This movie in in some sense an answer to the previous years much-acclaimed movie on alcoholism, The Lost Weekend. Smash-Up features Susan Hayward as a singer, Angie. She goes on an alcoholic slide after marrying Ken (Lee Bowman). It’s a reversal of the expected guy going downhill after his wife’s career overshadows his; this time it’s the husband’s career that takes off. Plus there’s Martha (Marsha Hunt) to keep him distracted. Steve (Eddie Albert) is Ken’s very loyal buddy. Fred (Carlton G. Young) is a producer that her dad’s friend Mike (Charles D. Brown) works with.
The story’s told in flashback–from Angie’s hospital bed–so we know that things aren’t going so keen for her. We see at first, in a host of swanky clubs, Angie swooning crowds easily. Ken and Angie are deeply in love; he’s destitute, she’s getting by. Mike chides her for wasting her time with Ken and Steve. Her response is to announce her engagement to Ken. Meanwhile, Ken and Steve brood on their future “Sinatra wasn’t always Sinatra” they tell each other.
Then she announces her pregnancy. Ken gets a boost through Mike via Fred. And there at the station he meets the mysterious Martha. Things are looking neat, as baby stuff arrives, and the baby comes too. He feels bad having to get to work just as she goes into the delivery room. But big shots are starting to pay attention to his singing; suddenly, Ken’s quite successful, singing to the baby in their nice new house. “If it could only stay like this forever” she says.
Fred starts pitching a sort of marketing campaign for Ken. Angie hits the bottle before confronting the glitzy set. She sees Ken with Martha, and is literally put on a pedestal at the party. Martha starts screening Angie’s calls. The couple is climbing up though–to a nice apartment in a favorable part of New York City. The weird thing is, Martha decorated it. They have a housewarming party, another social test. “Insidious, isn’t it, Angie?….all this leisure” Mike notices, aptly.
She spins a Ray Milland-esque analogy, comparing drinking to exotic experiences. She’s also having nightmares. Ken tells her she’s been drinking too much: the Rx is a weekend away (again reminiscent of Lost Weekend). But when? She’s sort of fogging over, in a daze. Now Ken springs the long-delayed honeymoon plan on her–with the twist that Martha is part of the deal, it’s partly ‘business’ after all. That sinks Angie.
He goes to Chicago without her. The baby’s pretty much been raised by the nanny. Very poignantly, Angie sings to the sick baby; the emergency brings Angie out of her alcoholic fog. Ken calls from a noisy party, but she doesn’t tell him anything about the baby. Thankfully, the baby recovers. When she gets through to Ken, Martha answers; “There’s no reason for you to come back; no reason at all”. A gigantic double meaning there. So he does pop in–for an hour!–to see her drunk; he probably assumes she was drunk when Angel was sick, which wasn’t true.
The doctor gives Ken a lecture along the lines of Mike’s; giving Angie ‘everything’ has, in effect, taken everything away from her. She’s wonking out again. Mike’s idea is to have a ‘shindig’ with Angie in charge, but she invites Martha. Bad idea: Martha drops about a hundred hints on how Ken does this and that for her. “I’ve lost my self-respect!” Angie candidly admits, asking Mike to represent her again–restart her career.
But, sort of as a sideshow, she confronts Martha, actually attacking her. Ken’s a big help “you’re talking like a crazy woman”; threatens to divorce her. Yep, he splits. She calls Steve the next day; he’s supportive, but she checks herself out in the mirror, self-loathingly. Steve argues with Ken. Looks like she’ll lose little Angel because she’s an ‘unfit’ mother.
Meanwhile, she does go back to singing. Things are looking up, but Ken has the pre-’70s conventional wisdom that Angie doesn’t have to work, she has everything already, etc. Great scene at Ken’s, with Steve chewing out Martha for basically picking over Angie’s domestic carcass. But, very surprisingly, Martha breaks down and confesses that she’s always been an underling, a footnote, she’s been playing a role all along. She even feels bad for Angie.
Back on the club circuit, Angie’s down and out “I’m gonna get my baby back” she tells a sympathetic guy in a bar. Passing out on a doorstep, she’s taken in by a good couple. I’m expecting she’s going to nab Angel, yep. I guess they still have the suburban place, because she takes Angel there and they have a nice time for a very short bit. Before things smooth out too much, Angie finds a bottle to get into. Another poignant lullaby scene. Angel’s happy, but her mom is miserable. And she leaves a burning cigarette on the carpet in Angel’s room.
She rouses out of her stupor in time to save Angel from the fire, but is injured herself. So we end at the beginning, in the hospital. The kid’s ok, Angie’s going to be okay. There’s a sort of pasted-on doctor-to-Ken talk, and then, Angie’s speech to Ken about how it’s all going to be ok now, etc. No hint as to how she’s going to kick the drinking, though.
I usually don’t like melodramas, but this one was good. It’s a worthwhile companion to The Lost Weekend. Hayward’s performance was very convincing; as an entertainer, a lover, a mother, and as an alcoholic. Hunt’s role, of course, wasn’t as central, but her Martha is a strong foil to Hayward’s Angie. On the other hand, Bowman’s character is rather two-dimensional, Albert, in a supporting role, is more interesting.
The plot worked very well, the pacing kept things going, and the tone was certainly appropriate. There’s plenty of genuine sadness, at least melancholy, particularly in most of the singing scenes. If Ken’s role had been written better, or if there were more subtlety in Bowman’s performance, Smash-Up might’ve been even better. Maybe it’s intentional that Ken in sort of a goodtime-Charlie and can’t deal with tough emotional states, or maybe he’s just supposed to be a selfish jerk.
This is worth seeing for an accurate portrayal of alcoholism, as well as for a very interesting love story. Farmermouse liked the singing, and the lullaby put him to sleep, so he gives this seven sheep jumping over the fence. 7/10.