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)