Year: 1959
Director: Martin Ritt
Cast: Yul Brenner, Joanna Woodward, Margaret Leighton, Stuart Whitman, Ethel Waters, Jack Warden, Francoise Rosay, John Beal

William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is my all time favorite book. Many say it is unfilmable. I don’t think that’s true, but I do have a very specific vision in my head of how it should be done. But, I realize that said vision would probably be unfilmable in the 1950s, and I’d accepted the fact that any adaptation from that decade would probably deviate from the book quite a bit. But…. oh my….

Quentin Compson (Woodward) is a fatherless young woman, abandoned by her mother, left with her biological uncle Howard (Beal), her retarded uncle Ben (Warden), and her seemingly cruel adopted uncle Jason (Brenner). She feels stifled in the house under Jason’s strict care. Things become complicated when she meets a circus performer (Whitman), and when her mother, Caddy (Leighton) returns to town.

We’ll cover the film without considering it’s an adaptation of my favorite book first. Yul Brenner was Hollywood’s exotic star of the time, and Joanne Woodward was the favorite ingenue, so much of the film felt like it was simply being tailor made to highlight these two stars, who are given two particularly irritating characters to work with. In fact, all the characters in this movie are either irritating or downright unlikable, lacking anything resembling depth or humanity.

The pacing is terrible, moving along at a snail’s pace. That could also be the fault of the “nothing really happens” story. It seems like it thinks it has something profound to say about family and where we come from. But it really doesn’t.

Now, as if that wasn’t bad enough, we’ll cover it as an adaptation of the book that is closest to my heart. Talking about it as that, this movie is an abomination. The first two sections, arguably the most interesting and emotional, are completely done away with. And it’s not even that they just didn’t portray them, because that would be understandable. They would be VERY difficult to adapt well, especially in the 1950s. But with the exception of perhaps one or two nods, these layered, brilliant pieces, which are extremely important to the history of the Compson family, simply don’t exist. There is no Quentin Compson, son of Jason and Caroline, except in a vague reference that Miss Quentin was named after him and he killed himself. Who this Quentin actually was… who knows?

With those sections ignored, there is nothing leading up to this pathetic spectre that the Compson family has become. So they’re not a tragic family. Just a pathetic one. They’re just whiny, selfish people. Not the deeply troubled and intricately layered people of Faulkner’s novel.

And Caddy… what they did to Caddy was appalling. First of all, bringing her onto the “present day” canvas is a huge mistake. The whole idea of Caddy in the book is that she exists only in the memory, as some kind of spirit, a different woman in the mind of each brother. Caddy Compson might just be the most beautiful, complex, and tragic character in literature. The film rapes that idea completely. They bring her onto the canvas, and gone is the gentle yet flawed Caddy of Benjy’s memort. Gone is the fallen angel of Quentin’s memory. Gone is the bitch of Jason’s memory. In the film, she’s just a shallow, slutty drunk. This film completely trashes the beautiful image of Caddy Compson.

And because of these things, Miss Quentin Compson is an empty character. In the book, she’s a pretty horrible person, but still sympathetic, based on being abandoned by her parents, never knowing who her father was, and being hated and resented by the man who raised her. She would never be a heroine, and almost exists solely as a symbol of the fallen family. But for some reason the filmmakers felt that she’d make an awesome fiery heroine. She doesn’t. You might feel a little sympathy for her when she first meets her mother, only to discover what kind of person she is. But other than that, she’s just a flat character, a tease, and a selfish child.

Next to Caddy, Jason’s characterization in the film might be the most grievous. I adore the Jason Compson of the book. Yes, he was a son of a bitch, a completely detestable character. But it was still hard to not feel sorry for him. He was a complicated person to feel for, but he was without a doubt selfish and hatful. In the film he is, of course, turned into some kind of strong, silent hero. Raising Quentin with tough love not because he resents her, but because he loves her and wants her to be able to stand on her own two feet, unlike the rest of the family.

So there you have it. The characters, which make The Sound and the Fury such a brilliant novel, are stripped of everything that make them interesting and complex, and makes them simple,  boring cliches of film heroes and heroines.

If you’ve never read The Sound and the Fury, be prepared for a sloppily made film. If you have read The Sound and the Fury, be prepared for a piece of garbage that completely rapes the greatest American novel ever written.

Year: 1959

Director: Delbert Mann

Starring: Fredric March, Kim Novak, Glenda Farrell

Middle of the Night is a story of a May/December romance. Written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Delbert Mann. Mann directed three films written by Cheyefsky, Marty, his first film which won Best Picture of the Year and he won the Best Director award, followed by The Bachelor Party and Middle of the Night. Later on Cheyefsky would write the screenplays for Network and The Hospital. Middle of the Night started out as a TV episode on the anthology series “The Philco Television Playhouse” and starred E.G. Marshall and Eva Marie Saint. In 1956, Cheyefsky turned it into a play and it opened on Broadway with Edward G. Robinson as the older man and Gena Rowlands as the young woman. In this 1959 movie Fredric March and Kim Novak have the roles.

Jerry (March), a 56 year old lonely widower, is a successful businessman in the garment district in New York and 24 year old Betty is working there as a receptionist and part time model. Betty is newly divorced and uncertain about her future. The story centers on their romance and decision to marry, the ups and downs of relationships in general and specifically about one with a wide age difference. There’s an uncomfortable meeting where Jerry meets Betty’s mother who’s about the same age as he is and an even more painful confrontation with his family, which includes his daughter, a year younger than Betty, and his single over protective nagging sister. Everyone seems to have an opinion though the one thing everyone is in agreement on is that they are against the marriage. Then there are their own insecurities, Jerry’s jealousy when she talks to younger men or will she leave him in a few years? Betty anxieties are over her newly divorced husband, a mostly unemployed musician who wants her back and a father fixation. At the end, despite all the objections from family and their own uncertainties they love each other and maybe they have a chance.

Fredric March is excellent as Jerry who at 56 feels that life has passed him by. Family and friends tell him that he should relax in his old age and take it easy. Jerry feels like everyone is ready to put him out to pasture until he starts dating Betty who makes him feel alive again. He tells everyone he’ll have enough time to take it easy when he’s dead! You totally believe March in this role, the struggles and fears that he is facing at this particular junction in his life. Kim Novak also does a fine job as the young and insecure Betty whose father dumped his family when she was young. Conflicted about the breakup of her marriage she finds comfort and security with Jerry. She brings a nice vulnerability to Betty that makes her real. Through out her career Novak has been underrated as an actress. She holds her own here with a magnificent cast that includes Lee Grant, Martin Balsam, Albert Dekker and Glenda Farrell. There are also some nice location scenes of New York’s garment district and other areas circa the late 1950’s.

One aspect that I found interesting is how old the actors look considering the age they are portraying. Fredric March who was 62 at the time portrays a man who is 56. Albert Dekker’s character was 59 ( he was 54 in real life), however both men look closer to being in their late 60’s maybe even in their 70’s. Compared to some of today’s actors equivalent in age like Dennis Quaid (54) or Jeff Bridges (58) or Harrison Ford (65) they looked much older than the ages they are portraying. Lifestyle? Healthier living? Whatever it is, people do look a lot young today than their counterparts of forty or fifty years ago..

Delbert Mann began his career during the Golden Age of Television drama. When people discussed directors from the Golden Age of Television who came to film in the late 50’s and early 60’s the names usually consist of John Frankenheimer, Sidney Lumet and Arthur Penn.. Delbert Mann is rarely mentioned yet his resume in those early years is pretty impressive. His debut film was Marty, which as previously mentioned won a few Oscars. That was followed by The Bachelor Party in 1957, Desire Under the Elms, Separate Tables, Middle of the Night and Dark at the Top of the Stairs. All of these were adaptations of stage plays except for Marty and The Bachelor Party. In the 1960’s Mann had success with two Doris Day comedies, That Touch of Mink and Lover Come Back. He made a few more films including Mister Buddwing and The Pink Jungle before going back to television in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Mann was a solid actor’s director and always told a good story.

Middle of the Night had a rare showing on TCM recently. Today this film is almost forgotten and it does not deserve this fate. It has never been released in any home video format.

By John Greco