JOAN COLLINS, PAUL NEWMAN, and JOANNE WOODWARD

JOAN COLLINS, PAUL NEWMAN, and JOANNE WOODWARD

It may not have been the worst movie we ever saw, but Rally ‘Round the Flag Boys was no bargain at the three dollars and change we paid to watch it on Amazon.

In retrospect, I might have known better from the plot summary and from the presence in the cast of Tuesday Weld, Dwayne “Dobie Gillis” Hickman, Gale Gordon, and Jack Carson. But the top of the bill consisted of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, the director was Leo McCarey, and the film was based on a novel by the same title written by Max Shulman.

Newman plays Harry Bannerman, the owner of a Manhattan PR firm. He commutes by train from an upstate suburb. He and his wife, Grace (Woodward) have two little boys. Harry feels neglected, because Grace is over-committed to civic life in the town. The Bannermans’ glamorous neighbor, Angela Hoffa (Joan Collins) also feels neglected by her husband, who is a network television executive, and she thinks Harry might be the remedy for her loneliness. Harry is close to convincing Grace to leave her committees behind long enough for the two of them to spend a romantic night or two at the St. Regis.

JACK CARSON

JACK CARSON

This plan is disrupted by the revelation that the U.S. Army has bought property just outside the town and plans to put a top-secret installation there. Grace is chosen to lead the public opposition to this plan, and she volunteers Harry to handle the public-relations aspects. Meanwhile, Angela makes a play for Harry and, although Harry has no intention of having an affair with her, she manipulates him into a compromising situation that leads to a breakup of the Bannerman household. At the same time, Harry is co-opted by the Army general (Gale Gordon) in charge of the secret project, and forced into taking the government’s side of the argument.

McCarey, a writer-director whose projects included An Affair to Remember, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Going My Way, and the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, was at the end of his career when he made this film in 1958. He made only one more movie—Satan Never Sleeps in 1962.

DWAYNE HICKMAN, center, and TUESDAY WELD

DWAYNE HICKMAN, center, and TUESDAY WELD

The movie begins on a crowded northbound commuter train, and there is a fleeting hint that this is going to be a satire on suburban life. In fact, however, it is one, long, heavy-handed slapstick gag. Virtually none of it is funny, and much of it is painful. A drunk scene in which Newman and Collins pretend to laugh uncontrollably goes on much too long to be effective. The nuance of Newman swinging from a chandelier adds nothing.  Weld is simply annoying as a girl who has just discovered that she has hormones, and Hickman is ludicrous—not amusing, ludicrous—as a crude leather-jacketed greaser who has his sights on her. Gordon is remarkably restrained, for him, in the role of the general, but Carson, as a boorish and inept Army captain is repulsive.

Farce works only when the audience can accept the premises on which it is built, and that isn’t possible with this film. For example, we are expected to believe that the Army could construct a missile-launching site—complete with a missile and a chimpanzee passenger—without the knowledge of the people who live nearby.

I don’t know what else three dollars and change will buy, but spend it almost anything but this movie and you’re bound to come out ahead.

PAUL NEWMAN

PAUL NEWMAN

Prompted by Shirley Knight’s impending appearance at the George Street Playhouse, we watched “Sweet Bird of Youth,” the 1962 film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ 1959 Broadway play. I have never seen the play on stage, and I have read that the tale lost some of its edge with the modifications that had to be made to satisfy the sensibilities of the early ’60s. By today’s standards it’s tame, but it dealt with some tough subject matter for the Eisenhower era.

This film has one of those casts that dazzles the mind: Paul Newman, Geraldine Page, Rip Torn, and the wonderful Canadian actress and even more wonderful human being, Madeleine Sherwood, recreated their Broadway roles, and they were joined by the redoubtable Ed Begley Sr. Geraldine Page and Rip Torn both were nominated for Tony awards for their work in the play. Begley won an Oscar and Page and Knight were nominated for the film.

GERALDINE PAGE

GERALDINE PAGE

Newman plays Chance Wayne, who returns from Hollywood to his hometown in Florida, almost literally dragging along with him a legendary movie star, Alexandra Del Lago (Page), who has sunk into a drug-and-alcohol-induced stupor after what she perceives as the failure of her latest film. On the surface, Chance Wayne is her driver and spear carrier. In reality, he is exploiting her — in every possible way — in the hope that she will give him what has been an elusive “big break” in the movies.

Alexandra travels to Florida with Chance because she has gone underground to avoid the fallout from what she has adjudged a box-office flop. Chance has another goal — to reunite with Heavenly Finley, the love of his life whose father, Tom “Boss” Finley (Begley), is a moralizing, corrupt, and ruthless political kingpin who doesn’t want Chance near his daughter.

ED BEGLEY Sr.

ED BEGLEY Sr.

Finley’s son, Tom Jr., who doesn’t have his father’s cunning but outdoes him in brutality, is played by Rip Torn.

This film, which in 1961 was off limits to audiences under 18, may have been sanded down from Williams’ original version, but it far outstrips the embarrassing 1989 television remake with Elizabeth Taylor and Mark Harmon as Alexandra and Chance and Rip Torn as “Boss” Finley. Even though its techniques are dated, the movie can play with your emotions as you try to sort out your feelings about the actress and her gigolo — both of whom are infuriating yet sympathetic — and frazzle your nerves as Chance keeps antagonizing the volatile and dangerous “Boss.” The players in this film aren’t stars first and foremost; they’re actors, doing their work as well as it can be done.

PAUL NEWMAN in a scene from "Sweet Bird of Youth."

PAUL NEWMAN in a scene from "Sweet Bird of Youth."