An overly static adaptation of Carson McCullers' 1950 Broadway hit about the end of adolescence, saved by the playwright's dialogue; the presence of Ethel Waters; and the work of veteran photographer Hal Mohr, who lovingly captures life in a sleepy Georgia town.
The then 26-year-old Julie Harris plays Frankie, a motherless 12-year-old tomboy who imagines herself a member of her brother's wedding party, then tries to tag along for the honeymoon. Dejected at being refused, she runs away, but returns home after a brush with a drunken soldier. It's the
beginning of the end of her childhood, as well as of the two relationships that have defined her life thus far: with Berenice (Waters), her cook and ersatz mother; and with her much put-upon playmate and cousin, John Henry (Brandon de Wilde).
Zinneman's distant, respectful direction fails, unsurprisingly, to capture the ironies and complexities of his source material. MEMBER was still, nonetheless, considered confusing by audiences, with many allegedly thinking Frankie was a boy until the end of the film. In an effort to address
complaints that it was "slow-moving," Columbia cut about 20 minutes of footage, restoring it some twenty years later. Cameraman Mohr, approaching the end of his long career, had previously shot such films as THE JAZZ SINGER, THE WEDDING MARCH, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, and RANCHO NOTORIOUS. Five
people from the award-winning theater production (Harris, Waters, de Wilde, Hansen, and Bolden) reprise their roles here. Harris had become a star with the Broadway show, and cemented her rise with an Oscar nomination for the film; de Wilde had made his debut in the play, becoming the first child
actor to win Broadway's prestigious Donaldson Award in the process, and would become an Oscar-nominated star the following year in George Stevens' SHANE.
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