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Mid-Century Melodramas
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Mid-Century Melodramas - 4/10 (Daytime)


Romantic melodramas of the 1950s had a style all their own, with charismatic stars (particularly the females), bravura direction and musical scores that heightened the already intense emotions. This daytime theme celebrates the genre, sometimes known as the "woman's picture," with a roundup of movies featuring some of the actresses of the decade who were most adept at the style.

A Life of Her Own (1950) casts Lana Turner as an aspiring model from the Midwest who heads to New York in search of fame and fortune, only to fall in love with a married man (Ray Milland) and discover that life in the fast lane has its pitfalls. Turner's colleagues include George Cukor, considered one of the great directors of women and Bronislau Kaper, who won a Golden Globe nomination for his score.

Goodbye, My Fancy (1951) stars Joan Crawford, a true queen of melodrama, as a U.S. representative who returns to her alma mater to receive an honorary degree and discovers that she's still attracted to an old flame (Robert Young) who is now the university's president. Vincent Sherman directs, and the ads proclaimed that, "No one holds a candle to Joan...when Joan is carrying the torch!"

Payment on Demand (1951) has another hyper-dramatic star, Bette Davis, playing the social-climbing wife of an attorney (Barry Sullivan), who asks her for a divorce because of her scheming ways. Curtis Bernhardt directs and Victor Young scores the picture. Davis, of course, dominates the film, leading The New York Times to write that she achieves a "feminine churlishness that might almost be real."

Invitation (1952) stars Dorothy McGuire as a young woman believed to have a terminal illness and Van Johnson as the man who marries her at the behest of her wealthy, doting father (Louis Calhern). Ruth Roman costars as the girlfriend who expects to get Johnson back in a short time. Gottfried Reinhardt directs. Interestingly, Bronislau Kaper's musical theme for A Life of Her Own is reused here and became a jazz standard known as "Invitation."

The Girl Who Had Everything (1953) is a remake of Norma Shearer's A Free Soul (1931), with a gorgeous young Elizabeth Taylor in the Shearer role. Taylor plays the spoiled daughter of a defense attorney (William Powell), and she learns a bitter lesson after becoming involved with her father's gangster client (Fernando Lamas). Richard Thorpe directs, and André Previn handles the music.

Tea and Sympathy (1956) stars Deborah Kerr in a lovely performance, repeating her Broadway role in the successful stage drama. Kerr plays a headmaster's wife who befriends a misunderstood college student (John Kerr) chided by his classmates for his lack of "masculinity." Vincente Minnelli directs, and the score is by Adolph Deutsch.

The Young Philadelphians (1959) has a male (Paul Newman) in the leading role and an Oscar-nominated supporting actor (Robert Vaughn), but still offers plum parts to several expert actresses who guide the film into "woman's picture" territory. Newman plays an up-and-coming attorney whose mother (Diane Brewster) hid a secret about his parentage. Barbara Rush is the conflicted socialite he loves, Alexis Smith the older woman in his life and Billie Burke a daffy dowager he represents. Vincent Sherman, a veteran of Joan Crawford melodramas, puts the ladies through their paces.

by Roger Fristoe
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