Sons and Lovers (1960) B+
Twentieth Century Fox (Company of Artists production)
Jack Cardiff's intelligent adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's famous, autobiographical novel of the same title, is visually exquisite, but too restrained and respectable to convey the complexities of love and the various romantic and sexual passions that form the center of the book.
Set in Nottingham, the tale focuses on the Morel family, Walter (Trevor Howard), the patriarch miner and his wife Mrs. Morel (Wendy Hiller) and their three sons. The scenario by Gavin Lambert and T.E. Clarke centers on one relationship, that between a mother and one of her sons, Paul Morel (Dean Stockwell). For the sake of brevity and compressions the screenwriters have altered a number of characters and have altogether omitted the figure of one sister. Even so, a good portion of the dialogue is lifted From Lawrence's book. The father is rigid and macho, and it's the mother who's the forceful and central figure, a woman who doesn't hide the fact that she favors Paul, her sensitive son whose ambition is to pursue the career of an artist in London; the father is of course against his son's literary inclinations, which offend his sense of class pride. After courting a young girl, Miriam Lievers (Heather Sears), Paul falls for Clara Dawes (Mary Ure), an older woman who is married to Baxter (Conrad Phillips).
Both relationships cause tensions between Paul and his strong-willed mother, who terminates the first one and is irritated by the second. Initially, Paul listens to his mom, though he knows that he should follow his inner feelings, even if it's painful and hard to detach himself from her; wherever he goes, Paul fells his mother's presence. It soon becomes clear that Mrs. Morel is obsessive in her love for her son, who's sort of a substitute for the love she is supposed to give to her husband.
Dramatically, the picture gains momentum, when one of the sons dies in a mining accident, another goes to London, and Paul abandons his dreams in order to comfort and be close to he bereaved mother. After her death, the liberated Paul leaves for the city in an effort to start a totally new life away from the claustrophobic family and town, though the spirit of his mother continues to haunt him. "Sons and Lovers" is effective in conveying how strong attachment to his mother inhibits and suffocates Paul emotionally, but with her death, he finds release & resolves to leave home to pursue interests in the world
By nature, the movie is too episodic, and in sections, too earnest in tone and moderate in temper. But some images are unusually powerful, such as the weekly ritual of the father getting his bath, or the first, awkward sexual encounter between Paul and Clara. There is a haunting scene in which son gives his mother overdose of pain-killing drugs when she is dying agonizingly of cancer.
Headed by Howard, who gives one of his best performances (recognized by the National Board of Review) and Hiller, most of the cast is British, with the exception of the American Dean Stockwell as Paul; in the same year, Stockwell gave another strong performance in "Compulsion."
The stunning visual style deservedly won the black-and-white cinematography Oscar for Freddie Francis, who succeeds in capturing the drabness of a provincial coal town at the turn of the century, with its bleak weather and rough winters.
Director Cardiff's attention to visual detail probably derives from his work as a cinematographer, which contributes immensely to such diverse pictures as the noir in color "Leave Her to Heaven," "The Red Shoes," and "The African Queen."
Though the movie is too straightforward and not as powerful as the book, which was shocking when published, it's still one of the best cinematic adaptations of a Lawrence work.
Oscar Nominations: 7
Picture, produced by Jerry Wald Director: Jack Cardiff Screenplay (Adapted): Gavin Lambert and T.E. B. Clarke Actor: Trevor Howard Supporting Actress: Mary Ure Cinematography (B/W): Freddie Francis Art Direction-Set Decoration (B/W): Tom Morahan; Lionel Couch
Oscar Awards: 1
Cinematography (B/W): Freddie Francis
In 1960, a rather weak year, artistically, "Sons and Lovers" competed for the Best Picture Oscar with Billy Wilder's "The Apartment," which won, John Wayne's "The Alamo," Richard Brooks' "Elmer Gantry," and Fred Zinnemann's "The Sundowners."
"The Apartment" also won Director and Art Direction Oscars. Burt Lancaster won Best Actor and Shirley Jones Supporting Actress, both for "Elmer Gantry," which also won the Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Richard Brooks.
related article 2: Red Shoes (1948): Our Favorite Ballet Film.
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