Thursday, August 15, 2013

Out There in The Dark: Autumn Leaves, 1956

Everything clicked on Autumn Leaves. The cast was perfect, the script was good, and I think Bob [Aldrich] handled everything well. I really think Cliff did a stupendous job; another actor might have been spitting out his lines and chewing the scenery, but he avoided that trap. I think the movie on a whole was a lot better than some of the romantic movies I did in the past...but somehow it just never became better known. It was eclipsed by the picture I did with Bette Davis.

--Joan Crawford

This little-known, infrequently-screened Joan Crawford film actually features one of her most subdued and sympathetic performances. InAutumn Leaves, Crawford plays a spinster named Millie who falls in love with a much younger man, Burt (played by Cliff Robertson). When Millie and Burt marry, she realizes that her new husband suffers from a debilitating mental illness. As Millie struggles to get Burt the help he needs, she worries that his love for her will be erased along with his troubles.

Originally, the film was to be called, “The Way We Are,” but director Robert Aldrich and executives at Columbia Pictures wanted to capitalize on the popular song by Nat King Cole, “Autumn Leaves” which they had licensed for the picture. The change in title proved to be a good move. Due to the song’s wide-spread adoration, people flocked to the picture. Though it was panned by many critics, others noted Crawford’s fine performance in what she called, “the best older woman/younger man picture” in history.

The script was actually written by Jean Rouverol and Hugo Butler, but the two had been black-listed as suspected communists and so, the film’s screenplay is credited to Jack Jevne. For some reason, despite its solid acting, the film never really caught on. Crawford was quite proud of the picture. In the quote above, we can see her rightful pride and some slight bitterness that her later picture,
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, was more of a blockbuster sensation.

Watch the whole film below.

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