Nothing’s better than Paul Newman in his element as a psuedo swanky cool guy. The quality people who he desperately wants to fit in with don’t show him much respect. Ed Begley, his nemesis, is equally at home in The Sweet Bird of Youth as an over-bearing trashy patriarch (Boss Finley). Not to be out done, Geraldine Page’s Alexandra is Chance’s (Newman’s) off-the-hook benefactress.
It’s great to watch these three great actors clash. None of them are satisfied with their lives. And they’re all too proud to deal with their problems. Alexandra’s party binge defines her personality; “there’s no place to retire to” she laments, so she escapes with vodka, pills, and weed.
Boss Finley’s mistress Lucy (Madeleine Sherwood) is a fitting complement to his crass lifestyle, just as Alexandra suits Chance’s “criminal degenerate and parasite” image. At least Chance tries to get what he wants. But Heavenly (Shirley Knight) seems as unobtainable for him as is heaven.
Finley’s contempt for Chance is difficult to comprehend. The ‘Boss’ is proud of his humble origins, so why should Chance’s lack of status matter? Besides, by the time of his last return to town Chance has at least the appearance of success. Plus, he’s a local guy.
He can’t win. Just as Chance wrings a contract out of Alexandra to prove his ‘credentials’ to Heavenly, he’s spurned yet again. Even his achievement with Alexandra is a delusion; he’s quickly reduced to a lackey. At least he finally decides to go off on his own “Each of us has his own private hell to go to.”
The happy ending doesn’t jive with the tragic tone. It would work better if it ended with Heavenly comforting Chance after he’s attacked by Tom Jr.; then he staggers off, sure that Heavenly still loves him, but alone.
A nicely-paced drama with good plotting and performances. Definitely worth looking into, especially for Tennessee Williams fans. 8/10.