Susan Hayward versus Bette Davis. An explosive combination on paper. A bit less so on film.
These two great actresses who were both known to tear up the screen and male costars were surely meant to face off against each other. While they do indeed have their moments battling the other, I think their pairing would have been better served in a different script.
If you know your history of Hollywood and the late fifties Lana Turner scandal where her daughter killed her Mother’s lover than it won’t take very long to connect that real life story with this thinly veiled saga of a daughter who does the same here in the film’s opening scene. Susan Hayward’s daughter played by Joey Heatherton commits the murder as the film opens. Hayward is a well known artist and society dame leading to a media frenzy. Ex-husband and father of the accused flies in. It’s television’s Mannix. Michael Connors.
Time for the tried and true flashback to give us that soap opera feel of how things could possibly lead to a killing committed by a fifteen year old girl.
Years earlier Connors is a returning war hero who is thrust into the high society circle of Susan Hayward and her domineering Mother played by……. yup Bette Davis. She’s like a puppeteer who loves to pull strings and keep the good family name clean of any scandal. She believes the marriage is a good match and should cure Hayward of her rather rowdy ways. Susan has had a steady stream of lovers and one night stands muddying the family reputation.
It won’t be long till the marriage crashes and Davis’ money buys off the judicial system and exiles Connors from his daughter’s life. Hayward goes back to her lovers and Connors appears to straighten out his life and his weakness for the bottle. Back to the present.
Jane Greer also shows up here as the case worker looking into the murder and whether or not the young girl should be put away or released into the care of a parent after the killing is ruled a justifiable homicide. There’s still a blackmailing operation heading our way and plenty of skeletons in the family closet that Miss Davis wants to keep a lid on and verbally tussles with Hayward to do just that.
At times watchable at others it’s kind of laughable in that soap opera style. You have to love how our flashback takes us back in time a good fifteen years yet the actors look identical to the way they did in the opening scenes. Not even the slightest effort to give us a youthful look. There is also a sexual angle in here that may have been ground breaking in it’s day but time hasn’t been very kind to this subject material in many films of this era.
On the plus side is a good list of character actors chipping in to this melodramatic two hour extravaganza from director Edward Dmytryk. We have Whit Bissell, Anthony Caruso, Willis Bouchey and Star Trek’s DeForest Kelley. He has the best role in the film as Hayward’s supporter and conscience.
The source novel was a Harold Robbins story produced for the screen by Joseph E. Levine. With three well known leading ladies appearing here it should come as no surprise that the costumes were designed by legendary Edith Head. The film did receive one Oscar nomination for the title song written by Sammy Cahn and sung by Jack Jones.
All in all it’s for the Davis/Hayward crowd who like me probably wish we could have seen something a little meatier from this dynamic pairing.