberal and understanding.)  Everything spins out of control during a summer vacation at a seaside inn conveniently run by Egan’s old flame, an exquisite Dorothy Maguire, now married to a loser alcoholic (Arthur Kennedy) with a teen-age son — doughy-faced Troy Donahue.  Of course “the children” become involved.  As do TO and Maguire.  All hell breaks loose but I won’t give all the details.

Here's a little taste ...
I must, however mention two great moments.  One between Maguire and Egan.  They meet in secret.  Maguire, one of the loveliest presences in movies, says, to a man she has not seen since their hot, firm-fleshed youth, “I wish I was still as pretty.”  So beautifully expressed you have to get up off the floor after that one.

But it is Constance Ford who has the scene to end all; a confrontation with her “slut” daughter, Miss Dee.  

Because there are likely some who have not seen this movie and the moment is so shocking, I won’t tell.  Just this — you’ll never think of a Christmas tree the same way again.  Incredible!

So, Wendy — and the rest of your domino-playing friends — pick up “A Summer Place” and try your local dials for networks that play TV series from days gone by.  As we said above, Miss Ford missed nary a one. 
"It'll come in handy on cold nights in motels."
THIS ‘N THAT.  The career of Adam Sandler has always been a mystery to me.  I have nothing against the man personally, nor have a heard a disparaging word. Quite the opposite — he seems a terrific guy.  My reaction to his films and persona has simply always been, WHY?  But who am I to ask such a question. (It is one that has most assuredly been asked about us, after all!)  He has had tremendous success and even when he hasn’t, he’s kept working.  Recently, at the 21st Annual “Hollywood Film Awards” Sandler received the “Hollywood Comedy Award” for Netflix’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” which also stars Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson, Judd Hirsch, Adam Driver and Sigourney Weaver. 
And guess what — he deserved it.  That is, for the very first time, I really connected with Adam Sandler in a film.  I thought he was terrific. Maybe because he is getting older?  Maybe because I am getting older?  Doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I can still change my mind, I can still say, hmmmm ... maybe I was wrong.  You have no idea how important keeping an open mind is. 
... I SUPPOSE the “gimmick” for reviving, next August, Mart Crowley’s more-than-a-little despairing look at gay men, “The Boys in the Band” is that most, if not all of the cast — headed by Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, Zachary Quinto and Andrew Rannells, are openly gay.  What a sea change from the original 1968 stage production, and the 1970 film.

(By the time latter had been released, Stonewall and Gay Liberation had exploded, “Boys” was seen as detrimental, stereotypical, not helpful.)  And back then, everybody was twisting themselves into knots, assuring the industry that they were actually straight.  And it’s not that flamboyant queens and self-loathing homosexuals don’t exists — hello, “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” and Kevin Spacey.  But, aside from the gimmick, I wonder what Ryan Murphy has on his mind, other than sensation?
Admission — Murphy has just about worn out his welcome with this seasons’ chaotic and ugly “American Horror Story: Cult” which is kind of pretending to use the Trump election, feminism and identity politics to make a point, but really it is to simply disgust viewers even more than usual.  There was nothing at all redeeming in the cruel and graphic recreation of the Sharon Tate slaughter in the most recent episode.  This was so distasteful as to make me even look askance at the wonderful actors involved in the show.   I expect his series on the murder of Gianni Versace to be equally lacking in restraint. 

Perhaps I will be surprised by the new “Boys” in town.  I just wish Murphy wasn’t at the helm.  He needs a sabbatical.
ENDQUOTE: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on the fighting the old, but building the new,” said Socrates.

Building the new; I wonder if anybody is truly capable of that?  We’ll see. 

Yeah, I know, you thought today’s column was going to be a total rant about the horror of the 45th president’s first year. Sometimes we like to deliver a perverse surprise. We’ll have at least three more years to rant. 

We need to reserve our rage and fear.  And build the new.
Contact Liz here.