Tuesday, June 30, 2009

This Property is Condemned

This is one of those rare, brilliant, stinkers that would probably be on more people's favorites lists if the ending was different. Consider this: it was based on a play by Tennessee Williams. That, paired with the title, should give you a pretty good idea of what sort of ending it has. If it doesn't, I'm not going to spoil it for you (too much).

The beginning/middle of the movie is a superb piece of film making. it concerns a romance between the prostitute Alva Starr (Natalie Wood) and the man who closes down the house where she works (Robert Redford) who is named Owen Legate. Redford and Wood play a die-hard pragmatist and a sensitive, almost self-deluding dreamer, respectively. Their acting is completely convincing. As much as I like Natalie Wood, I must say that her acting tends to be inconsistent. Her technique was highly instinctual, yet while Alva Starr does seem too raw at times, Natalie Wood is Alva, rather than playing her. That takes great skill. What ever surface faults her performance may have--such as slight overacting in spots--her characterization is fully developed, sympathetic, and convincing. And although I've only seen two Robert Redford movies, it's enough to prove that he isn't playing himself here. It would be quite easy to believe that Redford is doing absolutely no acting and simply existing on the screen, so flawless is his portrayal. Actually I wish he was just like his character in the movie because I happen to have a crush on Owen Legate. Believe me, it's easy to. His chemistry with Natalie Wood is amazing--captivating!--probably raised movie house temperatures by twenty or thirty degrees! And it's a testament to the lead players' acting and the storyline. In Inside Daisy Clover, a really, really, bad movie, their chemistry is lacking, due in no small part to the crummy script and the incompatibility between their characters. The whole thing is so bland and convoluted, it's enough to make one fall out of love with Robert Redford, no small thing. This makes you wonder about the mechanics of screen chemistry--is it the characters, the actors, or the script? Or a magical combination of those factors?

Back to the point. Perhaps the virtuosity of Wood's and Redford's performances is the downfall of the film. They are done so well you want everything to work out for the characters. Because they are so believably in love with each other, you love them and want them to live happily ever after in the end. And you know how bad the ending is. Even Bud and Deanie of Splendor in the Grass are not as lovable as Alva and her man. You can't make your movie audience want desperately for the best to happen to the characters and disappoint them. (Besides being disappointing, the ending is just plain ridiculous.) This is essentially what happens and it ruins what could have been a beautiful, uplifting story. It's heart-wrenching and consequently unpleasant.

Aside from that pretty big issue, the only other fault I can think of is a lack of motivation in the drunk scene. If you want to see This Property is Condemned, it's available on YouTube, with the title spelled backward.

Rating: 7 1/2 out of 10

(If it had had the ending it was bloody well supposed to have had, it would have gotten an unqualified 10/10.)


Sarah said...

This is one of my favorite movies and I don't really care for the ending either, but I can respect it. I generally love the whole movie though!

Merriam said...

Methinks the ending would have been okay if it had been brought on by the characters' own actions instead of a strange freak accident. But I love the rest of the movie too. Thanks for commenting.

Debbie said...

I LOVED Natalie Wood. She was sooooo beautiful. She was also in Rebel Without a Cause with James Dean. I think she got a bad rap as an actress, yet she was nominated for an Oscar three times. My all time favorite Natalie Wood movie is Love With the Proper Stranger with Steve McQueen. She was wonderful in this film. And Steve wasn't too bad either!