Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gotta love those '50s soap operas!

Movies like A Summer Place may be overwrought, but they can be a hell of a lot of fun precisely because they're overwrought. A movie with a very different plot which has the same qualities is A Hatful of Rain, which is airing at 2:00 PM ET tomorrow on the Fox Movie Channel.

Don Murray stars as Korean War veteran Johnny Pope,who is living in a one of those 1950s concrete New York City apartments with his wife Celia (Eva Marie Saint). Unfortunately, Johnny was injured in the war, and probably thanks in part to the painkillers he got from Uncle Sam, he's become a narcotics addict, with an expensive habit and a pusher (Henry Silva) he can't pay. He's also got trouble holding down a job thanks to the heroin habit. But his wife, not knowing about the habit, loves him, and he's got a brother Polo (Anthony Franciosa) who is willing to be co-dependent and try to keep Johnny's nuts out of the fire. It's not much, but it's a sort of a living.

This equilibrium is about to be spoiled, however, by the arrival of Johnny and Polo's father John Sr., played by 1940s Fox stalwart Lloyd Nolan. Dad knows nothing about his son's drug habit, thanks to a complex and strained relationship between the father and his two sons that leads neither of them to want to tell him about it: Johnny because he doesn't want to tell anybody, and Polo because he's always felt Dad loved Johnny more than him. It's going to be tough to keep the habit a secret from Dad, especially because Johnny has the pusher coming after him.

Now, there are good movies about addiction. The Lost Weekend, about alcoholism, is excellent, and The Days of Wine and Roses is almost as good. As for heroin, you can watch the very good The Man With the Golden Arm. However, there seems something not quite right about A Hatful of Rain. I think it's the fact that the movie tries to include the family drama in with the drug addiction story. There are quite a few family drama movies out there from the 1950s and 1960s, and they're all a bit over the top, even supposed classics like Rebel Without a Cause. Indeed, I think it's the same thing that makes movies like the Lana Turner version of Imitation of Life things that I laugh at. That having been said, A Hatful of Rain benefits from location shooting: those ugly post-war housing projects, cramped and with the cold, steril concrete stairwells and white walls, are brought out very well.

A Hatful of Rain hasn't made its way to DVD yet, and despite all its flaws, is a movie that deserves at least one viewing.

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