Tuesday, August 14, 2018


Toys in the Attic (idiom): Euphemism for insanity. Diminished mental capacity. To think or behave in an immature, foolish, or unreasonable manner [See: Bats in the Belfry]. 

In the tradition of all good Southern Gothics, that genus of deep-fried melodrama made popular by Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, and William Inge; Lillian Hellman’s Toys in the Attic is a title from which several meanings can be extracted. Idiomatic (mental illness figures into the storyline); literal (a dysfunctional family’s childhood toys have not been discarded, but remain stored in the attic of their dilapidated home); symbolic (the attic: a place of hidden secrets and childhood preserved. The toys: repressed longings and delicate illusions one is fearful of having shattered); and metaphoric (to avoid reality by means of repression, self-delusion, and clinging possessively to things/illusions  of the past).
Hellman’s semi-autobiographical Toys in the Attic was the author/playwright’s last original play following such Broadway successes as The Children’s Hour, The Little Foxes, and Candide. Toys in the Attic was produced on Broadway in 1960 starring Jason Robards, Maureen Stapleton, Anne Revere, and Irene Worth; all nominated for Tony Awards, the show itself, nominated for Best Play. 
In this abbreviated, somewhat de-fanged screen version directed by George Roy Hill (Best Director Oscar-winner for The Sting - 1973) and adapted by screenwriter James Poe (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Hot Spell, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?) Hellman’s dark references to incest, mental illness, racism, and sexual impotence have been softened or eliminated to such an extent, Toys in the Attic could just as well be merely another way of saying "Skeletons in the Closet."
Luckily for me, Lillian Hellman wrote her play with swamps, sweet tea, and sweltering sex to spare, so even Production Code-mandated alterations leave Toys in the Attic with plenty of what one hopes to find in a Southern Gothic: sexual repression, heated histrionics, inconsistent Southern accents, neurosis, brass beds, rumpled sheets, electric fans, and loads of family secrets--still in abundant supply. 
Dean Martin as Julian Berniers
Geraldine Page as Carrie Berniers
Wendy Hiller as Anna Berniers
Gene Tierney as Albertine Prine
Yvette Mimieux as Lily Prine-Berniers
Frank Silvera as Henry Simpson

Charming, ne’er-do-well Julian Berniers (Martin) has been the doted-on focus of his two spinster sisters his entire life. While Julian chased dream after dream of making a fortune via all manner of half-baked schemes, failed businesses, and gambling binges; practical Anna (Heller) and possessive Carrie (Page) have remained in their hometown of New Orleans, living lives of austere sacrifice, working and maintaining the rundown Victorian home where they all grew up (which, incidentally, none of them ever liked).
Devoid of children, suitors, or even friends, Carrie and Anna are each other’s sole companionship and company, their lives a routine of hollow rituals of false intimacy (weekly, each buys the other an unwished-for gift), buoyed by the twin deferred dreams of selling the house and taking a long-talked-about trip to Europe. 
When Julian arrives from Chicago, overflowing with gifts and boisterous brio, his childlike bride Lily (Mimieux) in tow; Carrie and Anna regard his prodigal return as merely the latest temporary windfall in Julian’s long, revolving-door history of fleeting financial ascensions followed by quick and inevitable (hoped for?) downfalls. No matter how far the journey or how many businesses lost, Julian has always been able to come back to his family home where his sisters would pamper him like a child & lover, tend to his wounded ego, bolster his confidence, and readily subsidize (by way of that phantom trip to Europe fund) his next fly-by-night venture.
But this time things are different. And the difference shatters the very foundation of dysfunction and delusion upon which the Berniers household has been built.
Toys in the Attic (along with that other 1963 release, William Inge’s The Stripper) came at the tail end of Hollywood’s love affair with Midwest melodrama and sweaty tales of the oversexed South. If 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire represented the apogee of the genre’s popularity, it’s safe to say that twelve years hence, the tropes and clichés of Southern psychodrama had begun to wear thin. Toys in the Attic enjoyed success on Broadway, but by the time it reached the screen, foreign films had so surpassed American films in both frankness and realism, the mannered theatrically and compound coyness of Southern Gothic was beginning to feel a little passé. 
In adapting the play to the screen, Lillian Hellman purists may have balked at the subplots and characterizations sacrificed to screenwriter James Poe whittling Hellman’s 2-hour-plus play down to a taut 90-minutes; but given the over-familiarity of the play’s by-now well-traveled themes of sex, eccentricity, and decay, I’m not certain the film could easily support a longer running time.
Wealthy society widow Albertine Prine scandalizes the locals by having her handsome African-American chauffeur as her lover. That she cares so little about the opinions of others has resulted in her being branded "crazy" by the Berniers sisters.

By 1963, censorship had relaxed enough so that Toys in the Attic didn’t have to completely commit to the kind of avoidance games that neutered 1958’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof—for example, the word “incestuous” is never referred to in regard to Carrie's unhealthy preoccupation with her brother, but the euphemistic term “sleep with” is bandied about freely. Poe’s adaptation updates the play from the Depression Era to modern-day New Orleans, and in doing so minimizes the significance of Tierney’s perceptive character; eliminates all mention of Julian’s bouts of sexual impotence; erases hints of Anna’s latent incestuous feelings for her sister; does the best as it can with an interracial romance (proximity within the frame has to substitute for physical intimacy), and changes the character of Lily from being developmentally challenged (giving credence to her fears that her mother [Tierney] paid Julian to marry her) to being merely emotionally immature.

From early trade paper reports attaching the names William Wyler, Katharine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, and Olivia de Havilland to the film, there’s a sense that Toys in the Attic went through a lot of changes before reaching the screen. Likely, some of them budgetary. For a time, it was believed serious dramas should be filmed in black and white, the color adaptions of Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke (1961) and Sweet Bird of Youth (1962)—both starring Geraldine Page—flying in the face of that tradition. By 1963 fewer films were being made in black and white, so it’s not clear if the beautiful black and white cinematography of Toys in the Attic (by Joseph F. Biroc) was inspired by aesthetics or budget. What is known is that television-trained director George Roy Hill (making his second film, his first being the [rare]Tennessee Williams comedy Period of Adjustment in 1962) was used to working fast, cheap, and in black and white. 
Toys in the Attic's sole Oscar nomination was for Bill Thomas' costume designs.
Thomas won the Oscar in 1961 for Spartacus

If the final cast chosen for the film lacked the marquee allure of Wyler’s involvement, they certainly didn’t lack for prestige. Toys in the Attic marked Oscar and Tony nominee Geraldine Page’s third foray into Southern Gothic; Tony-nominated and Oscar-winning British actress Wendy Hiller (for Separate Tables) made an ideal match to play Page’s circumspect sister; and Gene Tierney (Oscar-nominee for Leave Her To Heaven, and whose real-life struggles with mental illness brought about her premature retirement in 1955) was in the midst of a welcome comeback following her appearance in Otto Preminger’s Advise and Consent (1962).

But from the time casting was first announced to the film’s release in the summer of 1963, the biggest topic of conversation and critical bone of contention surrounding Toys in the Attic was the casting of actor/entertainer Dean Martin in the role that had won Jason Robards a Tony nomination. Martin was no stranger to movies, having appeared in more than 20 features by the time he was cast opposite such theatrical veterans as Page and Hiller. It was simply that few had confidence that the lightweight, notoriously easygoing half of the Martin & Lewis comedy team had the range and dramatic chops to tackle this, the most substantial of his rare dramatic screen appearances. 

Toys in the Attic was not a success, in fact, it was a resounding flop. Critics, citing battle fatigue over the whole clutch-the-pearls-while-I-fan-myself genre, called it a minor Southern Gothic and complained that James Poe’s adaptation undercut the complexity of Heller’s characters and supplanted the play’s pessimistic conclusion with a provisionally “happy” ending. Even George Roy Hill was dissatisfied with the result, calling the film the least successful of his works. And while Page and Hiller emerged with their reputations intact, critical response to Martin’s performance was so harsh he never tackled so sizable a dramatic role again.
Such Devoted Sisters
Personally, I place myself in the opposite camp, entirely. I've enjoyed Toys in the Attic since I first saw it as a teen when it popped up occasionally on television on The Late Show. I'm not aware of whether or not it ever had a VHS release, but it's one of those films that never seems to show up on cable, and now appears to be out of print after having been released on DVD in 2010.
I recently got my hands on a copy (first time seeing it in decades) and was pleased to discover it to be even better than I remembered. Sure, it's no The Little Foxes, yet it tells its story with an economy and visual style that perfectly serves its tone of mounting suspense and escalating tensions. It's a dynamic, emotionally rich showcase for the talented cast and a great many Southern Gothic clichés, ultimately managing to enthrall and entertain in spite of its flaws. 
Nan Martin as Charlotte Watkins

Much of Toys in the Attic is said to be autobiographical, down to Hellman setting the story in her hometown of New Orleans, basing the character of Julian on her salesman father (who had two clinging sisters), referencing an aunt who had an affair with her African-American chauffeur, and, as per the play’s themes of latent incest, drawing upon her own adolescent feelings towards an uncle.
I credit this as the reason why the relationships in Toys in the Attic resonate with so much emotional authenticity. Even when the sometimes-overreaching aspects of a melodramatic subplot—involving a land swindle and an emotionally abused wife (Nan Martin) seeking escape—threaten to overwhelm the proceedings, what remains compelling are the complex dynamics in the relationship between the three siblings, and the threat Lily poses as a clingy interloper in their long-established cycle of dysfunction.
The selfish, crippling side of love rears its head when the
 always-in-need-of-rescue Julian finds someone who needs him.
Like Julian, I am the only boy in my family. While I was never exactly doted on by my four sisters, I remained somehow shielded and apart from the tensions and issues they shared amongst themselves; a fact which engendered resentment from some, envy in others. There was no lack of love between us, but the way we were viewed and related to by our parents (I could do no wrong, my sisters fell under strict scrutiny) affected how we viewed and related
What I most responded to in Toys in the Attic is how it captures the curious way some families can handle the failures of its members with far more generosity and grace than they do the successes. How living with unhappiness (as long as it means things will remain unchanged) can be a less frightening prospect to people than taking the kinds of risks that can bring about true happiness.
Confrontations and Confessions
"When you love, you take your chances on being hated by speaking out the truth."

If you don’t like Geraldine Page, I doubt you’ll much care for Toys in the Attic. She’s the entire show. And what a show it is. Wendy Hiller (underplaying nicely and turning stillness into an art) is the grounded center around which Page’s Tasmanian Devil of a faded southern belle spins uncontrollably and destructively. Playing a delusional, manipulative character whose life of peculiarly selfish selflessness has left her a throbbing mass of unrecognized desires, Page is simply forceful and more than a little frightening.   
Baby Doll
What's a Southern Gothic without a brass bed and rumpled sheets?

Yvette Mimieux suffers more from how her character is written than from anything specific I can cite in her performance. Perhaps because Mimieux had just come off of a film in which she played a developmentally challenged girl (Light in the Piazza -1962), the filmmakers decide to drop that angle of her character completely. Unfortunately, without her mental capacity being called into play, her Lily, now written as being simply naive and immature, winds up coming across as a bit of a nitwit. With hope grasping behavior and moping countenance, Lily becomes an annoying presence long before she has the opportunity to become a sympathetic one.
Gene Tierney is a welcome sight and is very good (and charmingly funny) in a small role requiring the 41-year-old actress to look believably older than 44-year-old Dean Martin. The film doesn't exactly succeed on that score, but Tierney and the dashing and dignified Frank Silvera do make for a very a handsome couple. 

I thought Dean Martin was surprisingly good as Julian. He's an actor of limited range, to be sure, but he doesn't embarrass himself and has moments so good that he makes me wish he had tried his hand at dramatic roles more often. Admittedly, I did find myself imagining from time to time the kind of depth and nuance Jason Robards might have brought to the role, but in the end, I had to concede that Martin brings a kind of effortless charm and boyish exuberance to the role that I can't really imagine in Robards.  

By way of a striking visual style that emphasizes the dominating and confining aspects of the Berniers home, Toys in the Attic finds a deft way of expounding on the film's theme of emotional and self-imprisonment.
Fearful that Julian is having an affair and feeling unwelcome by his sisters, Lily's isolation is dramatized in this shot which makes the childlike woman appear to be standing in an oversized crib. 
Many scenes are shot from an attic's eye view, the characters minimized and dominated by the house
Bars and fences are a recurring visual motif. The incestuous love Carrie has for her brother has always kept Anna at a remove. Frequently Hill frames Page & Martin in the foreground with Hiller kept separate and apart
Again, the characters are filmed in ways to make them appear caged in and confined by the house
My favorite shot, one which Hill claims was not planned, but just a happy accident, comes at a pivotal point of betrayal. At a moment when Carrie has the choice to reassure Lily of Julian's love, she opts to reveal secrets intended to destroy their marriage. That her clothing and the patterned walls create the impression of Carrie becoming one with the house is a brilliant visual accident.

Movie trends inevitably suffer from oversaturation, resulting in perfectly fine films being rejected by critics and the public alike due to the genre's cycle having run its course. Distanced from what in 1963 must have looked like yet another go-round of decorous depravity and decay told with wavering southern accents; Toys in the Attic appears now to be a seldom-discussed film (no minor classic, but entertaining and well-made) worthy of reappraisal.

In 1960, Wendy Hiller starred in the London production of Toys in the Attic, playing the Geraldine Page role.

In 1976 Yvette Mimieux appeared with her Toys in the Attic rival Nan Martin in Jackson County Jail: a Drive-In exploitationer in which the usually-passive Mimieux breaks character and beats a prison guard to death with a stool!

Copyright © Ken Anderson


  1. It's been a looonng time. This post made me want to see it again, especially since - when I watched it the first time - I wasn't entirely aware of just who Geraldine Page was. Now that I've seen her many times and am tuned into her acting vibe, I'm sure I would get more out of this. Mimieux seemed locked into rather dimwitted victim roles during this period! She wasn't exactly the sharpest knife in "The Time Machine" or "Where the Boys Are" either! Not exactly the reputation one might want when building a career as a leading lady, though she did just that (for a while.) I have no issues with Dean because I never saw his "boozy" variety show appearances until long after I'd already seen him as the airplane pilot in "Airport" and he has some remarkably natural and caring moments in that (i.e. - "Hand over the case and I promise that no one on this plane will hurt you...") I was never able to warm to Jason Robards. And I forgot about Gene being in this!! She has similar silvery hair to Miss Joan Crawford in "The Caretakers!" That film was also 1963, so one presumes it was a trendy thing. Thanks!

    1. Hi Poseidon
      I had to laugh at the realization (which hadn't occurred to me beyond the two films I referenced) that Ms Mimieux did INDEED build an early career playing women extremely slow on the pickup.
      Given how poorly this film was received on release, I can't help but wonder if a similar contextual overexposure hindered the appreciation of Geraldine Page's powerful performance. Her role in TOYS IN THE ATTIC coming on the heels of two back to back starring roles in Tennessee Williams films, critics and audiences must have felt a sense of deja vu.
      A film as theatrically rooted as this benefits a great deal from Dean Martin's naturalism (that's great example from AIRPORT you cite), and like you Jason Robards is an actor I've never quite been able to deal with, even while recognizing his talent.
      But Gene Tierney is wonderful in this and has many of the best lines. And I wouldn't be a least bit surprised if mature women with gracefully graying silver hair wasn't a thing. In the screencap above, Ms. Tierney looks ready to march past Bette Davis to pick up the Best actress Oscar for Anne Bancroft!
      The current DVD of TOYS IN THE ATTIC is beautiful widescreen, if you ever find yourself inclined to revisit this film, I hope you enjoy it.
      Thanks very much for reading this and for contributing your observations, Poseidon!

  2. Hi Ken,

    Marvelous overview of this fricasseed meller which I’ve enjoyed numerous times though the last occasion was quite some time ago.

    Of course now I know it was written by Lillian Hellman but the first couple of times I watched it, and didn’t pay much attention to the credits, I assumed it was based on a Tennessee Williams play. It really has all his hallmarks as you pointed out and then there’s the Gerry Page connection which sort of cemented it in my mind.

    While I love the cast as is it would have been such a treat to have that Broadway cast recreating their roles. I can envision without too much trouble Maureen Stapleton and Anne Revere in the Page & Hiller roles, especially Anne Revere with her glacial stillness, but Jason Robards and Dean Martin are such dissimilar performers I imagine a totally different perspective on Julian.

    When he knuckled down as he does here, as well as Some Came Running and a few others, Dean was capable of revealing considerable depth in his characters but that organic laid back charm always put a certain spin on his work. Robards often exuded another type of nonchalance but there was always a flintiness just under the surface, his Ben Bradlee is a perfect example, that wasn’t there in Martin’s work. And honestly he possessed a much deeper well of emotional accessibility, even his voice had more variation. I’ve always found him a fascinating performer.

    Gene Tierney is simply wonderful in her smallish role, the only size she seemed to be able to handle by this point, and she wears the frosted silver streak hairdo with more panache than Crawford. Well that might not be fair, let’s just say where it makes Joan commanding and slightly fearsome it makes Gene more dignified and refined. It’s too bad this was nearly the end of the line for her acting wise but having read her book she had far bigger problems to deal with than finding decent roles.

    You’re so right about this being Geraldine Page’s film. Had she not been surrounded by such powerful screen presences she could have blown all of them right off the screen. She flutters and twitters and generally runs around getting the vapors when she’s not inflicting crippling emotional damage on someone, especially poor Yvette Mimieux! With this coming hot on the heels of Summer and Smoke and Sweet Bird of Youth I imagine she jumped at the chance to make her next film-Dear Heart, which is my favorite of both her movies and her work, where she plays a very normal character, a lonely postmistress.

    Speaking of Yvette Mimieux-a great name that I had assumed was made up but was given to her at birth-she did have a whole little cottage industry of these fragile child/women characters at the start of her career with this, the others you mentioned plus Platinum High School (a strange little movie), the ghastly Four Men of the Apocalypse and Joy in the Morning. Her fawn like appearance certainly plays into that but from what I’ve read she’s quite the resourceful entrepreneur behind the scenes.

    As great as they all are Wendy Hiller is the stealth player. Everything is set to such a fever pitch that without her (mostly) imperturbability the movie could have spun right over the line.

    Love that picture where it looks like Geraldine Page has become one with the house!! I remember that scene but never noticed that detail. Now I have something new to watch for next time I see the film.

    So happy to finally be able to have the time to comment on one of your essays again! For innumerable reasons I just haven’t had that kind of time this last many months. You put so much effort into these and I enjoy reading them so I hate to dash off a quick response so I keep telling myself I’ll come back and do so later. Obviously that hasn’t worked for me!! But I’m committed to working my way through those I’ve missed, all the way back to The Poseidon Adventure! Yikes!!! But I’m looking forward to doing so.

    1. Hi Joel!
      For the longest time I, too, just assumed this was based on a Tennessee Williams play. It certainly has ll the earmarks. When I was young and this would come on TV, I too, kind of had it in my mind that it was a Tennessee Williams I know what you mean.
      Geraldine Page was a natural, but Dean Martin’s casting must have hit fans of the play like Michael Keaton being cast as Batman. Martin’s very good here, but as you say, with Robards in the role you’re looking at a much heavier dynamic. Which critics at the time seem to think the film could use.

      I share your appreciation of Robards’ acting gifts, so evident in the Katharine Hepburn “Long Day’s journey Into Night.” He’s so obviously talented I’ve never been able to quite put a finger on why he’s always kind of turned me off when I see him in films. (I’ve still yet to see All The President’s Men, and until you-know-who gets the chop, I don’t have the stomach to see a movie about journalistic/political ethics)

      Gene Tierney is a favorite of mine, too. And as much as I like Joan Crawford, she was getting pretty scary by this time, you’re right, Tierney looks more refined. Tierney has some great moments in this film. My partner particularly liked the scene where Mimieux tries to taunt her mother with her relationship with Martin:
      “He liked to come to bed with me. You didn’t know that, did you?”
      “I hadn’t read it in the newspapers, but I’m a large stockholder and if you’d like it reported in detail I’ll see what I can do.”

      Excellent observations you make about all the strong players in this film, and, like you, I appreciated seeing Geraldine Page in a “normal” role in “Dear Heart,” another film she owns with her ability to so inhabit a character.
      And yes, Wendy Hiller is perfect counterpoint to all of Page’s fluttering and machinations. I could have done with more scenes of them together, they play against each other so well.

      It’s nice to hear this is a film you’re so familiar with. Your recollections are so perceptive it’s as though you’ve watched it yesterday. Thank you very much for taking the time to read this and offer such well-considered comments. The reason you give for not always commenting is both very kind and respectful. It’s a real time commitment to both read my lengthy pieces and then offer thoughtful commentary, two things no one is at all obliged to do. Yet for you to give it the kind of thought you do, to contribute ideas and perceptions to the overall piece so that readers learn more about you and the film at hand…well, that’s just something I appreciate a great deal.

      I have a similar issue when it comes to reading the blog posts of friends. I always hope they “know” I’m reading and enjoying their work, even though I don’t always have time to leave a comment.
      Thanks, Joel. Always great to hear from you!

  3. Ken, what a great review.
    It feels like the movie is not as intense as the actual play on which it is based, but worth a try anyway.
    It's definitely intriguing and if not for the writer I think Page and Tierney are two good reasons to watch this. I have only seen Page in The Beguiled (run away as fast as you can from the Sofia Coppola remake!!), where she showed a lot of nuance and intensity in a difficult part.
    As always, it's a pleasure to read your entries since it's giving the need to watch every movie you're writing about. :)


    1. Thank you, Ivar
      I read the play before re-watching the film and you're right, the movie is not as intense. Too many plot elements softened or excised, but depending on your taste for this kind of thing, it's definitely worth a look.
      Page is certainly worth seeing in this. Actually, in most everything. She's so good in the two Tennessee Williams films I mentioned, but if you ever get a chance to see WHATEVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE? that's another one where she commands every scene she's in. Even oppise notorious scene-stealer Ruth Gordon.
      Oh, and too late, I made the mistake of seeing Sophia Coppola's remake of The Beguiled! Oy! Was it her intention to remove absolutely all of the tension and human interest? I've seen a few of her films now and she seems like she'd be wonderful making commercials...her ability to create images is more compelling than her ability to tell a coherent story.
      Thank you Ivar for always being so complimentary about my posts. I don't know that my tastes can always be relied on, but I'm flattered and gratified if you are ever tempted to check out a particular film because I've written about it. Appreciate your taking the time to comment!

  4. Ken, wonderful essay on a quirky and indeed Williams-Inge-esque treatment of a film that could only have been made in the early 1960s. We do forget that Lillian Hellman could get as just entertainingly gothic as all those southern writers.

    Geraldine Page steals every film she is in, including that little seen Woody Allen masterpiece Interiors and the Grand Guignol she did with Ruth Gordon, Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice, two of my Page favorites.

    Love seeing the talented and handsome Dean Martin do a dramatic turn as well, without a Frank Sinatra or a Jerry Lewis to steal his thunder.

    Need to see this again! It has been a while.
    - Chris

    1. Yes, this has both "1960s" and "las gasp" written all over it. I'm not sure if it's ever a good sign when a film contains so many southern gothic genre tropes everyone thinks Williams or Inge wrote it.
      As a big Geraldine Page fan, I too love her in "Interiors"- which is one of my favorites (I have to write about that one. I once read an article by a woman who didn't know it WASN'T a Ingmar Bergman parody until 15 minutes in). I haven't seen all of Page's film, but I'm stumped to think of a bad performance.
      And yes, it's a pleasure to seen Dean Martin against type. I don't know where you find the time to do your blog AND read so many others, but I thank you for taking the time and making the effort. i'm both flattered and impressed! Thanks, Chris!

  5. Fascinating piece on the movie. I've never really registered its existence, which is surprising given my past phases of intense Dino mania. (My favorite performance of his is in Rio Bravo. He had a much greater flair for dramatic work than people gave him credit for.) I mean, this cast on the whole is like catnip! This definitely goes on my watchlist, thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    1. Hi Sandra
      Intense Dino Mania! Funny, I've not seen him much onscreen, but he's my favorite male vocalist. I don't think I have more songs by anyone on my iPod.

      As for TOYS IN THE ATTIC, it's a title that's been somewhat lost for a while, and given that it wasn't a hit (and not fondly thought of by many) I guess it kind of slipped under the radar of talked-about Dean Martin movies.
      Never being much of a fan of westerns, I've never seen Rio Bravo, but Martin directed by Hawks sounds like it might be worth a look. Thanks for reading this, and I hope you get a chance to check this out sometime.

  6. Great post, I'll have to check out this film. I did a whole personal retrospective on Gene Tierney's career two summers ago, but I never made it to her second film comeback after her marriage to W. Howard Lee. You really cut right to the my heart regarding how some families handle the failures of their members with more grace and generosity than they do their successes. I wouldn't categorize my extended family as possessive or selfish enough to wish for their loved ones to fail, but I definitely relate to that idea of it sometimes is easier to accept the worst outcome happening rather than anticipating and risking it all in the mere chance that the good outcome happens. My mother always called it, "waiting for the other shoe to drop", and talks about how she was always afraid to celebrate the good times in life too much for fear that our comeuppance would happen and then bad luck would proceed to follow us. Interesting analysis otherwise, I will have to really get into more Dean Martin movies. I only really know him from his variety show and as a singer.

    1. Interesting comments throughout! Although I like Gene Tierney a great deal, I really haven't seen many of her films. A retrospective sounds both fascinating and informative.
      And I think your mother's take on potentially jinxing good fortune is very similar to what my parents had. A kind of side-effect of having lived through the Depression is being more familiar with the bonding that comes out of families pulling together through hard times. It has such a positive association with so many people that when good fortune comes along, it upsets the delicate balance a bit. Siblings and parents who have been conditioned to show their love through caring and helping are often all a sea (not feeling needed) when things go well. A feeling only amplified when success is associated with independence and children growing self-reliant.
      TOYS IN THE ATTIC dramatizes a toxic version of this, but you describe what I think is the kind of well-intentioned family behavior that almost feels like pragmatism and practicality; when concern is more familiar than celebration.
      Dean Martin is an amiable presence in most of the movies I've seen him in. Not being a fan of westerns, I haven't seen some of his well-received films like RIO BRAVO, and your patience with casual Sixties sexism will likely dictate your tolerance for his Matt Helm spy spoof movies. But some of his light comedies and dramatic roles are worthwhile.
      Thank you very much for your kind comments on the piece. Glad you read it and took the time to comment so personally.

  7. I have to say that I felt Dean Martin was horribly miscast. He is way too suave, as fits his show biz persona, in the role. Also, as an Italian-American (Sicilian?), he doesn't look like he could possibly be related to Page or Hiller, both of whom are very very fine. The film itself has some great scenes. I think the play is underrated. I would like to see a remake of it. Or at least staged again (I live in Seattle). Hellman's dramatic triangle of the siblings strikes home to me. I grew up in a family with similar dynamics (and I'm not Caucasian!). In fact, I can't think of any play or film that dramatically explores these relationships. Too bad the film was bowdlerized. I have to get a copy of the play itself. Hollywood usually flunks on making films from plays, e.g., Tennessee Williams (except for "Iguana" "Streetcar" maybe "Summer & Smoke").

    1. Hello LLP
      Love how you are able to pinpoint the whys and wherefores of what doesn't work for you about this film. Specifically the shortcomings you find in Dean Martin's casting are points both well-taken and expressed. Especially as to Martin's lack of a believable physical resemblance to the family (not a problem for me as it underscores his sense of feeling entitled and somewhat meant for bigger things).

      I've never seen this play staged anywhere in LA, and a screen or cable remake of this would be fascinating, as the issues of parasitic familial attachments is relatable and not exactly a dated theme.
      Yes, the more that I think of it, the more I like the idea of Hellman's play being remounted/reimagined today.
      Thanks for reading this post and for the well-considered food-for-thought about a play you have a thoughtful affinity to. Much appreciated!