Monday, July 2, 2012

118. A RAGE TO LIVE (1965)

Based on a novel by John O'Hara, this Tennesee Williams Lite potboiler was director Walter Grauman's follow-up to the shocking thriller LADY IN A CAGE (1964), and a bid for toplined stardom for the smoky-voiced Suzanne Pleshette, who had done well in a supporting role in Alfred Hitchcock's THE BIRDS (1962). Cast as a wealthy, smalltown nymphomaniac whose carnal appetites bring many a man low, though none lower than herself, Pleshette isn't at all right in the early scenes, which introduce her -- then almost 30 and looking like she's been not only around the block but around the world once or twice -- as a minor. Future LOST IN SPACE star Mark Goddard rapes her and she likes it, and the fire in her pants later inopportunely absents her from the room when her ailing mother (Carmen Mathews) suffers a fatal heart attack, causing her a burden of guilt that evaporates within 10 minutes or less. She finds the love of a decent man (Bradford Dillman, dyed blonde to avoid confusion with the many other dark-haired men in her life), who not only proposes marriage and agrees to work the farmland she's inherited, but pay her back for it to maintain his own self-respect. Maintaining the property brings back into our heroine's life a hairy-chested Ben Gazzara, a construction worker who corners her during a rainstorm to confess all the years of lust he's felt for her since he was her family's grocery delivery boy -- and that's all it takes. Everyone basically gets what they want, and a lot of it, until her reputation makes it too hard for everyone to believe that she would ever resist newspaper editor Peter Graves, the only man she ever said a fond regretful "no" to, whose wife's misguided jealousy steers the whole mess to a point of no return and a melodramatic closing crane shot. Frank Maxwell, Brett Somers and Aneta Corsaut have uncredited roles.

At the time the film was first released, it got a lot of studio publicity for a supposedly groundbreaking, nude-under-the-covers bedroom scene with Pleshette and Gazarra, but the scene itself barely exists in the final cut, just a brief glimpse of a bare-shouldered clinch in the midst of a dissolve. Little more than tawdry trash, but it was shot in black-and-white Panavision, a classy combination made all the more elegant by a Nelson Riddle score dating from his ROUTE 66 heyday. Even better, the Universal backlot sets and locations give it the patina of the raciest Universal-International pictures.

Viewed on Netflix, but also available on DVD as part of the MGM Limited Edition Collection.   

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