Monday, May 12, 2008


Don Murray is a young married bookkeeper who is taking night classes in hopes of advancement, but his wife's announcement that she's pregnant throws him for a loop. With his wife already complaining about the number of nights she has to spend alone, he thinks about quitting school and vents his general frustration with his buddies at an informal bachelor party one night. During the course of the evening, the guys go to dinner, watch some stag films (which put them to sleep), go out for drinks, and wind up at a wild Greenwich Village party. Along the way, lots of other problems bubble to the surface. The groom-to-be (Philip Abbott) is a 30-something virgin who still lives with his mother and is having second thoughts about his "arranged" marriage to a distant cousin whom he likes but for whom he feels no passion; Jack Warden, a bachelor, keeps pushing the guys to keep the party going until the wee hours, and secures the services of a hooker for Abbott; Larry Blyden, closest to Murray in age and circumstances, isn't able to give Murray much advice about his situation, and confesses to an extramarital fling a few years ago. When Murray asks if he loves his wife, Blyden replies with a string of the obligations he's gotten into in the name of family and ends with, "I'd better love her!"; E.G. Marshall, the oldest of the group and typically an easygoing fellow, gets drunk and admits that his doctor has told him he's a very sick man and needs to move to Arizona, but he can't face leaving the big city and starting a career from scratch. Murray himself is tempted to stray with a beatnick nympho (Carolyn Jones), and when he does head home, he and his wife argue over their options: Should he quit school? Should she get an abortion (which was illegal back then)? As in most 50's Hollywood films, the complex issues brought up are all banished far too easily in the final moments by the mouthing of banal platitudes about love.

Having said that, I should note that I am all for love and fidelity, but this film's happy ending (at least for Murray) feels fake and unearned. Up until that point, I liked this look at 50's middle-class male angst a lot, mostly for the acting. Warden and Marshall are fine as one would expect, and Blyden is good enough to make me sorry he didn't do more film acting--he wound up mostly in TV, known best today for game show appearances. Jones was nominated for an Oscar even though she's only on screen for about five minutes; nevertheless, she makes a strong impression, and the climax of the narrative occurs when she gets Murray in a clinch and says desperately, "Just say you love me--you don't have to mean it!" Patricia Smith is OK in the thankless role of the passive-aggressive wife who brings up the issue of abortion only because she's sure that Murray would be against it, and she's shocked when he's not. Nancy Marchand (Tony's mom on The Sopranos) is very good in a small role as Smith's sister-in-law who confesses her own unhappiness with her philandering husband. Best of all is Murray, who is not only excellent in the lead role (and is in almost every scene) but handsome and sexy as hell, in that 50's button-down way. He inhabits his role so well, I was disappointed that we didn't get to see him work out his frustrations in an explosive tryst with Jones. He has a leading man face--and here, often looks like an intense, depressed puppy dog--but a sidekick voice and persona; after a strong start in his first few films, he never quite made it to star status, but he has continued acting right up to the present day. He's probably best known now for a continuing role in Knot's Landing in the early 80's, though I remember him as the Congressman with a hidden gay past in ADVISE AND CONSENT. I'll have to keep my eye out for more Murray. [TCM]

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