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Autumn Leaves (1956)
A woman falls for a younger man with severe mental problems.
You are watching: Autumn Leaves
Also starring Joan Crawford
Also starring Cliff Robertson
Also starring Vera Miles
It s a story about mental illness, which is presented with a terrifying frankness as well as a constructive view of psychotherapy at a time when it was often stigmatized.
Joan Crawford Stands By Her (Psycho) Man---As the opening credits of "Autumn Leaves" are benignly rolling by, the viewer is treated to listening to the golden, mellow voice of Nat "King" Cole as he effortlessly sings this melodrama's title song.And even though there were no autumn leaves anywhere to be found in "Autumn Leaves", this song and its lulling effect played (surprising enough) a somewhat significant part when it came to setting the pace and mood of this film's stormy plot-line.Many years following this picture's 1956 release, Joan Crawford stated, in an interview, that of her later films, "Autumn Leaves" was, indeed, her #1 favourite.I think that that was kind of a funny thing for Crawford to say, since, from my perspective, I clearly found her to be miscast in her role as Millie Wetherby, the longing, lonely, middle-aged typing-dynamo who finally finds her man (who's half her age) only to discover that an unbalanced mind lurks behind those twinkling, baby-blue eyes of his.From my point of view, even though "Autumn Leaves" had all the makings of being a fairly intriguing picture and its subject matter was certainly handled in a mature fashion, I found that a lot of the story (especially the ending) just didn't ring true.Like I said earlier, Joan Crawford just wasn't well-suited for her role as a woman who would allow a man (regardless of how cute he was) to slap her around and brutalize her. And, then, after all was said and done, actually come crawling back for more. (Oh? Yeah!?) Yes. "Autumn Leaves" was a decidedly flawed affair and its dead-serious dramatics contained some unintentionally humorous moments, but, all the same, I think that this 1950's Chick Flick was certainly well-worth a view just to see how mental illness was looked upon in the realm of Hollywood movies nearly 60 years ago.Filmed in b&w, "Autumn Leaves" was directed by Robert Aldrich whose other notable films included - Kiss Me Deadly, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane and The Dirty Dozen.
Melodrama, noir, thriller, mystery... take your pick---This is one of those undeniably intriguing films of the post-war era where Hollywood was trying to pull together multiple elements to appeal to multiple audiences.You have the screen legend Joan Crawford playing a lonely spinster. She meets a confident young man who happens to have a gorgeous ex-wife and an unusually smarmy father. Not knowing about these relatives nor the trouble they have caused him, our heroine marries the young charmer and proceeds to suffer far more than she ever did when she was alone, which makes it all so worth it.Director Aldrich falls prey to exaggeration late in the film when Crawford is at her worst, but otherwise his work is eerily effective, as we get caught up in the mystery of just what the hell is wrong with this dude. Aldrich uses noir style to accentuate the tensions, grossly over- lighting some scenes to force the contrast, especially as the contrasts between the characters become more extreme later in the film.You can really relish how insanely the psychiatric field is represented, which brutalizes the young man into a zombie so he can accept the brutality put upon him by his father and ex- wife. And lest you fret, the "cure" for his trauma does not make him want to leave his cougar lover in the end, it only makes them a more stable couple-- which is actually a slight shift in the melodramatic tradition of the woman's suffering being eternal.I happened to catch the beginning of this around midnight on TCM and though I would just watch a little to see how the May-December romance was set up. After the first scene between Crawford and Robertson, I was engrossed, because it offers so much more than I expected.
"Find a girl your own age -- you're just lonesome!"---This film starts out extremely interestingly as we get to know sex-starved "spinster" Millicent Wetherby, a sensitive writer who never had a real relationship because she spent her good years attending to a sickly father.The movie creates genuine interest and suspense as we try to figure out what motivates Burt (a 33-year-old Cliff Robertson) to pursue Milly, played by Joan Crawford when she was 52.The film takes a garish turn when we realize that Burt has been driven mad by his philandering wife (a slimy Vera Miles) and lascivious father (Lorne Greene), and the film's best moment pits Millicent against this incestuous pair: "Your filthy souls are too evil for hell itself!" Crawford, wearing a strikingly unflattering bob, is nevertheless the heart of this film. She plays prim and prissy well and comes up with a number of memorable zingers, i.e., "The only trouble with the future is it comes so much sooner than it used to"..."There's something unladylike about a black eye on a woman." Though an asylum psychiatrist does a creditable job of normalizing the option of mental-health treatment, I found Burt's symptoms to be overdone and over-the-top.Crawford's unwavering sympathy for her mate strained credulity at times. For example, when he smashes a leaden typewriter onto her hand she doesn't seem to mind at all! The final scene, in which Burt gains his "walking papers," is interesting, although a bit facile. Can six months in an asylum cure pathological lying? The happy ending would have us believe as much.
Spring-Autumn Romance gets complicated---There's something very rewarding about discovering a well-acted mid-20th century movie you never heard about, in this case, Autumn Leaves starring Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson, which I saw on TCM. In some ways dated, this movie shines with excellent acting by the two leads - one a star of the film noir era, and the other, a future star making his film debut. The story involves a romance that work-at-home secretary Joan Crawford only reluctantly embraces because her lover is a much younger man. Cliff Robertson falls head over heels in love with her and they marry. Of course, you know the wheels are going to come off this match. The young man becomes traumatized by the appearance of his father, played by a distinguished looking but thoroughly evil Lorne Green and his femme fatale, Vera Miles. Crawford is confused by the bizarre situation and her husband suffers a complete mental breakdown. There is some surprisingly strong language and domestic violence for a movie of the 1950's. Crawford and Robertson deliver strong performances, particularly as the movie moves to its climax. For his first movie, Robertson shows surprising range and strength as an actor. Presented with a husband who is now unhinged, Crawford, takes action to help him, knowing it might have unintended consequences for both of them. This is a movie that keeps its momentum and doesn't disappoint. Highly recommend.
Common Cult-ural Claptrap---She's the typical co-dependent, stand-by-your-man, til-death-do-us-part product of the in-doctrine-ations of the adjust-til-it-kills-you, (supposedly) Greatest Generation. He's (ostensibly) the product of a narcissistic (and crazy-making) father and the equally narcissistic -- and father-resembling -- woman he married in late adolescence. The drama is mid-century pulp fiction, and, of course, (delusionally) hopeful. (Hey! She's getting her @$$ kicked, seemingly forgetting it, and coming back for more.) (But... "Love cures all!") (Please.)High-voltage / high-amperage / long-duration electroconvulsive and/or coma-inducing insulin therapy had =no= such effect upon psychotic patients of the heroic sort depicted here. Patients treated thus tended to emerge with wholesale memory loss and not know their own parents or spouses for months, years, or... forever. But they =were= easier to manage. Was he looking for a "good enough mother" in Joanie's character? Maybe so. One thing's for sure, though: Joanie at =50= was downright =amazing= looking. (I know. "The best that money can buy" and all that, but even so...) she was looking pretty good. (Ditch those eyebrows, though, Joan. Ya looked so much better in "The Women.")
"You can't breathe and swim at the same time"---Sometimes in Hollywood, motion picture style seemed to come about just through force of habit. Film noir was never recognised as a genre in its own era, but there was a time in the 1950s when it seemed every low budget drama was automatically shot in that stark, eerie, chiaroscuro fashion – regardless of how "noir"-ish it really was.Autumn Leaves, in some ways, IS quite a grim little melodrama. Many of the most pessimistic pictures of the 40s and 50s dealt with the romance-gone-wrong scenario, where one partner turns out to be not what they claimed they were – check out the excellent Scarlet Street (1945) for the cruellest example thereof. But Autumn Leaves is different. This isn't a nightmarish "what if?" thriller – it has too much respect for its characters to be that. It is more a bittersweet and, at times, very mature look at how insanity and mental trauma can impact upon human relationships. Above all it is a romantic picture from its first frame to its last.And yet, director Robert Aldrich insists upon giving it the noir makeover with his usual penchant for slanting shadows, odd camera angles and foreground clutter, all of which is hardly necessary and just a little tiresome. Still, to his credit, this hard-boiled action director does find room for a more tender, person-centred approach, with some long takes and clarity of image in key scenes. There are also some truly wonderful subtleties to watch out for. For example when Joan Crawford fails to answer Cliff Robertson's proposal, we cut from close-up to mid-shot, where in the background a receptionist puts down a phone – a little note of rejection that we will subconsciously pick up on.Crawford and Robertson at least seem to understand what this picture is about. You can see how good an actress Crawford was by reading up on the kind of abusive and maladjusted person she was in real life. She gives a totally believable presentation of someone with absolute loving purity and patience, and her character's devotion to Robertson's gives the picture its emotional weight. Robertson, in his earliest lead role, demonstrates that combination of warmth and endearing frailty which characterises his most memorable roles, without ever quite descending into a corny caricature.Speaking of corniness, Autumn Leaves is not without its slightly cringeworthy moments. There is the overly extravagant musical score, including a fuzzy blur as we segue into a flashback. There is the somewhat trite peachiness with which Crawford and Robertson's romance unfolds. There is even a barefaced rip-off of the beach scene out of From Here to Eternity. But to be honest, all of this adds to its charm. Autumn Leaves is, in many ways, the opposite of film noir cynicism. It shows people struggling to make romance work in spite of the desperation of their circumstances.
A fine film and a fine performance by Joan---Joan Crawford aged like fine wine, and even at 51 she is quite believable as the romantic lead here. She plays Millicent Wetherby, a lonely 40ish woman who has sacrificed her youth taking care of her invalid father. Now he is gone and she feels like life has passed her by until Burt Hanson (Cliff Robertson in only his second film appearance) interrupts her chicken salad one night at a diner. He practically pries open her life, and they begin dating even though he is over ten years younger than she. She tries to be practical, but he sweeps her off her feet and the two elope to Mexico. Then she starts to notice little things...he has told her he was from Racine, now he says he is from Chicago. Burt meets Joan's employer and talks about all of the battles he saw in the military when he has told her previously that he was a supply clerk and never saw action during his time in the service, but the final straw is when an ex-wife she didn't even know about shows up at her door.This is a hard film to characterize. It's definitely not a soaper, but it has aspects of that. It has romance, dealing with mental illness, and even elements of a thriller to it. It deals with the self-doubt we all have about the choices we have made in life. No high-camp Johnny Guitar is this film. Although, don't get me wrong, I love Joan in her campy 50's films too.Cliff Robertson is almost at the bottom of the bill on this one, even though he really is the male lead. This is only his second film, yet he pulls off the part of the child-like Burt like a pro. It's also good to see Ruth Donnelly as Milly's ever-supportive older neighbor twenty years after she was a contract player over at Warner Brothers. I highly recommend this film for anyone who even remotely enjoys Joan Crawford's films. You don't have to be a big fan to appreciate this one.
They fell in love over a chicken salad---(There are Spoilers) Five handkerchief plus soap opera With the legendary queen of that movie genre Joan Crawford really outdoing herself as the forty some year-old spinster Millcent "Milly" Wetherby who just about gave up on romance until her knight in shinning armor young sensitive and taking no for an answer Burt Hanson, Cliff Robertson, walked into her life.At first not at all impressed with Burt, who gentlemanly offered to share a chicken salad with her, Milly just couldn't keep him out of her hair, or booth at the restaurant, with Burt refusing to sit somewhere else! In no time at all the two lovebirds were passionately smooching in front of Milly's condo apartment not at all caring who saw them.Milly's life changed for the worse some thirty years ago when she was saddled with caring for her ailing father, Selmer Jackson, who eventually died on her. This act of unselfish kindness caused Milly to lose the person whom she was planning to marry Paul, Robert Sherman. Paul just got sick and tired of waiting for Milly to accept his proposal of marriage and just walked out of her life. Now after all these long and lonely years Milly finally found the man that she was willing to spend the rest of her life with handsome young and extremely sensitive Burt Hanson. As things soon turned out Burt was a lot more sensitive then even Milly could have hoped for in a husband. He was far more sensitive in the head then in the heart! Where for Milly is where, in having a loving and successful marriage, it really counted!As soon as the couple were married Milly started to find things out about Burt that greatly disturbed her. Burt in fact was not the manager of the department store that he work in but a tie salesman who was stealing merchandise from the store to impress Milly! Milly was also shocked to find out that Burt originally came from Chicago not Wisconsin like he always told her. And the biggest surprise of all that Milly got about her now deceitful husband is that he was already married to the young, some 20 years her Junior, and pretty Virginia Hudson, Vera Miles, making her marriage to Burt not only illegal but Burt a bigamist!With his shady past exposed Burt suddenly became both violent and schizophrenic going off the handle and becoming not only a danger to Milly but himself as well. We, as well as Milly, soon find out the reason for Burt's mental instability. That's when Milly spots Burt's estrange wife Virginia and his swinger dad Mr. Hudson, Loren Green, acting like two star struck young lovers or newlyweds at the hotel pool that Mr. Hanson was staying at!***SPOILER ALERT*** One of Joan Crawford's best later films, when she was too old to play romantic parts, "Authumn Leaves" leaves you almost in tears in how Joan, as Milly Wetherby, had to suffer and put up with her mentally unstable husband throughout the entire movie. Never giving up on Burt, even after he belted her a couple of times, Milly finally had to have her very sick in the head husband institutionalized for his own good as well as safety. Burt who in his confused and unbalanced mind thought that Milly was trying to get back on him, in the pain and suffering he caused her, in having him committed in a sanitarium for the rest of his life found out in the end that she did it to help not to punish him.More then anything else it was Burt who was to cure himself of the mental aberrations that he was suffering from more then the psychiatrists and shock treatment that he was getting at the sanitarium. But by far most of all Burt had to finally realize that Milly was not only his wife but good and caring friend as well in her helping him to cure himself on his severe mental illness. And in that Burt passed with flying colors!
Solid Treat for Crawford, Melodrama, 1950's Film Fans---Today's demand for 'realistic' dialog and 'sensible' plot lines would reduce "Autumn Leaves" to a campy B-film in the eyes of younger viewers. And that's as sad as any aspect of the heartbreak experienced by Millicent, the love-starved heroine so ably played by a mature Joan Crawford. There's much to be enjoyed in this often overlooked milestone of her career.Throughout her lengthy screen experience, Joan Crawford could deliver one character better than almost any other; the patient, suffering, noble woman desiring true and everlasting love- but seemingly forever denied it. I can think of younger actresses who might have played the role (Polly Bergen comes to mind), but I can't imagine any actress better suited to the demands of the role.Physically, this is the Crawford of Mommie Dearest. Her mature face now showing her age, and those trademark oversize eyebrows emphasizing every emotion. It's interesting to note that this may have been a deliberate choice, as Joan looks significantly more youthful in 1963's 'The Caretakers'. I have to think that the director wanted to emphasize Millie's 'spinster' characterization, and this was one way it was accomplished.Other IMDb reviewers have discounted the likelihood that Burt, the emotionally-troubled man who brings a chance for love to Millie, would be so attracted to her. I think that's a bit unfair. Burt was looking for certain rewards of a romantic relationship that a younger woman could not possibly provide. Also, With little previous romantic experience, Millie was enjoying love for the first time, much as a young girl would, thus she responded in ways that were satisfying to both of them.Today's liberated, self-confident female would not likely make the choices Millie does. Yet, there are countless modern, self-respecting, educated women who would. All for the sake of keeping a romance, or marriage, alive.Millie is no fool. I think it's clear that she recognizes the likely pitfalls of a union with Burt. She isn't blind to early clues of instability. Rather, she chooses consciously to ignore them; partly to enjoy the fruits of love so long denied her, and partly because she sees in Burt a partner who can be 'fixed,'; made whole. They say love is blind, but Millie is not. She barges headlong, against her better judgment, into unknown dangers, all for the hope of love (and let's remember this is a handsome, virile young man) and lust.When, early on, just as expected by the audience, her fragile world of marital bliss begins to unravel, Millie is not surprised. Likewise, the viewer is not justifiably angry with her character for being blind. She knew, really, what she was getting into. She just didn't know the specific details. She learns them quickly.Millie is the proverbial 'stand by your man' type of gal. Long after she is made aware of Burt's mountain of lies and deception, her strongest instinct is not to flee, but to uncover the reasons that he lives in a fantasy world and change them. She is particularly noble in this regard when, at a certain point, she's done all she can to get Burt help, and doesn't expect to receive the lifetime of love and romance to which she once believed he held the key. It is enough that Burt may be 'whole' and happy.But will Burt escape his torment and delusions and result in a man ready and willing to be a husband to Millie? Did he ever really love her? That is a question that seems to be answered in the final, emotionally satisfying scene.