Sweet Bird of Youth

You know, when you like movies and you like to talk and write about movies, people are always asking you if you’ve seen such and such and whatcha think, and so on, and sometimes you get this complex about how you oughta better watch stuff – even older stuff – so you can give people an informed opinion. (It’s even worse when people recite parts of a movie you should have seen but haven’t, and they don’t understand why you don’t get the jokes…)

Anyway, I always felt this 1962 movie was one I should see, a true classic. It’s the first film adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play, which starred Paul Newman, Geraldine Page, and Shirley Knight, all of whom reprised their roles for the movie. But although they’re all great, it’s Ed Begley as a small-town political boss who steals the show – he won an Oscar for his work.

Newman plays Chance Wayne, a dreamer-drifter who returns to his hometown in Florida with a faded movie queen (Page) in tow, hoping to see his ex-girlfriend (Knight). Only his ex’s pop, Begley, has other plans for the cad. And he doesn’t play nice, either. It’s funny, because the acting styles of Ed Begley and the man we know as Ed Begley, Jr. couldn’t be more dissimilar. Begley, Sr was a towering, blustery, commanding man, while his son usually plays meek, gangly, good guys. But this was another time, and characters like Begley’s Boss Finley were fairly common in movies. But Begley’s performance is so exhilirating, so downright nasty, that you feel a real rush whenenver he appears onscreen.

Anyway. A lot of rambling for a 44-year-old movie! But it’s fun to examine old films; it’s like looking at a little slice o’ history. It’s amusing sometimes to see actors right at the beginning of their careers. Newman had been kicking around for a few years and had already done The Hustler, but Knight and Page (not to mention Rip Torn) were fairly unknown. Together, they comprise a wonderful cast.

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