Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Member Of The Wedding. 1952

It’s rare when Broadway plays or musicals are turned into films and the original stars are cast for the film. There are exceptions of course Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame, Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, but more often than not the original actor or actress are cast aside for a more bankable star. The other night I watched a film version of a strong Broadway play from the early 1950’s that featured all three of the original Broadway Cast. The film was “The Member Of The Wedding” and happily Julie Harris, Ethel Waters and Brandon de Wilde were allowed to recreate their stage performances for this 1952 Fred Zinnerman directed film that was based on the play and novel by Carson McCullers. This famous story about a 12 year old tomboy and outcast who is reaching out for maturity and her own place in the world is something that many of us can relate to. Harris was 27 years old at the time of the movie, and her performance is so good that I never doubted that this was a 12 year old gawky gifted adolescent. Harris in her movie debut is brilliant and very touching as the conflicted Frankie Addams who doesn’t know who she is or where she belongs. Her Frankie is angry, annoying and neurotic but she is also smart, imaginative and caring, especially so with the black housekeeper Bernice played by the extraordinary Ethel Waters and her young cousin who lives next door John Henry played with depth beyond measure by the young Brandon de Wilde who also made his movie debut. The story follows a few days during a hot summer down south (actually filmed in Colusa California) as the Addams family gets ready for the wedding of the soldier boy son and his pretty young thing of a fiancé. The main conflict of the story arises when Frankie truly believes that she will be allowed to go with her brother and new sister in law on their honeymoon and to take part in their life because as she says they are “the we of me“. Sadness and heartbreak of course follows with much more on the way before the film ends on a note of guarded optimism . Most of the action of the play and film takes place in the kitchen of the Addam’s theatrical & more than rundown house, but Zinnerman opens the film up nicely and is helped a great deal by the brilliant cinematographer Hal Mohr who began his career in 1915 and serves up many beautiful close-ups of the actors notably in the scene in the kitchen as dusk comes on and Waters sings the gospel "His Eye is On the Sparrow" while cradling Harris and de Wilde in her arms. It doesn’t get any better than this. Harris received a best actress Oscar nomination losing out to another Broadway star who at 45 was also making her movie debut in a role that she also created on Broadway, Shirley Booth in “Come Back Little Sheba.” With a music score by Alex North, and a beautiful crisp dvd transfer.
The photo used is one of my favorite photographs by the great Ruth Orkin. Member Of The Wedding Party. 1951. Julie Harris, Ethel Waters, Carson McCullers; opening night party.


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