Sunday, 27 May 2012

Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962)

It was a dark, grey and muggy afternoon. A strong atmosphere of strange possibility hung in the air. The girl walked the long walk to one of her favourite places in the house - her parent's bedroom. This was the room that had a bed filled with soft linen and fluffy pillows and memories of her childhood. Her arms were filled with a solid rectangular shape. She set herself down on her bed and opened up the magical portal she was holding, and... Then she opened YouTube.

Seriously, that was my sunday! I was going to go and pick up some boat goodness from my Sailing Club with my family for my sister, but we were all to tired. The day before I'd been wanting to purchase Sidney Lumet's (12 Angry Men) 1962 film of Long Day's Journey Into Night, obviously based on Eugene O'Niel's play of the same name. I was really exited about buying it and watching it but alas and alack - the cost of this DVD wasn't Amazon's usual inviting £3 for a classic, but £27. There must be something wierd goin' on at the DVD factory or the copyright lawyers. Ugh. Luckily I found the entire thing on youtube that day and the quality was pretty good except for a little skip at one point. I have to say I was left intirely eaten up with inspiration for my Drama mock exam in which my group has devised a piece centred around Lady and Lord Capulet from "Romeo and Juliet". I got the part of Juliet in our school's entry to The Shakespeare School's Festival in October (SQUEE!!!!) so in this one I'm playing Lady Capulet. The character of Mary gave me some great ideas. This film was beyond anything I've seen recently.

The Tyrone family has never been a home. From the early years that Mary spent touring with actor husband James Tyrone there has never been a sense of togetherness. James drinks with his buddies  - all men, of course - at the bar in town. Mary has no friends. She soon births James Tyrone Jr and there is much joy in the land. Soon after however, she has another child who dies as a baby, she is convinced Jamie had something to do with it, even as a 7 year old. During her pregnancy with her third son Edmund, she was in great pain. To calm it the cheap doctor that James hired hooks her up to an infinite source of morphine. James is constantly stingy as a result of his hard, poverty-ridden childhood, yet it ruins everyone's lives around him.

Mary becomes addicted to the Morphine and uses it as an escape. A way to forget all about her marriage, her friendless existence and her unhappy life. She used to be at a convent with hopes of becoming a nun or a concert pianist, but that all changed when she met actor James. Her friends turned their back on her and the convent refused to recognise her. It gets worse and worse as the children grow up and she goes in and out of sanatoriums, cheap ones mind you, but she never gets better. As the children grow up James turns into an alcoholic actor and Edmund a seafaring alcoholic. The entire play/film takes place in 1912 on the day that Mary starts taking morphine again after trying to recover ater another sanatorium and they all find out Edmund's dying of consumption. Will the boys walking around in alcoholic stupur and Mary in another drug induced haze - what is their future?

The writing of this play and the storyline reminded me a great del of a Tennessee Williams play or something of that calibre and intensity. I'd seen clips of it on Katharine Hepburn documentaries ans was extremely intrigued by the things I'd seen. The script was wonderful (sorry in advance for spamming you with O'Niel y'all),
MARY:    It's a wedding gown.  It's very lovely, isn't it?  I remember now.  I found it in the attic hidden in a trunk.  But I don't know what I wanted it for.  I'm going to be a nun - that is, if I can only find -  What is it that I'm looking for?  I know it's something I've lost.  Something I miss terribly.  It can't be altogether lost.  Something I need terribly.  I remember when I had it I was never lonely or afraid.  I can't have lost it forever, I would die if I thought that.  Because then there would be no hope.  (Edmund, her son, impulsively grabs her arm)  No!  You must not try to touch me.  You must not try to hold me.  It isn't right, when I am hoping to be a nun.  I had a talk with Mother Elizabeth.  She is so sweet and good.  A saint on earth.  I love her dearly.  It may be sinful of me but I love her better than my own mother.  Because she always understands, even before you say a word.  Her kind blue eyes look right into your heart.  You can't keep any secrets from her.  You couldn't deceive her, even if you were mean enough to want to.  All the same, I don't think she was understanding this time.  I told her I wanted to be a nun.  I explained how sure I was of my vocation, that I had prayed to the Blessed Virgin to make me sure, and to find me worthy.  I told Mother I had a true vision when I was praying in the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, on the little island in the lake.  I said I knew, as surely as I knew I was kneeling there, that the Blessed Virgin had smiled and blessed me with her consent.  But Mother Elizabeth told me I must be more sure than that, even, that I must prove it wasn't simply my imagination.  She said, if I was so sure, then I wouldn't mind putting myself to the test by going home after I graduated, and living as other girls lived, going out to parties and dances and enjoying myself; and then if after a year or two I still felt sure, I could come back to see her and we would talk it over again.  I never dreamed Holy Mother would give me such advice!  I was really shocked!  I said, of course, I would do anything she suggested, but I knew it was simply a waste of time.  After I left, I felt all mixed up, so I went to the shrine and prayed to the Blessed Virgin and found peace again because I knew she had heard my prayer and would always love me and see no harm ever came to me as long as I never lost my faith in her.  That was in the winter of senior year.  Then in the spring something happened to me.  Yes, I remember.  I fell in love with James Tyrone and was so happy for a time.  (She stares before her in a sad dream).
'Nuff said.

Sidney Lumet directs this film in a delicate way that makes you feel not like you are being attacked by this macabre tale of a broken home, but that you are in it and growing in intensity along with the characters, a hard thing to do with a text this complex and heart-wrenching. The play was rehearsed for a long time and then shot scene after scene like a long play. I can only imagine what a tough ordeal this must have been for the actors, but in a way I think it contributed to the film's brilliance. This was a play. Then why not behave like it's one? Preparing like it was a play probably made the actors feel very comfortable with the text and easier with summoning such intense emotion on the spot.

Ralph Richardson does a great job as James Tyrone, not an easy part. It could become totally irritating and heartless but he adds an edge to it. I feel for him honestly in the scene where he confesses the reason for his monetary obsessions. I also now feel like I've witnessed the work of another of what I call the holy trio of British actors; John Gielgud, Lawrence Olivier and Ralph Richardson. That's something I can tick off my to-do list. He wasn't a disappointment, either which was a relief, I loved his acting.

Can we just take a paragraph to appreciate Katharine Hepburn's genius (I hear your cries, "WHAT DO YOU THINK YOUR BLOG IS?") because after watching another performance which I'm thinking is on the level of hers in The Lion In Winter. She plays Mary with such tenderness and emotion that you are constantly on the brink of tears over her sorrowful lot in life. She really truly loves James, but there's always that little bit of resentment in her eyes that he made her an outcast from her home - the convent. Her scenes that the beginning, trying desperately to hold in her tears and craving for morphine, are just as moving to me as the ones where she is so far gone that she can hardly support herself and collapses on the floor and gets stuck in her own past. 


She said of this performance "You can never better the part." but I think she at the very least equalled it. That performance was out of this world. She never ceases to amaze me - just when you think you've got her style or "mannerisms" pinned, she comes out with something like this. Incredible.

The supporting cast of the two brothers are played very well by Dean Stockwell and Jason Robards. I thought that Dean Stockwell was great, his monologue about loving the fog and feeling like he should be the sea were perfect. I did, however, have a little trouble with Jason Robards. He didn't quite get the emotion. He was one toe short of a foot (is that an expression? What was that?) if you know what I mean. That was just a little disappointing but it didn't ruin anything for me.



Home of Wild About Alice said...

Hi Bette, Really enjoyed reading this piece today, I love how you write you pulled me in and made me want to read and I wasn't disappointed. But sad to say I won't be watching this film as even though very interesting, seems a bit depressing. Strangely thought I have a funny feeling that I may have already watched it, sounds very familiar. Good blog though.
Alice ;)

silverscreenings said...

You`ve done a wonderful job on this post. I dislike Eugene O`Neill, but because of your review, I might give this one a chance. :)

R. D. Finch said...

Bette, a great choice for a post. I was lucky enough to see this in a theater on the big screen, and you captured the essence of that experience when you wrote, "Sidney Lumet directs this film in a delicate way that makes you feel...that you are in it and growing in intensity along with the characters." It's one of the most intensely emotional movie experiences I've ever had. It made me aware for the first time of that great actor Ralph Richardson. And as for Hepburn, it's one of my very favorite performances by her and one of the most amazing--and as you said, unexpected from an actress whose mannerisms are so familiar. I'd don't think it would be an exaggeration to say the movie belongs to her. When she's onscreen nobody else exists. I've seen the version Olivier did in the early 70s, and Lumet's version is much better. It's for me one of the great examples of a play on film, along with "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" It sounds as if you were as impressed by it as I was!

Margaret Perry said...

I've seen this film, naturally, but it is SUCH a downer! Hepburn is brilliant yes of course, but I don't like watching her so unhappy. Maybe I'm shallow that really superb cinema like this is lost on me because it's so grim. When she made this, Hepburn was going through a really rough patch in her personal life too, so it really just stresses me out on so many levels! But thank you for your review. You're very insightful.

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