O'Neill's greatest play is brought to the screen with an overpowering wealth of talent: Hepburn, Richardson, and Robards give magnificent, once-in-a-lifetime performances as members of the doomed Tyrone family. The playwright described his autobiographical work as "a play of old sorrow,
written in tears and blood."
The setting is one long, long day and night in the year 1912 at the Tyrone summer home in New London, Connecticut. The stingy senior Tyrone, James (Richardson), an impoverished youth turned fine Shakespearean actor, has spent years playing the same role over and over again in a commercial play
simply for the money. His wife Mary (Hepburn) has just returned from a sanitarium. She is all lady, an Irish Catholic with strong moral principles, but she is also strangely withdrawn, partly as a result of the drug addiction which began when she was treated by cheap quack doctors. Elder son Jamie
(Robards) has attempted to follow his father into the acting profession but, failing miserably, takes solace in drink, becoming a cynic who would rather destroy all around him than show his true feelings. Younger son Edmund (Stockwell), a budding writer, is recovering from tuberculosis and has
spent time in a second-rate institution that his tightwad father sent him to in order to save money. As the day wears on, painful truths and long-buried resentments overwhelm them all.
Of the cast, Hepburn takes it. Where she takes it is in her transistion points, from girlish coquette remembering her apple-blossom youth to maddened dope fiend, from loving mother to mindless creature groping for identity. This is where Hepburn departed once and for all from delicious comedienne
into legendary tragedienne. Richardson's performance is just right: his spareness as an actor incredibly personifies a miser. For once the camera captures Robards's wildness, his lunging danger, before alcohol crabbed him into permanent grit. There's nothing wrong with Stockwell's performance.
It's just that we know he's O'Neill, a heavy task for a young actor. Obviously, it's a part for an older performer who looks younger. We can't help but brood that Montgomery Clift was too prematurely old and ruined for the role.
The screen version followed the superb play almost word for word. According to O'Neill's will, the play was not to be produced until 25 years after his death in 1951, but his widow, Carlotta, only waited until 1956 to let it be staged with Fredric March, Florence Eldridge, Robards and Bradford
Dillman. Make sure you see the uncut 174-minute film, and not the shortened 136-minute version.
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- Review: O'Neill's greatest play is brought to the screen with an overpowering wealth of talent: Hepburn, Richardson, and Robards give magnificent, once-in-a-lifetime performances as members of the doomed Tyrone family. The playwright described his autobiographical… (more)