Year: 1958

Director: Art Napoleon

Cast: Errol Flynn, Dorothy Malone, Efram Zimbalist, Jr.

It was exhausting watching the life of Diana Barrymore in Too Much, Too Soon. I can’t imagine actually living it. In today’s culture, with the media placing every celebrity under a microscope this story will come across to some modern audiences as mundane. While the movie basically boils down to a narrative version of the television show E! True Hollywood Story, it still manages to have some impact as a tragic tale of a life completely wasted. It is especially tragic when one realizes that Diana Barrymore died just two years after the release of the film. Diana Barrymore, daughter of famous actor John Barrymore, and half-sister to John Drew Barrymore (who is the father of actress Drew Barrymore) only lived to be 38 and this movie chronicles some of the struggles that prematurely ended her life.

For your information this review may contain what some may consider spoilers.

The transformation of Dorothy Malone from a young teenager to a middle-aged woman was very well executed and her performance is impressive and still comes across as shocking and tragic even 50 years later.

The movie is also very well shot. Visually, it has a noir like quality to it and the choice to do it in black and white was genius. One wonders if color would have ruined this dark and depressing story.

The movie does have its flaws including the pulling of some punches. Certain topics are glossed over or omitted all together that I imagine a modern version would include. For instance, the real Diana Barrymore apparently found herself in some abusive relationships and was involved in both drug and alcohol abuse, not just the latter, as portrayed in the movie. There were directorial decisions that hint at these aspects of her life quite creatively however. For instance, when Dorothy Malone crashes through a window at a pharmacy in a drunken rage the word “Drugs” is shown in the foreground on the glass just before she crashes through, implying perhaps that this rampage may be more then just a reaction to liquor. One of the most memorable scenes also, which touches on the idea that she was in some abusive relationships, is when her new husband while practicing tennis, hits her in the face with a tennis ball, leaving her on the ground, bleeding from the mouth.

This brutal movie is a depiction of a book based on true events but still has moments that unfortunately come across as melodramatic. With subject matter based in such tragic realism it is a shame that some of the acting comes across as over done and too Hollywoodish. Surprisingly, I felt like Errol Flynn, who plays Diana’s father, is the worst culprit. His acting is disapointing at times and some of his dialogue seems awkward. It is hard to tell what is more to blame, the script, or his acting.

I am sure this was a much more powerful film when it was released 50 years ago. Truly, that is where some of the tragedy of the film lies, in the fact that this type of story has become all too familiar to the general public. A life wasted by missed opportunities due to drug and alcohol abuse, psychological damage brought on by a dysfunctional childhood, and codependent relationships with abusive partners seems like more of a cliche then a tragedy. Lives have been ruined by alcohol, divorce, parental neglect, drugs, and abuse for a long time yet there appears to be no end in sight. If anything, watching this movie in 2008 should leave the audience questioning why society doesn’t change and why people don’t learn.

By Greg Dickson