Robert Aldrich was named best director at Berlin for this melodramatic soap opera starring Joan Crawford as Millie Wetherby, a heavily guarded spinster who is charmed into marriage by a boy young enough to be her son. Millie knows little about Burt Hanson; it turns out he was previously married to Virginia, who cheated on him with his own father. A compulsive liar and mentally ill, Burt turns on Millie, beating her up and at one point slamming the freelance typist’s typewriter—a piece of equipment that was weighty in the mid-fifties—down on her hand. Father and ex-wife, it turns out, are conspiring to relieve Burt of his inheritance from his mother, whose failure to protect him from a cruel father now two wives have repeated. By coincidence, we have learned from a reverie of hers at a classical concert that Millie’s own Electra-complex has never been resolved. Somehow one doubts that her enjoining this to Burt’s unresolved Oedipus-complex will do the trick.
Fanatics are continually pointing up visual elegancies in Aldrich’s filmmaking here, but the script dictates the nonsensicalness of the proceedings—the script, the unmitigated evil of Virginia and Burt’s father, and Crawford’s tearful eye-bulging and opulent masochism. As the men in white coats drag Burt, who is screaming, to the asylum according to Millie’s maternal decision to do what is best for him, Crawford puts on a show of hysterics that reduces any sane viewer to a fit of giggles. Indeed, her acting is histrionic and phony throughout.
But Cliff Robertson plays Burt, and his acting is excellent. We are touched by the boy’s mental disarray. We are left to ponder what his condition owes to heredity, his stint in the army, and the betrayal he suffered from wife and father.
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