Tuesday, December 15, 2009

No "Love" Lost...

Before one can delve into the camp wonders of today’s featured movie, Where Love Has Gone, a little back-story is in order so that the through-line of insanity, the kind that can only occur in Hollywood, is able to be properly followed.

First we have Miss Lana Turner, turning in an Academy Award nominated performance in Peyton Place, as the distressed mother of a child who is starting to form her own opinions and break free of the stifling restraint that she’s been held under since birth. Lana’s big moment occurred on the witness stand where she decried that her daughter tried to tell her her problems, but she wouldn’t listen.

The night of the awards ceremony, April 4th, 1958, Turner opted to take her teenage daughter Cheryl (and her own mother) to the event, leaving her moderately estranged lover Johnny Stompanato out in the cold. Having already been given what-for by Sean Connery during the filming of her latest movie Another Time, Another Place over in England, he was in the process of being eliminated from her life, though she was still drawn to the handsome (and reportedly well-endowed) hunk. By the time she realized that her swarthy lover was also a gangster, he’d already insinuated himself fully into her life!

Not long after, enraged over being passed over as her escort to the Oscars, Stompanato fought wildly with Turner in a house that she and her daughter had just moved into. Young Cheryl, fearful for her mother’s safety, went to the kitchen to get a knife and threaten (or scare) him. However, upon Turner's opening of the bedroom door and his lunging towards it, he was stabbed and fell to the ground dead.

Rarely (in recent years, anyway) had such a scandal rocked the film capital as this one. Speculation ran rampant. Had Cheryl stabbed Johnny out of jealousy? Had Lana actually stabbed Johnny and let Cheryl take the fall because courts would be more lenient on her than on the star herself? Did he walk into the knife as they reported or had he been deliberately stabbed? It was a major gossip fest and a horrifying chapter in Turner’s life.

In the climactic court hearing, she gave fretful, hysterical testimony (with cynics suggesting she was giving the performance of a lifetime!) and the ruling against Cheryl was deemed justifiable homicide. Cheryl, by the way, had already (according to her) lived through an ex-stepfather’s molestation and later came out as a lesbian, albeit a seemingly very comfortable and content one, so her life definitely had drama to match any one or two of her mother’s films!

Turner was understandably worried about her career and, in a genius move orchestrated by Ross Hunter, took the leading role in an opulent, no holds barred remake of the women’s film Imitation of Life, with a story that partly concerned a famous actress’s issues with her daughter. The film was a blockbuster hit, earning Universal Studios (and Lana) millions.

Cut to a couple of years later when novelist Harold Robbins published a book, Where Love Has Gone, in which a young girl is incarcerated for filleting her rich sculptress mother’s sleazy boyfriend and no one seems able to get the truth of what happened out of her. Turner was appalled that Robbins would exploit her situation in this thinly veiled way and a Cold War developed between them.

The sensational novel was picked up by Paramount for the film version and this kicked off a whole other drama. Two strong ladies were chosen to headline the picture and there would be sparks flying practically from the start.

As the celebrated sculptress, Oscar-winner Susan Hayward was cast. In the supporting, but still very key, role of her domineering mother, Two-time Oscar-winner and cinema legend Bette Davis was chosen. Rounding out the cast were Mike Conners as Hayward’s ex-husband and the father of the accused teen, Joey Heatherton as the chisel-wielding daughter, Jane Greer as a frank, but concerned, social worker and Star Trek’s DeForest Kelly as Hayward’s agent and sometimes lover.

One of Davis’s own favorite films of hers was Dark Victory, the story of a young socialite who is dying of a brain tumor. (She famously fought a battle, and lost, over whether or not music would be played under her ascent up the stairs to her demise saying, “Only one person is going up those stairs, Max Steiner or me!”) Hayward had just done a remake of the film called Stolen Hours and this did not sit well with Miss Davis, though the remake certainly made less than a fraction of the ripple the original had.

Also Davis, who fancied herself a bit of a writer, especially when it came to beefing up her own roles or rewriting dialogue, took pen in hand to the script and began making changes to it. Though the script was not strong to begin with and some of her changes might have strengthened it, she finally went a little too far and Hayward pulled out her trump card. She had final script approval and insisted that the script be shot as it was originally issued! Thus, the ladies reverted back to a script that is peppered with many hooty lines throughout.

It remains to be seen whether Davis would have had the wherewithal to remove any of Heatherton’s exclamations of “Daddy!” Not only does she emit the word almost twenty times though the course of the picture, but also the way she says it is whiny and grating enough to send waves of pain down the spine of the listener. She does, however, have a surprising edge to her and enjoys a couple of decent scenes, usually when opposite the caring authority figures played by Greer and Anne Seymour.

As Heatherton’s lawyer, George MacReady gets a real zinger when referring to the deceased plaything, “He wasn't any good at double entry bookkeeping, but he was great at double entry housekeeping.” Later, when Davis blasts Hayward for her nyphomaniacal ways with indiscriminate partners, Hayward protests, “When you’re dying of thirst, you’ll drink from a mudhole.”

A significant part of the film is told in flashback. As the principle characters drift back 15 to 20 years in their lives, every hairstyle stays the same, all the clothes are still Edith Head designs from 1964 and virtually nothing is done to suggest a prior era!

Susan goes about her sculpting in hilarious headscarves, only able to provide decent output when she’s receiving plenty of sexual input. Once Connors begins hitting the bottle after Davis’s machinations, Hayward starts molding more than clay with the male models she works with.

It’s possible that Davis may have been miffed at playing the mother (bewigged in a sort of oddly becoming George Washington-esque coiffure) of someone only ten years her junior, though she looked as if the expanse was greater thanks to a life of cigarettes and assorted beverages. She claims that the white wig was necessary because otherwise, she looked too young to be Susie’s mom. Female costars were always a crapshoot with her, though. Some were embraced and nurtured, such as Mary Astor and Olivia de Havilland, while others were reviled and detested, such as Miriam Hopkins and Joan Crawford.

Hayward was not exactly a shrinking violet herself, having been born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. Typically, after each scene was put in the can, she would retreat to her dressing room, giving Davis (and most of the others) the cold shoulder. Davis maintained that acting with Hayward was like acting to a “blank wall” and that she got nothing in return emotionally from her.

Needless to say, however, whenever the story called for these two to lock horns, little or no acting was needed! The enmity that is displayed in their confrontation scenes is palpable and the voices are raised with ease. Susan even gets to take a fireplace poker and shred the hell out of an imposing portrait of Davis at one point.

According to author Whitney Stine, who had collaborated with Davis on her (semi-auto) biography, the minute the film had wrapped, Davis tossed her wig at Hayward and said, “Fuck you, Susie!” However, Davis wasn’t through with her troubles yet. The makers decided that another scene should be added in which her character goes out of her mind and Davis (rightly so) fought against this, stating that she would have played her character differently all along had she known that that would be the character’s final outcome. Amazingly enough, she came out on top of this battle, thank goodness. Hayward did manage later to deal Davis another punch to the gut when she slipped into the just-fired Judy Garland's role of Helen Lawson in Valley of the Dolls. Davis had campaigned for it, all but begging to do it for free!

The film’s luxuriant theme song (sung by Jack Jones), playing against nighttime shots of San Francisco, was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar, but won neither. Jack would later perform the famous theme song for The Love Boat, crystallizing him into the 1970s pop culture.

The movie was a pretty big hit with audiences, though many critics carved into it with the same relish that Hayward had when she slashed up Bette’s painting. Available at present only on out of print VHS, it screams out for a DVD release.

Things came full circle only five years later when Harold Robbins sold ABC television a treatment for the lavish primetime soap opera The Survivors. Despite her pronounced loathing of the man, the price must have been right because Lana Turner starred in the very troubled program. Boasting the highest budget in the history of television to that time (with the sets alone costing four times more than the norm), the opulent show was a complete fiasco and a financial money pit that never got fully off the ground. However, as has been demonstrated time and again, when the money’s there, even the most hated enemies can find a way to work together!

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