Sunday, October 14, 2007
cinema obscura: Two by Tennessee Williams
Much like Neil Simon, Tennessee Williams was that rare playwright whose stage works routinely made it to the screen, where they were often treated as events.
Even his flops were optioned by the Hollywood studios, although their screen counterparts were equally unsuccessful. Two come immediately to mind - one completely forgotten and the other remembered only as a camp classic. Both underwent title changes for their respective film versions.
Needless to say, a DVD incarnation has evaded both.
Let's start with his 1964 play, the wonderfully titled "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore," which made it to the screen in 1968 as a Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton vehicle, courtesy of Universal, under the lame title, "Boom!"
Produced for the stage by David Merrick and directed by Tony Richardson, "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" starred the singular Tallulah Bankhead as Flora "Sissy" Goforth, an aging ex-Follies girl, retired on the Italian Riviera and writing her memoirs. Her days consist of dictating her autobiography and begging for injections from her nurses. This world is invaded there by swaggering young gigolo Chris Flanders (played on stage by Tab Hunter), known as the "Angel of Death" who upends her life. The play also starred Marian Seldes, Ralph Roberts, Ruth Ford, Bobby Dean Hooks and Konrad Matthaei.
"The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" opened January 1st, 1964 at the Brooks Atkinson Theater. It ran for five performances.
Taylor played Mrs. Goforth in the Joseph Losey-directed film version, set atop a Mediterranean island where she makes her own rules. Burton plays Flanders, a man known for visiting to women shortly before their death. Noel Coward essayed the supporting role of intriguingly-named "The Witch of Capri, one of Mrs. Goforth's neighbors, and the supporting cast included Michael Dunn and Joanna Shimkus.
Williams second flop that made it to the screen is "The Seven Descents of Myrtle" which had a tryout at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia and opened March 27th, 1968 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, with a cast consisting of Estelle Parsons, Harry Gaurdino and Brian Bedford, under the direction of José Quintero.
OK, here goes: Williams' play is about Lot (Bedford), a tubercular, impotent transvestite who has taken a wife named Myrtle (Parsons) who, in turn, is a prostitute and former showgirl, the sole survivor of the Five Memphis Hot Shots. Myrtle lives to nurse Lot back to health but Lot cares only about stealing the family property from his multiracial half-brother, Chicken (Guardino). Naturally, Chicken is attracted to Myrtle.
"The Seven Descents of Myrtle" closed after 29 performances.
Sidney Lumet directed the 1970 film version, which was retitled "Last of the Mobile Hotshots" and was one of the few prestige films of that era to be rated X by the MPAA. Lynn Redgrave starred as Myrtle, James Coburn as Lot (renamed Jeb actually for the film), and Robert Hooks as Chicken. The film was made in New Orleans and St. Francisville, Louisiana, but forget the scenery. All that counted here was the idea of James Coburn playing a transvestite.
I don't know about you, call me a mosochist, but I want to see both these films again.
Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.
(Artwork: The poster from "Boom!"; the playbill from "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore"; Lynn Redgrave as Myrtle in "Last of the Mobile Hotshots," and the playbill from "The Seven Descents of Myrtle")
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Posted by joe baltake at 4:16 PM