Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Don Murray is a Korean War vet who has become a heroin addict, apparently as a result of a drug dependency which followed a hospital stay after the war. He has a decent job and lives in a housing project in Brooklyn with his pregnant wife, Eva Marie Saint. She doesn't know about his addiction, but suspects that his odd behavior, such as spending occasional nights away from home, is due to his having an affair. Murray's brother, Anthony Franciosa, a bar bouncer, lives with them and has recently confessed to Saint that he's in love with her--and she's clearly on the edge of feeling the same way about him. As if things around the apartment weren't tense enough, the boys' father (Lloyd Nolan) arrives from Florida to collect some money that Franciosa had saved up for him to use to buy his own nightclub. Franciosa doesn't have the money; he lets Nolan think he squandered it away, as he's already considered the black sheep of the family by his dad, but he actually gave it to Murray to pay off some drug debts. Now Murray is in debt again, and the pushers aren't in a waiting mood.

This is based on a play and it shows, in good ways (clear narrative arc, well defined characters) and bad (overwrought dialogue, some stagy performances). At the time, it was considered a fairly honest look at an unpleasant topic, but now it comes off as hopelessly dated, like an after-school special for adults. Still, taken as a stagy period piece, much of it remains compelling. For one thing, it stars two of the most attractive male actors of the late 50's. Murray is too clean-cut and mild to be effective as a Jekyll/Hyde-type addict; overall he's not bad but his withdrawal scenes seem rather artificial nowadays. Franciosa, who was nominated for an Oscar, is much better in a more complex role: he's the brother who was never good enough for his father, but who now has become complicit with Murray in hiding Murray's problems from not just the father but from Murray's wife. Nolan is good at playing an abrasive character; Saint usually gets the best notices from critics of the film, but I find her to be, like Murray, too mild; perhaps she was underacting as a way of compensating for the stagy atmosphere. Viewers who aren't aware that there was a time when "rehab" wasn't an everyday catchphrase may find the ending to be a bit baffling, with Murray carted out of state to recover. Henry Silva makes for a so-so villain, but William Hickey is more interesting as a pusher sidekick. [FMC]

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