Friday, March 10, 2017

Lizzie (1957)

Lizzie [videorecording (DVD)], a Bryna production; a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer picture; produced by Jerry Bresler; directed by Hugo Haas. Turner Entertainment Co., Warner Bros. Entertainment, [2016]. WB Home Entertainment Group archive collection. Based on a novel by Shirley Jackson. Originally released as a motion picture in 1957. Performers: Eleanor Parker, Richard Boone, Joan Blondell, Hugo Haas. Summary: Elizabeth is beset by headaches and menacing letters from the sinister Lizzie, a brash, hedonistic woman who emerges from within, compensating for Elizabeth's shyness. A caring neighbor steers her to the psychiatrist who unlocks her disordered mind, bringing out another steadier woman named Beth.

style ***
substance ***1/2

covers much the same territory as the better-known and more lauded Three Faces of Eve. Fascinating that both were released in the same year, and at a time when the movies’ fascination with the psychoanalytic thriller was actually fading. In any case, Lizzie beat Eve to the punch by a few months, and more important, may well be the superior work.

As the lady with three distinct personalities, Eleanor Parker gives one of her best performances in a career in which the standout turn became the norm. She was really in her element in these intense, edge-of-the-ledge roles, and this one’s a doozy. It’s to her credit that she accomplishes all with relatively little scenery chewing, relying more on subtleties of body language as well as vocal and facial expressions. Truly a tour-de-force.

Lizzie also boasts a first-rate supporting cast: director Hugo Haas does double duty as a kindly neighbor, Richard Boone nicely underplays a sympathetic psychiatrist, and best of all is Joan Blondell as Lizzie’s alcoholic floozie of an auntie. Indeed were Miss Parker’s performance not so strong, Miss Blondell might well have flat out stolen the movie from her. Also of note is Ric Roman as a smarmy womanizer.

Director Haas moves things along with a sure hand. The story is told in a flat, neutral visual style with only a few noir-like touches. It’s all very professionally done but, probably as a result of the shoestring budget, with the look and feel of a well-produced late Fifties television program. On the other hand, the minimalist, stripped down quality, in contrast to Eve’s high gloss patina, actually works to Lizzie’s advantage in presenting a bleak moral universe that parallel’s the heroine’s troubled inner life. Special mention should be made of the on-location scenes filmed at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, the architecture of which is used to great effect.

A couple of minor quibbles with the DVD packaging: the image is generally good but not always as clear as it might be. And one wishes for bonus features (all we get is the trailer). A film as noteworthy as Lizzie would be excellent fodder for commentary, interviews, historical documentaries, etc.

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