SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH, 1962
Cast: Paul Newman, Geraldine Page, Shirley Knight, Ed Begley, Rip Torn, Mildred Dunnock, Madeleine Sherwood, Corey Allen
Drifter Chance Wayne returns to his hometown after many years of trying to make it in the movies. With him is a faded film star he picked up along the way, Alexandra Del Lago. While trying to get her help to make a screen test, he also finds the time to meet his former girlfriend Heavenly, the daughter of the local politician Tom 'Boss' Finley, who more or less forced him to leave the town many years ago.
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Tennessee Williams has written many plays, and many of them highly acclaimed stories that tackle controversial issues such as homosexuality, STDís, and even cannibalism. One of his most popular plays, Sweet Bird of Youth was recreated on the stage several times by various actors, including Paul Newman and Geraldine Page, who would later reprise their roles on the big screen in the film adaptation.
Newman plays Chance Wayne, drinking coffee in a hotel room in St. Cloud, Florida, while an aging actress Alexandra del Lago, sleeps in his bedroom. While back in his home town the charismatic Chance proclaims that he found fame in Hollywood, yet thatís clearly not the case. But we learn later that Chance is something of a controversial figure in the community.
After having left his girlfriend at the time Heavenly Finely for fame, Chanceís reputation in town is tarnished. To make matters worse, Boss Finely the father of Heavenly, plans on exacting avenging his daughter. However Chance intends on reconciling with Heavenly much to the vehement disapproval of Boss Finely.
Meanwhile, the aging actress Alexandra plans on making Chance a star despite her own failing career and constant drunken nature. However her goal is protect her own reputation through Chance by making him a star and reclaiming her status in Hollywood as an important figure. Page is excellent her role.
There are obvious differences in the film from the novel. Keep in mind the film was made during the 50ís in which there were laws prohibiting certain subjects to be discussed in films. The feature adaptation leaves certain elements out of the film and has a more pleasant ending than the one in the book. In the end, Chance fails to reconcile with Heavenly and it is implied that he is castrated at the hands of Boss Finley's henchmen in retribution for corrupting his daughter.Also in the book was Heavenly Finley, infected with a venereal disease contributing to the reason why Chance left in the first place. Clearly that issue could not find its way on film and so was left out. However, the film still keeps the essence of what Tennessee wrote on paper.
Tennessee stories dealt with love, lust, betrayal, violence and deceit all with characters who exhibited on trait or another. Newman and Page elevate the melodrama with sincerity and evoke some wonderful performances. Sweet Bird of Youth is a great classic film.