Sunday, August 13, 2017

Tonight's Movie: A Life of Her Own (1950) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Lana Turner stars with Ray Milland in A LIFE OF HER OWN (1950), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Lana plays Lily James, who leaves small-town life behind when she heads to New York City to make it in the modeling profession.

On her first day in the big city she's signed by Tom Caraway (Tom Ewell, who's great in the early going but then mostly disappears). Lily also meets a former model named Mary (Ann Dvorak) who has fallen on hard times; Mary's life serves as a cautionary tale for Lily, who seems intent on making some of the same unfortunate decisions.

Half an hour into the film, Lily meets and later falls in love with Steve (Milland), a married man; he sets her up in a lovely apartment, but their happiness together is tinged with guilt. They each know they're doing the wrong thing, especially as his wife Nora (Margaret Phillips) is stuck in a wheelchair due to an accident. Much of this 108-minute film consists of Lily's torment as she works her way through a life crisis and makes decisions about her future.

Everyone in the cast is solid. Turner is always interesting to watch, though I felt she wasn't always photographed at her best in this film, shot in black and white by George Folsey; she seems older than her real age of 29. I've read the suggestion that this was due to some hard living during the two years following Turner's last film, THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1948). Whatever the reason, she looked fine in later films, so she seems to have bounced back, and she's still a very beautiful woman.

Milland is a great favorite of mine; admittedly, he tends to spend much of this film looking pained, but it fits his character, a man who seems to feel he's hit a dead end in life. Like Turner's Lily, he has to ultimately make a hard choice, and whatever it is, someone will be unhappy and he'll feel guilty. He wants it all, but that's unrealistic and frankly selfish. Milland has a really great moment in his last scene when a look of hope flashes across his face, only to be dashed.

Barry Sullivan appears occasionally as a man interested in Lily who also provides a cautionary voice as Lily moves forward. Jean Hagen, as a kind, happily married model with a child, gives a glimpse of what Lily's life could be if she is willing to start over and make better choices. Louis Calhern plays Steve's friend and lawyer.

The supporting cast is a who's who of familiar faces: Phyllis Kirk, Whit Bissell, Sara Haden, Lurene Tuttle, Percy Helton, Kathleen Freeman, Queenie Leonard, Robert Emmett Keane, and choreographer Hermes Pan, plus future sci-fi and Westerns leading lady Ann Robinson, seen modeling hosiery for a young Richard Anderson.

While the story is a bit of a downer, it's always interesting, elegantly directed by George Cukor from a script by Isobel Lennart. Excepting Lennart's last film, FUNNY GIRL (1968), I don't think I've ever seen a film scripted by Lennart which I didn't find entertaining. I especially enjoyed the first half hour, depicting the working life of a model; it would have been interesting if the filmmakers had used that as the main basis for the movie, rather than the love affair!

Speaking of the love affair, it's interesting that the film was as frank as it was about the lead characters' relationship, given the year it was made. Given the rules of the Production Code, the filmmakers make sure to impart some information about Milland's character in the final minutes which I suppose was to underscore "unfaithfulness does not pay."

It's no secret that I enjoy Lana Turner films. A LIFE OF HER OWN marks the sixth Warner Archive movie I've reviewed her in so far this year, following DANCING CO-ED (1939), SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS (1943), KEEP YOUR POWDER DRY (1945), WEEK-END AT THE WALDORF (1945), and CASS TIMBERLANE (1947). All are very worthwhile.

Reaching further back in time I've reviewed Turner in several more Warner Archive releases, CALLING DR. KILDARE (1939), SOMEWHERE I'LL FIND YOU (1942), HOMECOMING (1948), THE MERRY WIDOW (1952), and LATIN LOVERS (1953). A review of DIANE (1956) is coming soon. I encourage anyone who enjoys Turner as I do to dig deep into her filmography for many hours of enjoyable viewing.

The Warner Archive DVD of A LIFE OF HER OWN has a good picture and sound. The disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


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