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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Mourning Becomes Electra (1947)

As the Civil War ends, the daughter (Rosalind Russell) of a proud New England dynasty is furious that her mother (Katina Paxinou) is having an affair with the man (Leo Genn) she loves. She plots to destroy their relationship when her father (Raymond Massey) and brother (Michael Redgrave) return from the war. Unlike Tennessee Williams, America's other great American playwright Eugene O'Neill hasn't fared well (the 1962 LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT is an exception) on film. STRANGE INTERLUDE (1932) was an unmitigated disaster and his nearly 6 hour MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA was cut to 3 hours for the film version but after it performed poorly at the box office, it was edited down to 105 minutes! Not surprisingly considering the source material, it's as close to Greek tragedy as an American play has got. It was potent material for 1947 film audiences as the incestuous implications of the son's Oedipus complex and the daughter's Electra complex as well as madness, murder and adultery ran rampant. But the audience stayed away and the film lost several million dollars and it would be another 11 years before Hollywood attempted O'Neill again. It's not quite a filmed play but it isn't very cinematic either and the director Dudley Nichols (best known as a screenwriter than a director) doesn't seem to have a handle on the film. That being said, the acting is excellent in particular Redgrave as the mama's boy slowly going mad and Paxinou as the passionate mother seething in a loveless marriage. The O'Neill purists may object but I liked it overall. With Kirk Douglas, Nancy Coleman and Henry Hull.

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