Sunday, October 26, 2014

"This property is condemned" - A Tennessee William Play and a Sydney Pollack Movie

American railroad has played an important role in the growth and prosperity of the United States. The founders of the nation realized very early that an effective system of transportation across the vast breadth of this continent is indispensable to preserve economic, social and political stability. The History of American railways is a saga by itself, and it is not the purpose of this essay to get into its details. The movie I am about to review is based on a period in Railway history, when a paralyzed economy was cramping its growth; and more so - throwing people out of work.
Tennessee Williams wonderful play "This property is condemned" was turned into a movie by Sydney Pollack in 1966. Pollack is one of my favorite directors. His ability to direct and produce stories with a Human touch and sensibility without too much of fun fare or drama; capturing the essential essence of a relationship and explore its nuances without prejudices and opinions is the hallmark of this great artist. "The way we were", "tootsie", "Out of Africa" are works of sheer beauty and perfection. He loved casting Robert Redford in his movies. That young debonair actor has had the privilege of working with some of the most accomplished movie makers of his time. I wouldn't really place Mr Redford as a consummate actor. but he invariably found himself in the right place at the right time. And once he settles down to a role , he makes the best of it.
This movie is set in the depression of the thirties, when railroads were affected , especially the southern states; and lot of jobs had to be cut to keep the railways financially afloat. Owen (Robert Redford) is the man who needs to dole out pink slips in a suburban town of Mississippi. He checks into a boarding house run by a frivolous lady with two daughters; trying to please the discontent Railway workers with Wine and pleasure. Alva (Played beautifully by Natalie woods) , her elder sprightly, charming and vivacious daughter dreams of living in big towns, away from the squalor and moral apathy of her suburb;, falls in love with Owen in wonderfully constructed screenplay , where Alva gradually moves from hating the man who puts people out of work to admiring him for his honesty, integrity and free life style. She eventually runs away to New Orleans from her dominating mother and finds solace. love and peace in the arms of Owen. But some lives are doomed to remain in shadows and Alva's short tryst with happiness ends when her past confronts her with blunt factuality.. The movie ends on an unsatisfactory note. That was the intent of Tennessee Williams as well. His plays always climaxed with an ambiguity; an end that could mean different things to different people..
To me, apart from Pollack's wonderful adaption and screenplay, it is Natalie wood as Alva, who stands out , virtually living the role of young girl with dreams in her eyes. She often reminds me of Vivian Leigh, who had the same intensity and passion on screen. In fact, It was Sydney Pollack, who gave the best tribute when he said "When she was right for the part, there was no one better. She was a damn good actress..."
This is a low budget movie, but in the hands of a great master, it does not matter. These are masterpieces of cinematic history. And any aspiring director would do well to study them to appreciate that the art of film making is not dependent on extravagance, or imposing locales; but essentially lies in finding a way to tell a human tale with intensity and depth.
Its available on Netflix.. watch it if you like tasteful movies...
God bless..

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