Something to Live For (1952)
A trio of Oscar winners from the previous decade take center stage behind the direction of George Stevens, an Oscar winner himself in this straight drama of an alcoholic stage actress looking to a reformed drunk for guidance. Romance is quickly to follow in this three way love affair that never descends to the melodramatic.
Joan Fontaine, Ray Milland and Teresa Wright star in what could easily be considered an unofficial sequel to Milland’s Oscar winning performance in 1945’s The Lost Weekend. For the record, Miss Fontaine won her Oscar for 1941’s Suspicion, Miss Wright claimed her statuette playing opposite Gary Cooper in Pride of the Yankees and Stevens won a pair of directing Oscars for his work on 51’s A Place in the Sun and 56’s Giant. Still, if given a choice I’d rather watch his classic western Shane.
As the camera pans Times Square in the opening shot of Steven’s film that he also produced, a keen eye will notice that John Ford’s Wagon Master is playing at a local theater. Shortly thereafter, Milland, is called in as a member of A.A. to assist in helping another who is in need of a shoulder to lean on. What he isn’t expecting is a woman, let alone one who is an attractive Broadway actress played by Fontaine.
Sprawled out in her apartment she’ll ask Ray, “Do you drink too much?”
“I did,” he’ll respond which will instantly have movie goers of the era wondering if Ray has revived his Lost Weekend character, Don Birnam. The answer is “unofficially” no. Here he plays Alan Miller. A man constantly fighting the urge to pick up a drink and throw all the self-respect he has regained away. At home he’s got a couple of sons and the cute girl next door as his faithful wife. Calling Teresa Wright to the set please! Once again Miss Wright plays the loyal girl whose love knows no boundaries as she stands behind her man.
In getting Joan back on her feet during that first meeting, he’ll see the door open to a new life and a new woman. One who understands his own troubles with the bottle. One he can share his fears with while at the same time help each other wage their battle against the bottle. At least that’s what he’s thinking. It doesn’t hurt that she’s a bewitching beauty either who has stirred emotions within. In truth they are both two lonely people but she’s by no means a homewrecker.
Ray’s got a spring in his step with a crush on another woman. His work ethic at the advertising agency he’s employed at has rebounded and he’s once again regarded as the boy wonder of the advertising world. The duo are flirting with a romance but when a pair of chance encounters occur that allow Joan to meet Ray’s children and his wife, she’s ashamed and decides to end things embarking on a roadshow out of town. It’s the second encounter at a dinner party where the booze flows freely that the women will meet. While Ray does his best to fend off the offers of alcohol, he’ll have to be very careful in navigating Joan away from the champagne glasses without Wright taking notice. It’s no wonder she drinks. Her mentor and discover, Richard Derr, is an arrogant S.O.B. Constantly putting her down and flaunting booze in front of her. Easy to see that Ray’s not impressed.
We’re about two thirds of the way through this 89 minute feature so will one or both of our troubled souls return to the bottle before the final curtain? Will Ray run off with Joan and leave the girl Mom always wanted him to marry behind with two small children? Will Teresa keep her man and be none the wiser or will she know that Ray has a secret to keep.
The answers in there somewhere and while this isn’t a three hanky fadeout I must admit I was fond of the way the final scene was handled by lovely Teresa who always had a way of tugging at my emotions thanks to her roles in a pair of personal favorites, Pride of the Yankees and The Best Years of Our Lives.
Always doing my best to look for billboards and movie theaters when filming is done on location, (mainly to drool over the posters and cardboard cutouts in front of movie houses) I did spot a theater advertising Vincent Price starring in one of his more offbeat roles, The Baron of Arizona. For the record, it was directed by Samuel Fuller if you’re interested enough to track it down.
Something to Live For was filmed in black and white and it wasn’t until the final stages of the film that I wish color had been used. In the plot of the film, Joan, takes center stage on Broadway starring in The Egyptian. Her beauty and the costumes designed by multi-Oscar winner, Edith Head, really do demand color photography.
Considering that Stevens only directed five films during the 1950’s I think it’s rather safe to suggest that this one pales in comparison to the box office returns and general “classic” status of the other four, A Place In the Sun (1951), Shane (1953), Giant (1956) and The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). Having said that, it’s still worth a look thanks to three Oscar winners who may be lost to time for the casual movie goer but for those of us who love classic films they’ll always hold a place near and dear to us when sitting down to watch a movie from yesteryear.
I believe this was Ray’s only film under Steven’s direction but Joan had worked for him prior to WW2 appearing in a pair 1937 films, Quality Street and A Damsel In Distress albeit in smaller roles and a larger one in 39’s Gunga Din. Thankfully there are still companies that fuel the home video market. In this case it’s Olive films which released Something to Live For on DVD if you’re inclined to give it a look.