Sunday, July 30, 2017

Tonight's Movies: The Bachelor Party (1957) and Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965) at UCLA

Friday was a terrific evening of movies plus a special interview at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater.

The occasion was a double bill in UCLA's current series Golden Age Television Writers on the Big Screen. The films shown were THE BACHELOR PARTY (1957), screened in 16mm, and BABY THE RAIN MUST FALL (1965), shown in 35mm. Both movies costarred Don Murray, who was present for an interview between the films.

I wasn't certain at the outset if I would enjoy the films, as they seemed to fall in a "serious black and white drama" subgenre of the era which I often find phony and negative -- see my review of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962) for more -- but I'm glad to report that while the movies skated close to the edges of the style I don't like, I ultimately found them both interesting and worthwhile.

THE BACHELOR PARTY was directed by Delbert Mann from a story and screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky. It was evocatively filmed in black and white by Joseph LaShelle; I especially loved the opening early morning shots of a New York neighborhood.

In this 92-minute film a reserved bookkeeper, Charlie (Murray), has just learned that his wife Helen (Patricia Smith) is expecting a baby. It should be wonderful news, but Charlie realizes he'll have to give up his hope to take a year off work so he can quit night school and earn his CPA degree in a year. He'll either be in night school for years or have to give up his dream of career advancement.

At his patient wife's urging, Charlie attends a bachelor party for a coworker (Philip Abbott). Along with three fellow colleagues (Jack Warden, E.G. Marshall, and Larry Blyden) the men spend a drunken evening, which includes Charlie being momentarily tempted by a lonely, talkative Bohemian type (Oscar-nominated Carolyn Jones). The men attempt to have a raucous good time, but it rings hollow. Level-headed Ken (Blyden) finally has the sense to call it a night and go home, while the others try to drown out their fears and loneliness by continuing the drunken partying.

Meanwhile Helen's sister-in-law (Nancy Marchand) visits and frightens Helen with tales of raising three children while her doctor husband sees women on the side.

It's a downer night for all involved, but Charlie's experiences over the course of the evening ultimately give him a new perspective on his life, his wife, and his marriage.

As portrayed by Murray and Smith, I found Charlie and Helen believable, interesting, and sympathetic characters. Except for Blyden's Ken, the couple are unfortunately surrounded by a bunch of very unhappy people seemingly just marking time through life. The bachelor party in particular looked like an evening of sheer misery!

It's not always that enjoyable watching loud-mouthed, drunken people pretending to have fun, but Carolyn Jones's brief appearances pumped up the film's energy level considerably, and the film's final minutes and revelations made it all worthwhile. Hopefully Charlie and Helen aren't doomed to the same unhappy lives their friends and family are experiencing.

THE BACHELOR PARTY was released on VHS (seen at left) but appears to have only had a Region 2 DVD release in Spain.

Murray's previous film, BUS STOP (1956), is also one of his best-known movies. In his interview (seen at left in the photo below) he said a New York critic was skeptical about the BUS STOP "cowboy" playing a New Yorker, not realizing that he had grown up in New York and had never ridden a horse before being cast in BUS STOP!

He said that while BUS STOP was a "star vehicle" (for Marilyn Monroe), he wanted to do something completely different for his next film; he likened acting in THE BACHELOR PARTY to being part of a "jazz ensemble."

He was appreciative that the movie is still being watching 60 years after it was made and expressed how much it meant that his films are preserved at places like UCLA and that audiences come out to watch them. He was really lovely, and I was honored to shake his hand and thank him after the interview. Incidentally, he'll be 88 on Monday, July 31st! He's still acting, with one of his most recent roles being in David Lynch's revival of the cult TV series TWIN PEAKS.

Murray played a supporting role as Slim, a widowed sheriff, in the night's second film, BABY THE RAIN MUST FALL. Slim attempts to help a troubled former schoolfriend, Henry (Steve McQueen), who has just been released from prison and reunited with his wife Georgette (Lee Remick) and the young daughter (Kimberly Block) he's never met.

Henry is irresponsible enough he hasn't even tried to contact Georgette before she shows up in his hometown, but he responds positively to her somewhat naive optimism and trust. Henry rents a small house, little more than a shack, for the newly reunited family, and Georgette gets a job at a drive-in to help save money toward Henry's dream of going to California and becoming a singing star.

Unfortunately it becomes apparent fairly quickly that Henry, who was abused by his foster mother, is a disturbed man in serious need of help, and his issues are such that he's unlikely to remain out of jail for long.

A positive meaning or point to this film is more elusive than in THE BACHELOR PARTY, but I think in large part the upbeat aspect is the contrast between what we learn of Henry's sad childhood and the love Georgette showers on her little girl, Margaret Rose. Along related lines, the film's message seems to be to illustrate the lifelong impact of child abuse.

Remick is appealing and admirable as Georgette, who at times seems to live in a bit of a fantasy world -- I even wondered if she named her little girl for Queen Elizabeth's sister -- yet at the same time she faces up to a tough real world on a daily basis, working hard and keeping house in a shack with paper-thin walls. (Murray's slight wince before assuring her the house will be warm enough in winter is a great little acting moment.) Georgette is an optimist with a lot of love, which she showers on her daughter and tries to give to Henry as well.

It's interesting Murray chose to take a lesser role in this film, but he's very good as a stable, helpful presence. Little is said of his background, except that if his wife had lived, she'd be going out on dates, which Slim refuses. Slim and Georgette actually seem tailor made for one another, but the film gives no hint as to whether they might eventually get together. Indeed, the open-ended conclusion leaves the viewer curious as to "what happened next."

It's rather interesting to me that while I didn't care for director Robert Mulligan's previous film, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962), I liked his next two movies, LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER (1963) and this one, which both starred McQueen.

BABY THE RAIN MUST FALL has moments of staginess but they're overcome by the sincere playing of the three lead actors and the evocative widescreen cinematography by Ernest Laszlo. It may not be an upbeat film, but the good in Remick and Murray's characters keeps it from being a downer experience.

I would also note in a humorous aside that with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and BABY THE RAIN MUST FALL Mulligan made films with two of the most unkempt little girls in movie history. I kept wishing Georgette would comb Margaret Rose's hair!

BABY THE RAIN MUST FALL is a 100-minute film written by Horton Foote, based on his own play.

BABY THE RAIN MUST FALL is available on DVD or Amazon Instant Video. It's also shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.

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