Friday, September 27, 2019

Don't you cry for me

Another of the stars who got a day in this year's Summer Under the Stars is Dorothy McGuire. One of her films that I haven't blogged about before is Susan Slade, so I sat down to watch that one to do a post on it here.

McGuire is not Susan, but Susan's mother Leah; the part of Susan is played by up-and-comer Connie Stevens. Susan and Leah have been living in Chile's Atacama Desert for the past ten years together with the father in the family, Roger (Lloyd Nolan), who was a mining engineer for wealthy Stanton Corbett (Brian Aherne). They're about to go home to the California coast.

One thing Mom is especially worried about is how Susan is going to handle young men, since she didn't have much chance to deal with men of her social class what with her isolated upbringing in Chile. On the boat home, she meets Conn White (Grant Williams), who is the son of a wealthy man but who spends all his time being a mountaineer. Mom isn't so certain Conn is right for Susan, and is especially aghast when Susan comes back to their stateroom with smudged lipstick: obviously, she's been kissing, horror of horrors.

Back at home, we meet Corbett and his family, wife Marion (Natalie Schafer) and son Wells (Bert Convy), the latter being somebody all the old farts think would be perfect for Susan. The last member of the complicated relationships is Hoyt (Troy Donahue), a struggling writer whose father worked for Corbett but who was arrested for embezzlement and hanged himself in prison. Polite society shuns Hoyt, although Susan doesn't dislike him mostly because she's never been in polite society.

Still, Susan is waiting for Conn to return from his latest expedition, at which point she knows he's going to propose. The only problem is, he dies in a mountaineering accident on Mt. McKinley, which makes him rather unable to propose. Worse, he apparently knocked her up on the boat, which would explain that smudged lipstick. So Susan is pregnant out of wedlock, which would be an absolute scandal in her stratum of society.

So Mom and Dad get a brilliant idea. Dad, despite having foreshadowed that he's got a heart condition that could kill him, decides to take another engineering job in Guatemala. Mom and Susan will go along, which means Susan will be able to have the baby down there. Mom, meanwhile, has been dropping extremely unsubtle hints that she's pregnant. Not that she is; instead, she's going to act as though it's her baby when they get back from Guatemala, and nobody will know the difference.

But then Dad dies of a heart attack, leaving mother and daughter to return home alone. Well, with the baby, which Mom has increasingly decided is mine mine mine, and dammit Susan, I'm never going to let you have it! Susan, understandably, grows increasingly resentful.

Susan Slade is one of those lush potboilers that were quite common in the 50s and 60s, with upper class people going through all sorts of tribulations for us common people to point at and make fun of. Susan Slade does not disappoint in that manner. It's a mess at times, in no small part due to the acting of Donahue and Stevens, but it's never less than fun. As with All That Heaven Allows, there's some pretty blatant foreshadowing here. A real plus is the cinematography, helped out by being in the Big Sur area, making the movie look lovely even if the story is risible at times.

Susan Slade is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

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