Saturday, 31 May 2014

JOANNE WOODWARD IS 'THE STRIPPER'


 

It’s always a chore for me to watch anything involving screen legend Joanne Woodward. Not that she isn’t a  good actress. She has shown her true colors in some of the most sought-after films ever (THE THREE FACES OF EVE, RACHEL RACHEL, SYBIL...). No, the reason I seem to steer clear of anything regarding her is that she is the spitting image of a girl I once knew. One who had made my life a living hell. To make a long story short, her helping me find my way as a gay man is the only good thing that ever came out of that so-called friendship. Fast forward to last night while I’m cleaning out some of my old VHS tapes and wouldn’t you know, one holds a label named THE STRIPPER. Thinking it couldn’t be, I pop the sucker in, and there you have it, the 1963 film starring Woodward, which automatically brings me back to that crazy chick of mine. But now that I’m older and wiser, I shake myself up and focus on the discovery. I had forgotten that I had recorded the film that many years ago and now I am salivating, and with good reasons. This film is a lovable mess. LONELY LADY lovable. Or so I think. Because when I sit my ass down to (re) watch the thing, I realize to my surprise how much better it actually is. And here’s why.
 
 
Woodward can act her way out of a paper bag. She’s sort of like the Meryl Streep of her time. In THE STRIPPER she plays a sweet but none too bright wannabe actress passed her prime. She wears her bleach blond hair à la early 60’s Marilyn Monroe to remind us that she still got it but we all know that she doesn’t, and deep down she knows it too. When her hoodlum of a boyfriend leaves town with all the cash from her gig as a magician assistant, she is forced to stay with her former childhood neighbors, a widowed nurse (silver screen star Claire Trevor) and her troubled adult son Richard Beymer, from INDISCRETION OF AN AMERICAN WIFE and PAPER DOLLS fame. But of course, her bohemian ways disturb. Especially for Beymer who just can’t stop drooling over her. In fact, he secretly yearns to bed her but is too scared to even try. So in the meantime he settles for younger Carol Lynley who’s totally gorgeous but won’t put out.
 
 

When circumstances force Woodward to subsequently become a stripper, Beymer tries to put a stop to it.  But Woodward refuses. She has finally opened her eyes to the ways of the world—now that he has given her up after finally making it with her—and wants nothing to do with him. This scene is the pivotal point of the story and is the film’s best moment. Woodward sparkles as she delivers her venom to a boy who represents all of her bad choices in life. When she succeeds in finally getting rid of him, as of her hoodlum of a boyfriend who’s back in the picture, she goes one step further in her epiphany. Just like Jerilee Randall does in THE LONELY LADY or Nomi Malone in SHOWGIRLS, she chooses to leave it all behind and start anew. So off she goes to another town in hoping to find happiness and herself this time around. But though we wish her the very best, deep down we have a hunch she’ll never make it. She is damaged goods, and we all know how girls like her turn out in Hollywood films.
 
 
THE STRIPPER is based on a play by William Inge (GOOD LUCK, MISS WYCKOFF) and is directed by Franklin J. Schaffner who afterwards helmed such hits as the original PLANET OF THE APES and PAPILLON. Even if it has its share of wackiness (like the magic show sequence which looks like a psychedelic bad trip on acid), it is an overall great movie experience. I wonder if Ms Woodward feels the same. I doubt it—since the film was bombarded with negative reviews at the time. But I for one love it and urge anyone to check it out—if you ever find a copy, that is. And please, don’t write to me about your disappointments over this film if you ever do find one, for I’ll set my psycho ex-friend on you. I hear she’s on the lookout for another in-the-closet gay boy/gal.


 

 
 
Until next post—Martin



 

 



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