Plush and overblown, the last Hollywood hurrah for Sirk, and the resurrection of the weepie by producer Ross Hunter. A string of similar sudsers followed (several with Turner), but this one is the pick of the litter, thanks to Sirk. It's a bizarre, Byzantine, calculatingly depressed and
cold affair, with Miss Big Chill herself, Lana Turner, breathing dry ice into the role originally played by Claudette Colbert (and trading Colbert's dignity for helplessness and pearls). The central theme remains the same, but the major tension that exists is 1950s materialism versus the
disentegration of the nuclear family, tinged with gut-wrenching racism. If Sirk exploits the material for all it's worth and seems to be sardonically allowing the artifical genre to devour itself as he sits back and watches, at the same time the weepie aspect is so melodramatic as to tear the sobs
from your throat.
Lana Turner, playing a successful actress, is not so much acting as parodying herself; Juanita Moore, as the black maid who shares her life, plays the part so haltingly and straight that it feels like ironic commentary. Susan Kohner, as Moore's light-skinned daughter who passes for white, is a
noir revelation, giving her character a restless, dangerous sensuality. When she turns the malice of that energy on Turner, it's one of the great standoffs in Hollywood history. And it's magnificently undercut later, when Turner is crying over Moore's deathbed, with Kohner's photograph smiling out
from the wall behind them. Oh, and be prepared for the all-stops-out cinematic funeral, complete with Mahalia Jackson singing "Trouble of the World." You'll be horrified at how this hokum manipulates you, but the best strategy is to just surrender and enjoy it.
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