Sunday, November 16, 2008

cinema obscura: Martin Ritt's "No Down Payment" (1957)

Martin Ritt, champion of the social conscience, directed this tidy little 1957 expose of the queasy side of then-modern suburbia - a fine film that came and went without making much of an impression because of the double whammy of (1) being ahead of its time and (2) holding an all-too-intimidating mirror up to unsuspecting audiences who essentially looked away. No one wanted to see a soiled American Dream. Ritts' work here, written by the blacklisted Philip Yordan (fronted by a credited Ben Maddow), clearly anticipates the work of John Cheever.

Utilizing a young cast of at once attractive and talented newcomers/Fox contract players portraying four couples, Ritt's film seems to have been the inadvertent template for the silliness and rampant shallowness that pervade "Desperate Housewives," only Ritt's portrait is not cozy and funny but something more devastating. This is no facile soap opera. He uncovers an unease in his film's prefabricated housing development.

Joanne Woodward and Cameron Mitchell are teamed here as the blue-collar Boones; Jeffrey Hunter and Patricia Owens are the clean-cut Martins, newcomers to the neighborhood; Sheree North and Tony Randall are the sophisticated Flaggs, and Pat Hingle and Barbara Rush the the rock-solid Kreitzers. Each character is finely delineated, particularly the men, with Randall's alchohlic contrasting with Hunter's educated goldenboy who, in turn, constrasts with Mitchell's rough-around-the-edges brute.

"No Down Payment," neglected for 50 years, is disturbing and at times corrosive - and not that far removed from the picture of America today. A nervy minor masterwork.

Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.

(Artwork: Poster art from 20th Century-Fox's "No Down Payment," and, from left, its young cast - North, Randall, Rush, Hingle, Woodward, Mitchell, Owens and Hunter)

20 comments:

Al said...

Sheree North was an unhearalded actress who worked like an adjustable wrench for Fox. If I recall she was brought in to buck Marilyn, but she carved out a solid career for herself there. She was know mostly as a musical comedy star but she also went dramatic in "In Love and War" and she even did a few neat films for Don Seigel.

jeremy said...

Just found your site (on Dave Kehr's blog) and I'm really enjoying it. As for No Down Payment, I saw it numerous times on TV growing up, then it just seemed to disappear. Luckily, a few months back I stumbled upon a morning screening of it on Fox Movie Channel, in the proper CinemaScope format. It holds up beautifully! It's rather hard-hitting for the time, and I don't think its critique of suburbia has really been surpassed, even by such acclaimed films as American Beauty and Little Chidren. For one thing, Ritt and Maddow don't condescend to their characters. Great to see an appreciation of it here!

Anonymous said...

I have been waiting for the DVD of this movie....hopefully......saw it a long time ago,and in response to your reference to "Desperate Housewives"...don't forget that this movie was the insiration for the long running drama "Knots Landing",a much more deserving refrence.

Herb Fleming said...

You mean this fine movie has NEVER been on home video? With that cast! I remember it fondly and wish I can see it again.

Anonymous said...

How do you find out about these movies? This sounds like a remarkable cast and one that I would probably enjoy. I'm a big Sheree North fan.

Edward said...

I first heard of this movie via James Woolcott; check out this little blog and the embedded link:

http://www.vanityfair.com/online/
wolcott/2006/03/partial_down_pa.html

joe baltake said...

Edward--

Thanks! Loved the Wolcott piece. Highly recommended to all.

Stephen B. said...

"No Down Payment" is up there with Quine's "Strangers When We Meet" as a must-see '50s suburban indictment!

John said...

I saw this film years ago. Way ahead of it time. Martin Ritt has been somewhat neglected for too long. Hopefully the recent releases of "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" and "Sounder" will alleviate that somewhat. Maybe, as David Kehr states in his NY Times column he was just too much a product of his times.

Anonymous said...

I have not been able to find this old movie anyhere. You can't buy it, it's only been on Fox....why not TCM?

jbryant said...

I saw this one on TV several times in my youth (not letterboxed of course) and always loved it. Seeing it in proper AR on Fox Movie Channel a year or so ago was a revelation. I think one reason the above-mentioned American Beauty and Little Children are so disappointing to me is that Ritt and company did it first and much better.

joe baltake said...

Thanks for all the comments. This is one title that deserves intense interest.

Carrie said...

Loved this "No Down Payment" post.

Santana1952 said...

Loved the movie "No Down Payment" I'm wishing that TMC aired it. I've sugested it continuously on TMC's Suggest A Movie, but so far, no luck. I'll keep trying. Know where to purchase it? LET ME KNOW

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Lili said...

I loved "The long, hot summer", and I was looking for other Martin Ritt movies to watch. I was immediately interested in "No down payment". Is it out on DVD ? I'm finding no ways to watch this...

Shari Davenport said...

This movie is (currently) posted to youtube. I found it the other day, and it looks like it just got posted there in July. I've watched it through twice, and it seems to be all there, from what I recall of watching it on TV probably 25 years or so ago on cable! Not sure actually how long it's been, but I know I recorded it on VHS one time. I don't recall if I edited out the commercials, and since I don't have a VCR hooked up anymore, it might be tough to watch!