Desire Under the Elms (1958)
“There’s something dark in the corners of this house prowling.”
So says Burl Ives.
Burl plays a stern taskmaster here with little room in his heart for his three sons. Pernell Roberts and Frank Overton are full brothers while Anthony Perkins is their half brother. It’s Perkins that the story centers around and his rights to claim what is his. It was Perkin’s mother who owned the farm that Burl now runs and claims is rightly his. He’ll live to be 100 and has no intention of turning it over to the sorry lot of sons born to him.
In order to secure the farm, Perkins buys off his brothers rights while Burl has gone to fetch a third wife. When Burl arrives with a far younger woman in tow the tug of war over the land and who will inherit it really begins.
The much younger woman is Sophia Loren. At first she represents another obstacle to Perkins and they do nothing but spew venom at each other. It isn’t long however until the bickering turns to romance behind Burl’s back. Once they commit to love, Sophia lights up the screen like no other actress has ever been capable of.
By no means are the dramatics over here in this Irwin Shaw script adapted from a Eugene O’Neill play with Delbert Mann directing. When Sophia gives birth and Ives claims the son as his own, the tension only increases about what belongs to whom. Whether it’s the land or the newborn.
This is a pretty heavy handed script that is by no means meant to offer us a happy time at the movies. Ives is one mean S.O.B. here who is impossible to like. As for Burl? The man who gave us the story of Rudolph, he plays it through to the finale. 1958 would prove to be a career year for Burl. He would star as Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and bring home an Oscar for The Big Country.
Anthony Perkins is of course Norman Bates from 1960 onward. To see him prior to that career altering role comes the realization that he could play some roles that were not necessarily of the nervous type.
Sophia Loren can practically do no wrong in my world. When she smiles on screen she brightens my day and when she cries, I’m almost moved to tears. Her presence in films for me has always been that powerful.
While this film may not be one of the more remembered films of the leads it is worth a look. The unhappy nature of the film’s plot probably didn’t lend itself to being a popular date film back during it’s theatrical run. It is fairly easy to get a copy between TCM and it’s DVD release from Paramount if you feel the need to see this for the first time or perhaps revisit it.