Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Full of Life (1956)

FULL OF LIFE is a warm "feel good" film which is one of the movies I've enjoyed most this year.

Nick and Emily Rocco (Richard Conte and Judy Holliday) are a happily married couple expecting their first child. When repairs to a rotten kitchen floor will cost more than they can afford, Nick and Emily pay a visit to Nick's parents in Northern California, hoping that Nick's father (Salvatore Baccaloni) will come stay with them and fix the floor himself.

"Papa" comes to visit, and while he takes his sweet time repairing the floor, he and Nick slowly repair their relationship. Nick also begins to find his way back to church, which he realizes he'd stopped attending simply to thwart his father.

It's a gentle movie about nothing and everything: family, faith, and relationships. Nick and Emily's highly functional marriage is a delight to watch; Holliday in particular plays a sunny, smart woman who admirably combines frank honesty and warm-hearted affection. It's a wonderfully written role and a terrific performance. Since I'm mostly familiar with Conte from his film noir credits, I enjoyed seeing him in an atypical role as an introspective writer and loving, supportive husband.

The film also presents an unusually realistic depiction of pregnancy for the era, although I thought Emily was just a wee bit too spry at times for a woman due to give birth soon. (There's also the typical '50s moment which is somewhat shocking to the modern viewer, as Emily lights up a cigarette.) I loved the scenes where Emily feels like a beached whale and bemoans how long pregnancy takes; any woman who's waited through those final endless weeks can relate!

Esther Minciotti plays Conte's mother, reprising the same familial relationship she had with him in HOUSE OF STRANGERS (1949). This time around, happily, their characters have a much better relationship.

It's interesting to contemplate a time when even a couple not very well off can afford to have hired help. (Delia, the maid, is played by Amanda Randolph.) A doctor who makes house calls and home delivery of groceries makes the lifestyle look quite idyllic.

The film has some nice shots of mid-'50s Southern California suburbia. The church seen near the end of the movie is identified by IMDb as St. Monica's, a large, well-known church in Santa Monica. In fact, I think the priest (Joe De Santis) says he's from St. Monica's at one point.

This 91-minute film was directed by Richard Quine, whose credits also include BELL BOOK AND CANDLE (1958) and IT HAPPENED TO JANE (1959). John Fante wrote the screenplay, adapting it from his own novel. The black and white cinematography was by Charles Lawton Jr.

FULL OF LIFE has been released on VHS. It does not appear to have ever had a DVD release. Hopefully at some point this Columbia film will turn up in the Columbia Classics manufactured-on-demand program.

It's been shown on Turner Classic Movies.

Highly recommended.

2021 Update: This film will be released on DVD in October 2021 as part of a five-film Judy Holliday set from Mill Creek and Critics' Choice.


Blogger becca said...

I saw this movie a while back and really enjoyed it. I, too was surprised by the depiction of pregnancy at a time when screen pregnancy meant the audience sees the first two months and then the story comes to a complete stop for seven unseen months and starts up again after the baby is born. Sometimes the Production Code really puzzles me.

Thanks for writing such a good review - you made me want to go back and watch this movie again.

- Amanda

7:44 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

Oh man! I want to watch this now. And I have no TCM. :-(

8:03 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

So glad you were able to enjoy this too, Amanda. The film was really a nice change from movies where a woman may be near full term and doesn't even show! I'll definitely be watching it again.

I hope you can see it, Raquelle, I think you might like it. Really a nice film about issues most everyone can relate to.

By the way, I added a few comments here and there to my post this morning. It was originally written very late at night and there were a couple things I forgot to mention. :)

Best wishes,

9:42 AM  
Blogger admin said...

Laura, I loved your comment that Full of Life is "a gentle movie about nothing and everything: family, faith, and relationships."

I first saw this as a child and loved the repartee between Conte and Holliday. Who knew such dissimilar actors would blend so well? It is a pleasure to see Conte playing a regular person instead of a hoodlum for once, (that must have been wearing after awhile). Now I look at it with more of an eye toward John Fante's other, blistering stories, which are hardly as sunny as this one, though this film (and the commercially successful book that it is based on) seem to be an idealized version of life as he might have wished to believe it could be.

I loved the period details (imagine riding a train to visit home?!) and it was good to see Judy Holliday's character explaining her POV about marriage and religion so well. So often, women were silent or inarticulate in this period. Thanks for reminding me of this little gem.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Audrey said...

I really want to see this now! I wish I had TCM. Maybe I can interloan a VHS copy, though...

Thanks for the great review, Laura!

10:55 AM  
Blogger Moira Finnie said...

Hey! I wonder why my comment above appeared to be posted by "admin"??? It's just me, Laura. Sorry if I caused some kind of error. I thought I was logged in as myself. Ah, cyber perfection strikes again. I STILL liked your review. ;-)

4:42 PM  
Blogger Terri said...

This sounds like a good one! I hope I am able to catch it some time.

I rather like Judy Holiday!

3:47 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you can see it, if you like Judy Holliday I bet you'd love this one. :)

Best wishes,

4:54 PM  
Blogger Irene said...

Here it is 10 years later!!! I saw your post on Twitter about recommending this film and came back here to read your review. It's still not on DVD (which is too bad) but I decided to check on YouTube on the off chance it had been put up since you last did this review. Lo and behold they had! There are two uploads. One is pretty bad. Looks like it was taped off the VHS recording or perhaps from the TV. The other one is a very good print but it does have subtitles. Those are easily ignored though. Here is a link in case you want to put it out there on your Twitter post. I did enjoy the movie very much. Fun seeing things I remember so much from my childhood. I grew up in a house similar to the ones in their neighborhood that have the tile roofs. Our garage door was also like that except it was painted green. I got a kick out of the train trip from Sacramento taking so long it involved an overnight sleeper! I thought the message was wonderful. As said in my email to you about "Stars in my Crown", they sure don't make decent, wholesome movies like this anymore.


8:31 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Irene,

Thanks so much for your note, I love hearing that you found and enjoyed the movie so much. And what fun that it sparked memories of your own childhood! I love that.

Thank you for letting me know! I'm very happy you enjoyed both this and STARS IN MY CROWN so well. Both are very uplifting films in unique ways.

Best wishes,

5:03 PM  

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