More ‘Gay Hollywood’ movies: Montgomery Clift & Anthony Perkins
On the day a U.S. appeals court lifted an injunction that blocked a Mississippi “religious freedom” law – i.e., giving Christian extremists the right to discriminate against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, etc. – not to mention the publication of a Republican-backed health care bill targeting the poor, the sick, the elderly, and those with “pre-existing conditions” – which would include HIV-infected people, a large chunk of whom are gay and bisexual men, so the wealthy in the U.S. can get a massive tax cut, Turner Classic Movies’ 2017 Gay Pride or LGBT Month celebration continues (into tomorrow morning, Thursday & Friday, June 22–23) with the presentation of movies by or featuring an eclectic – though seemingly all male – group: Montgomery Clift, Anthony Perkins, Tab Hunter, Dirk Bogarde, John Schlesinger, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Arthur Laurents, and Jerome Robbins. After all, one assumes that, rumors or no, the presence of Mercedes McCambridge in one of the films is a mere coincidence. (Gay Pride month news from Germany have been more uplifting. See further below.)
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And all this comes the day after TCM showed Vincente Minnelli’s Tea and Sympathy (1956), in which homosexuality is implied on screen, as no one – including, to some extent, Deborah Kerr – seems to quite understand why John Kerr is so different “from the other boys.”
In the former, military officer Marlon Brando goes madly in lust with enlisted man Robert Forster, who himself would rather spend some quiet time watching Elizabeth Taylor do her thing. There’s nothing explicitly “gay” about the latter, but Joan Crawford as a carnival dancer turned social activist in the American South just about qualifies as the “Q” in the relatively new and extended LGBTQ[uestioning] label.
Once again, perhaps it’s a mere coincidence that the overblown Gypsy (1962), based on the life and times of Louise Hovick a.k.a. stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, was released the same year as Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, which could be taken as a Grand Guignol sequel to Gypsy: Vaudeville star Baby June (later known as June Havoc) drops out, which then leads Jewish stage mother Rose (a highly theatrical Rosalind Russell in the role played by Ethel Merman on stage) to push the other daughter, Louise, who, as an adult (Natalie Wood), becomes a sensation in a (Christian Right-approved) stripper act.
Arthur Laurents wrote the musical on which the Mervyn LeRoy-directed Gypsy is based. Leonard Spigelgass wrote the screenplay.
In the “sequel,” which frequently pops up on TCM, Bette Davis plays the haggardly middle-aged Baby Jane, former vaudeville child star who later flopped in Hollywood movies while her sister (Joan Crawford) thrived in the medium. Murder, mayhem, an impromptu beach party, and a hair-raising rendition of “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy” ensue.
John Schlesinger’s Billy Liar (1963) is an interesting, socially conscious psychological drama starring Tom Courtenay as a maladjusted young man who lives both in a small town in northern England and in his own dream world. Just as effective as Courtenay is a very young Julie Christie.
Schlesinger would hit the big time two years later, with Darling, which earned him a Best Director Academy Award nomination and Julie Christie the Best Actress Oscar.
He would take home the Best Director Oscar statuette for Midnight Cowboy (1969), one of the iconic – and borderline gay-themed – films of the 1960s. His third and final Oscar nomination in the Best Director category would be for another partially gay-themed effort, Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1971), a beautifully acted drama featuring Peter Finch, Glenda Jackson, and Murray Head in a sexual/romantic triangle.
Suddenly Last Summer (1959) was a major box office hit because of its role in breaking Production Code-imposed Hollywood taboos, among them homosexuality, cannibalism, and pimping out your cousin (not his wife; see correction in comments section further below) and your mother so you can get laid.
Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed a cast that included an outstanding Katharine Hepburn as the mother, Elizabeth Taylor as the distraught cousin about to be lobotomized, Montgomery Clift as a psychiatrist named Cukrowicz, Mercedes McCambridge as a greedy relative of Taylor’s, and the hairy legs of Julián Ugarte as Sebastian, the guy who meets a fate just as final as – but more colorful than – death.
Storyteller Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams were credited for the screenplay based on Williams’ one-of-a-kind play.
Three years after Suddenly Last Summer, the troubled Montgomery Clift would be back playing a psychiatrist attempting to uncover the (sexually charged) mysteries of the human mind in John Huston’s Freud.
But where was psychiatrist Clift when you needed him? Anthony Perkins stars in the title role in Alfred Hitchcock’s box office hit Psycho (1960), a horror thriller about an environmentally conscious mama’s boy who mercilessly punishes water-wasters. The film doesn’t quite live up to its reputation when it comes to thrills and scares – well, apart from the epoch-making shower scene, a brief, masterfully edited sequence that did for showers what, in the following decade, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws would do for larger bodies of water.
Curiously, Perkins, in one of the most iconic roles in film history was not shortlisted for that year’s Best Actor Academy Award. Janet Leigh, however, was in the running for Best Supporting Actress; also nominated was the film’s director: his fifth and final nod. Leigh lost to Shirley Jones, as another good-girl-gone-bad in Elmer Gantry, while Hitchcock lost to Billy Wilder for The Apartment.
For the record, the five Best Actor nominees were:
- Jack Lemmon for The Apartment.
- Trevor Howard for Sons and Lovers.
- Spencer Tracy for Inherit the Wind.
- Laurence Olivier for The Entertainer.
- And winner Burt Lancaster for Elmer Gantry.
Robert Wise and choreographer Jerome Robbins’ West Side Story (1961) has some fantastic dance numbers, but the highly stylized approach to the material is detrimental to the film, which at times looks like a filmed – and not infrequently poorly acted – stage play. Academy members certainly felt differently, as West Side Story went on to win 10 Oscars, including Best Picture and, for the first time, Best Directors. (The second time was when Joel and Ethan Coen won for the 2007 thriller No Country for Old Men.)
Russ Tamblyn, and Oscar winners (in the best supporting actor/actress categories) George Chakiris and Rita Moreno are phenomenal dancers, but when it comes to acting, Moreno is the show-stopper. Natalie Wood (singing voice by Marni Nixon) and Richard Beymer are the two good-looking Romeo and Juliet leads.
Former screenwriter and cinematographer Ronald Neame directed just about all types of movies, from The Horse’s Mouth and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to The Poseidon Adventure and Meteor. I Could Go On Singing (1963) qualifies as both mother-son drama and romantic musical, with Judy Garland (who died on this day 48 years ago) and Dirk Bogarde finding things in common in early 1960s London.
Garland is excellent in her final big-screen role (Valley of the Dolls would not pan out for her), but the movie itself isn’t quite as effective as it could have been considering the talent involved.
Two years before I Could Go On Singing, Dirk Bogarde starred in Basil Dearden’s Victim, the first British movie to openly deal with homosexuality – and its criminalization in the United Kingdom.
Besides, six years before Victim, Bogarde was a gay wife murderer (as Margaret Lockwood eventually finds out) in Lewis Gilbert’s curious thriller Cast a Dark Shadow. Just as curious was Bogarde’s real-life insistence that he and his longtime companion Anthony Forwood (formerly married to Glynis Johns) were just good pals (and manager and client).
Directed by Don Taylor – no relation to either Robert Taylor or Elizabeth Taylor, but the latter’s husband-to-be in Father of the Bride – Ride the Wild Surf (1964) is a perfectly watchable youth movie featuring a group of good-looking performers, among them Fabian, Shelley Fabares (Nanette Fabray’s niece), I Dream of Jeannie star Barbara Eden, and Tab Hunter, whose candid autobiography (co-written with Eddie Muller), Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, is a must-read.
Tab Hunter, by the way, was at one point in a relationship with Psycho star Anthony Perkins.
Directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, the documentary Tab Hunter Confidential was released in 2015.
Something else that happened on Thursday: The Bundestag – Germany’s parliament – voted to overturn post-World War II convictions under section 175 of the penal code which, from 1871 to, at least on paper, 1994 (1968 in East Germany), made sex between two (or more, one assumes) men illegal.
Enforcement of the law was at its most stringent during the Nazi era, but in the years that followed more than 50,000 gay and bisexual male lawbreakers were convicted. Those still alive are eligible to receive compensation from the government.
A 2002 law – enacted nearly six decades after the end of the war – had previously exonerated men convicted under section 175 by the Nazi regime.
2:30 PM REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE (1967). Director: John Huston. Cast: Elizabeth Taylor. Marlon Brando. Brian Keith. Julie Harris. Robert Forster. Color. 109 mins. Letterbox Format.
8:00 PM GYPSY (1962). Director: Mervyn LeRoy. Cast: Rosalind Russell. Natalie Wood. Karl Malden. Color. 143 mins. Letterbox Format.
10:45 PM BILLY LIAR (1963). Director: John Schlesinger. Cast: Tom Courtenay. Julie Christie. Wilfred Pickles. B&W. 98 mins.
12:45 AM SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER (1960). Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Cast: Elizabeth Taylor. Katharine Hepburn. Montgomery Clift. Mercedes McCambridge. Albert Dekker. B&W. 114 mins.
5:00 AM WEST SIDE STORY (1961). Director: Robert Wise. Cast: Natalie Wood. Richard Beymer. Russ Tamblyn. Rita Moreno. George Chakiris. Color. 154 mins. Letterbox Format.
7:45 AM I COULD GO ON SINGING (1963). Director: Ronald Neame. Cast: Judy Garland. Dirk Bogarde. Jack Klugman. Color. 99 mins. Letterbox Format.
9:30 AM RIDE THE WILD SURF (1964). Director: Don Taylor. Cast: Fabian. Shelley Fabares. Tab Hunter. Peter Brown. Barbara Eden. Susan Hart. Catherine McLeod. James Mitchum. John Anthony Hayes (as Anthony Hayes). Roger Davis. Color. 102 mins.