Dir. Douglas Sirk. USA. 1956.

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First released in 1956, and released for the first time here on DVD by Eureka! Entertainment, in pristine High definition anamorphic transfer condition, we have one of the lesser known works by Douglas Sirk, who experienced an amazing purple patch in the 50s where he basked in technicolour and high melodrama resurrecting certain female careers and giving them some career high points - Lana Turner, most notably, in 'Imitation of Life' (1959).
Here though, Sirk returns to black and white film after the glossy colour efforts of 'Magnificent Obsession' (1954) and 'All That Heaven Allows' (1955) with its unlikely storylines and far flung locations giving everyone wish fulfilment which led to Todd Haynes parodying the subtext of it all in 'Far From Heaven' (2002).
The black and white means a return to a more intimate sort of picture which marks the return of Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck since 'Double Indemnity' (1941).
The story concerns Clifford Groves (MacMurray) a toy manufacturer who lives with his wife Marion (Joan Bennett) and his three children in Pasadena, California but he is unhappy or not enjoying life, as he and his wife are handcuffed to the children's needs - from the start Cliff cannot contact home because one of the children is always making a phone call; and his plans to treat Marion to a show and dinner only for a child's ballet recital to take first notice and leave Cliff at home alone.
Cliff then hears a knock at the door, and he is treated to a visit by an old work colleague, Norma Vale (Stanwyck) who was in the area on business and looks Cliff up to see how it is.
What follows is a story of luck (the bad kind) and chance.  Cliff and Norma keep bumping into each other. Significantly at the Palm Valley Inn, she staying over from a conference and he for a meeting, Marion was meant to join but a daughter's ankle injury leads her to stay behind. So the old flames have each other's company for two nights, what follows is that his son, Vinnie (William Reynolds) takes three friends including his girlfriend, Ann (Pat Crowley) to the Inn so they can 'again' take advantage of his father by swimming in the pool and getting a free meal.  Vinnie though overhears his father and Norma having fun and laughs and takes it to mean they are indulging in an illicit affair, as his male friend helps to push the point home.
Vinnie does not like Norma and makes his feelings known when she visits the house for dinner, Vinnie's behaviour displease Cliff no end and yet Cliff continues to see Norma eventually falling back in love with her leading to decisions to be made and confrontations to face.
Seeing a film like this in this digital age and the unhappiness conveyed by Cliff over his life being governed by the childern which denies him and his wife the chance of adventure and happiness, means the film is quite clairvoyant and perscient for this day and age, to know that this is what they were feeling the same then as they do know.  It reminded me of 'The Seven Year Itch' where a disgruntled unhappy man imagines a relationship with Marilyn Monroe (the ultimate fantasy figure) whilst his family go away for the summer.  In this case though Clifford runs his own business and soon comes round to a way of thinking that he and Norma missed their chance and Norma makes a convincing argument by suggesting that he would miss Ellen's wedding, Frankie's first professional ballet appointment and god knows what else.
So in a way the fling is just that - Norma appears when Cliff is at his lowest ebb and when she leaves Cliff returns to his household, marriage assured and family revitalised with the children having a new found respect and Vinnie growing up in the process from his state of fixed childhood.  But there is a definite Sirk-ian touch when there is a look from Cliff to the plane Norma departs on; we see Norma sitting there in first class. Whereas other directors would linger on Cliff, Sirk (like Cukor, so enamoured with his female actresses) lingers on Norma who cries knowing a chance has gone.
Low key in its storyline, and low key in its execution - reminding me of the Coens' 'The Man Who Wasn't There' as a film that people know is a Coen film but is always forgotten about when you recall their careers.
Wonderfully acted and directed, a forgotten gem desperate for re-evaluation and appraisal.
Features of DVD: 
'Days with Sirk' a 61 minute documentary from 2008 featuring rare footage of Sirk interviewed in 1982.
Booklet essay by Andrew Klevans
(Oxford University, Lecturer in English Language and Literature), excerpts from a 1977 Sirk interview.
Original theatrical trailer
New optional English subtitles (SDH).
Released on special edition DVD in the 'Masters of Cinema' series by Eureka! entertainment on 22 February 2010
Jamie Garwood

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