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Sunday, July 24, 2011

"No Sad Songs For Me" - I experiment with women's dramas (SPOILERS)

Hi there!

With last Wednesday being Natalie's birthday - as we all know by now - TCM honored her with a selection of her movies, most of them films from earlier in her career. A lot of these aren't available on DVD, so I hadn't seen them before. I recorded "No Sad Songs For Me" (1950), to watch later.

"No Sad Songs For Me" is not available on DVD, and there weren't any clips on Youtube, so I decided it would be a good opportunity to experiment with a new segment called "A Movie in 10 Minutes," in which I record highlights of a film for you, string it together, and post it on Youtube to share it here. I would love to upload the whole movie, but it would be a pain in the neck to get it done, and not only that, Youtube wouldn't be quite happy. If this goes well, who knows - it would be fun to do again!

"No Sad Songs For Me" is a weepy, "women's drama" of the late forties. These were basically melodramatic films enjoyed by housewives on a Thursday afternoon movie matinee when the housework was finished, the pot roast was in the oven, the Husband was away at work and the Kids at school. The housewives would sit in the balcony of the theater, dabbing at their tear riddled eyes with handkerchiefs that boasted their initials embroidered into the upper left corner. After the picture was over, they would dry their eyes and return back to the role of the stereotypical retro housewife, glad that they are not in the same shoes as the victim of the film.

This was pretty strong fare, in which everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. No wonder they call it a women's drama! When I set up to TiVo this, I did so with the intention of watching a Natalie film, but also with interest in watching a women's drama.

The plot is like this - Margaret Sullavan plays Mary, a devoted housewife and mother to husband Brad (Wendell Corey) and daughter Polly (who seems to be nine or ten - in reality, Natalie was twelve). She loves Brad very much and he her. The family hopes for another child, perhaps a boy. Mary visits the family friend and doctor, Rick, about "her project." He gives her bad news - she cannot have any more children, and sends her away, telling her to rest. But Mary thinks something else may be wrong with her, so she goes back and is able to squeeze out of him what he planned to tell Brad privately (how sexist! lol) - Mary has cancer. It is too late for treatment, and she has only six months to live. Mary decides not to tell anyone and tries to enjoy the last few months of her life - really. I mean, if you had six months to live, don't you think it would be a good idea to try and not be too angelic and tell your family? She only tells Brad that they can have no more children. Meanwhile, Brad hires a new draftsman at work, a pretty European tomboy named Chris, played by Viveca Lindfors (who tries her best to be Ingrid Bergman esque). Though he loves Mary, he feels attraction and affection to Chris and vice versa. And Polly doesn't know a thing.

Here is the "movie in ten minutes." I include the ending and a few spoilers, so if you don't want spoilers, don't watch all the way through. Truthfully, though, it's hard to find a copy of this film online (and it's not really worth all the trouble) so you may just want to watch it. I'm sorry the sound is so bad!

First Scene: The opening scene of the film
Second Scene: Mary learns she has cancer
Third Scene: Brad hires Chris
Fourth Scene: Mary confesses to Brad about the baby - but not about the cancer
Fifth Scene: Mary tries to continue living whatever is left of her life, like attending this New Year's Party. Brad spends a lot of the night dancing with Chris, but rushes to her side when the clock turns twelve - this is telling in his feelings for both women
Sixth Scene: Mary overhears two friends gossiping about her husband's relationship with Chris
Seventh Scene: Mary visits San Francisco to see her father one last time. She asks him about a former classmate whose wife died, and how he is getting along
Eighth Scene:  Mary writes Brad a letter from SF revealing the truth about her cancer, and to please meet her at the station and try not to look "too sad"
Ninth Scene: Mary returns home to find that Brad is not there, and that the letter is unopened. He does not know. He does not come home from dinner, and she gets a call from him that he is sorry he could not come home, while it is revealed to us he is really having dinner with Chris. Mary takes the car and drives like a maniac, but before she can kill herself, she runs out of fuel and a policeman finds her
Tenth Scene: Mary confronts Chris, who admits to her that she has always loved Brad - but she does not want to be a home wrecker and will leave now. Mary tells her not to go, and convinces Chris to stay, as she knows Chris will probably take her place when she dies
Eleventh Scene: Mary gets Polly to spend time with Chris
Twelfth Scene: Brad finds some pills of Mary's, calls the doctor up about it, and discovers the truth about her cancer.
Thirteenth Scene: Brad and Mary take a trip to Mexico like she has always wanted (in the last weeks of her life).
Fourteenth Scene: Chris, who is staying with Polly, gets a call from Mexico. I'm pretty sure it is Brad telling her that Mary has died.
Fifteenth Scene: Final scene.

So, what did I think of this film? I thought it was interesting. I mean, it was overtly dramatic - Mary has cancer, is going to die in six months, won't tell anybody out of the good of her heart, she has a little kid, her husband is cheating on her, but she encourages his mistress to stay... Mary is more a goody two shoes than Olivia de Havilland's Melanie in "Gone with the Wind" - and that's saying a lot! 

Still, the fact that it is so dramatic keeps you on your toes. It is a big showcase for Margaret Sullavan, who, in reality, committed suicide herself at the age of 50 (and, in succession, two of her three kids committed suicide after that), so obviously this film didn't teach her anything about the preciousness of life. It is also a bit of an ominously ironic film for Natalie, who died at the age of forty-three (drowning), with daughters about Polly's age.

It is overly weepy. But it does tug at your heartstrings. You will be upset at Brad for cheating on Mary when she's DYING (even though he doesn't know it... BUT. STILL!), and you'll be sad when Mary dies. (My God, this post is riddled with nasty spoilers... sorry! But I couldn't resist on this). You will feel sorry for naive little Polly, who has no clue about what is really going on in her life with her philandering father and dying mother, and it is left to play the piano with her father's mistress.

I guess my final verdict is I would give it three stars out of five. If you have an empty afternoon and want to keep yourself entertained, this should do the trick. You'll also enjoy this if you are a fan of soap operas - which I, personally, am not. it was fun one time around, but I doubt I'll become an avid collector of "women's dramas"... I guess I watched this mostly for Natalie, who, as Suzanne Finstad (the author of her biography) put it - "This picture was a showcase for stage actress Margaret Sullavan; Natalie was basically a backdrop." And she was. Oh, well.

Thanks for reading, and I'll be back tomorrow with a lookalike contest: which child looks mostly like their (Old Hollywood) celebrity parents? Lol, I can't wait. ;)

I'll leave you with a interesting picture of Michael Jackson and Princess Diana at one of his London concerts for his "Bad" tour... that evening in which he omitted "Dirty Diana" from the lineup, to the Princess's chagrin, who admitted the song was "her favorite of his." 



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