Saturday, December 16, 2006


This film reunites director Douglas Sirk with three of the stars of his WRITTEN ON THE WIND (see below), though things are not nearly as much fun this time around. Based on an early novel by William Faulkner, this has something of the feel of one of those fast-paced films that Warner Brothers churned out in the 30's, with James Cagney and Joan Blondell. Like those, this one is in black and white (a strange choice for a director known for his stunning use of color); unlike those, it has a slow pace and a downbeat ending. Set in the 30's, it features Robert Stack as a WWI fighter pilot who works in a traveling airplane show with his wife (Dorothy Malone) who also does parachute stunts, and their young son Jack (Christopher Olsen, real-life brother to Susan Olsen, best known as Cindy on "The Brady Bunch"). Traveling with them is Stack's engineer Jack Carson, who has long harbored a crush on Malone and, according to rumor, may be the young boy's father. In New Orleans for a multi-day show, the group winds up taken under the wing of reporter Rock Hudson, who thinks he's onto a good human interest story and lets the four of them stay in his small apartment. However, the paper's editor doesn't agree and fires Hudson, who finds himself drawn into the melodramatic problems of the quartet (and, of course, finds himself falling for Malone). During a pylon race in which two pilots race in figure eights around two towers, Stack's plane crashes and a young hotshot pilot (Troy Donahue) is killed. Stack, not injured, wants to get his hands on Donahue's plane, which just needs some repairs, and he sends Malone to the plane's owner (Robert Middleton), pimping her to get what he wants. Hudson, sickened by Stack's attitude, talks Middleton into the deal without Malone having to hawk her favors, but the next day, another crash has a lasting effect on all the central characters. The pylon races and ensuing crashes are exciting and well-filmed, but the chemistry that worked well in WIND is missing here. Hudson's character is more an interested observer and therefore comes off as more passive than we're used to Hudson being. One of the most memorable scenes is heavy-handed but effective: when Hudson and Malone kiss, a Mardi Gras partygoer wearing a death mask bursts into the room. William Schallert plays a fellow reporter. [TCM]

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