Random Film of the Week: Lizzie

lizzie Released in the same year The Three Faces of Eve, 1957’s Lizzie covers the same thematic ground, albeit in a bit more unintentionally campy manner. Eleanor Parker plays Elizabeth and well as Beth and Lizzie, her two other personalities in this attempt at the “message” film sub-genre that Hollywood seemed to thrive on back then as writers and directors made more and more films with socially conscious and provocative subjects.

Although based on the novel The Bird’s Nest by Shirley Jackson and ably directed by Hugo Hass (who also has a small part in the film), compared to Eve and Joanne Woodward’s more realistic (and Oscar-winning) performance it’s far from a perfect film, especially when viewed today. For me, it’s the same thing with Otto Preminger’s classic The Man With the Golden Arm where the bulk of its otherwise deadly serious subject matter can be mined for comic gold because of some pointed overkill that may have been “shocking” in the 1950’s, but awesomely funny today. Parker’s role in that film was also well acted, but as her Zosh made me chuckle and cringe there, Lizzie here gets me grinning every time she takes over poor Elizabeth and starts gnawing on the scenery (and some poor man) to great effect…

Elizabeth is a plain-looking gal living with her boozy Aunt Morgan (Joan Blondell) in a small two-floor house. She tends to not feel right most of the time thanks to massive headaches and occasional bouts of insomnia and her Aunt isn’t much help what with her flirting with the neighbor (Hass) and all. One day, a threatening letter shows up addressed to Elizabeth and the poor girl suffers a sort of freak-out that sets loose her other two persona. Cue scenes of Parker playing the other gals with relish, particularly the “man-crazy” Lizzie… who really goes after just one guy (Ric Roman) in the entire movie. The interesting thing is while the woman does need help, Elizabeth’s behaviors might seem to some viewers as three parts of a single personality in a gal who may have been rasied to reject her other selves from coming forth for fear of one “taking over” even for the briefest of moments.

Fortunately, I’m a better critic/curmudgeon than I am an analyst. Eventually, Elizabeth ends up geting that aforementioned help on the couch of Dr. Wright (Richard Boone), who gets the full on “crazy” act from her as all three ladies make themselves known. Despite my amusement at much of what’s here, the great thing about the film is the writing and Parker’s performance are solid and strong throughout, although Lizzie’s “Joker” eyebrow makeup and fierce to the point of Joan Crawford on amphetamines attitude in her scenes can be pretty jarring. When she’s Lizzie and interacting with Blondell’s Aunt Morgan in their scenes, there’s some explosive euphemism-heavy dialog between them that’s fun to watch and hear because you know they’d be cursing each other out if this was real life or someone decided to remake this one day. Hass gets in some effective scenes with Parker transforming between her personalities and again, while not as “Hollywood” a film as Eve, what’s here is well-acted and shot and different enough to be its own film at the end of the day.

The film is also important for introducing one mister Johnny Mathis to the movie world, as he plays the piano man in the bar Lizzie hangs out at. He gets to play his hits “It’s Not For Me to Say and Warm and Tender” (both written for the film, according to the Internet) and isn’t seen again afterwards. I guess he got pulled into a time machine and got busy writing up the lyrics for the theme song to The Mighty Hercules or something. Okay, you old music geeks with fast fingers typing me angry correction notes, he had five albums out by the time he’d made this film, so he wasn’t a total unknown when he got the call. Still, if you say “Play it Sam!” at some point, don’t be to surprised…

Anyway, in researching this film, it seems that it was made in a week or so on a budget and there was a fight to get it out first before The Three Faces of Eve, which happened but the film still sunk like a stone at the box office. I couldn’t even find any clips to post here other than that link to the TCM trailer, which probably means a lot of Parker fans haven’t seen this at all unless they have TCM on their cable services or somehow managed to record this on VHS if it was ever aired way back when. I’m gathering that once more it’ll be Robert Osbourne and his merry crew to the rescue, as Parker’s recent death means the channel will indeed run this one and (hopefully!) perhaps set it as part of their regular lineup at some point. I hope so, as this one’s a hidden gem that, no matter how you see it today, represents one more piece of work from a great actress who many remember for her overall excellent career…

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