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Cold Wind in August, A (DVD Review)

4 Apr, 2011

$24.99 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Lola Albright, Scott Marlowe, Herschel Bernardi, Joe De Santis.

If the movie version of Burton Wohl’s eponymous novel were a product of the modern screen era, someone (its distributor or the actress herself) would have mounted a publicity campaign to get Lola Albright’s lead performance the Oscar nomination it deserved. Even as it is, I can recall the rave reviews Albright got at the time (50 years ago come this summer) and how anxious I was to see the film in my burgeoning adolescence — an era when I kept hoping that the current week’s episode of Peter Gunn would forego the mystery and simply show the actress’s Lola character making out for half-an-hour. But limited distribution is and was limited distribution, and if this low-budgeter ever even came to some art theater on the other side of my town (can’t recall), it would have posed an impossible challenge in terms of “wheels.”

Albright later gave terrifically sexy performances in Lord Love a Duck and Rene Clement’s underrated Joy House, the latter when her pulchritudinous competition (in a single movie, gads) was a also blonde, 1964 Jane Fonda. But it was this black-and-white indie that served up the role of Albright’s career, and her performance is cited in historian Danny Peary’s tasty Alternate Oscars book as a shoulda-been ’61 nominee — though Peary is also savvy enough to know that the year’s most deserving winner wasn’t real-life honoree Sophia Loren for Two Women but Natalie Wood for Splendor in the Grass. Talk about three beauties who were made to suffer on that year’s screens.

A lot has been made of the fact that co-star Scott Marlowe was 29 playing 17 to Albright’s real-life 36, which takes some of the edge off this tawdry-for-its time romance between an apartment manager’s handsome teenaged son and a thrice-divorced tenant with aging banzai looks who isn’t advertising the fact that she’s a stripper. But even though Marlowe’s character is more emotionally ill-developed than he needs to be (this kid is always debating whether to enjoy rapturous sack-time or a ballgame with the guys), Marlowe gets the role’s psychology right, and the two generally make a convincing pair.

There really isn’t a whole lot to the movie, but an 80-minute running time keeps the weight and pacing just right, and Albright gives a very smart, knowing performance as someone who’s carelessly flirtatious at the beginning with the lad sent up by dad to fix her bum air conditioner and then gets in over her head. There’s just enough back-story to keep us wanting a little more, but it’s a credit to the movie that we do. A sweaty, favor-soliciting guy shows up at her apartment looking like a heart attack about to happen — and he turns out to be one of her ex-husbands. There’s also an adequately well-off friend played by Albright’s old Peter Gunn co-star Herschel Bernardi — around the time the actor started to “voice” Charlie the Tuna in the once enormously popular StarKist spots. She claims to her young lover that Bernardi is like a brother, but it turns out he is also one of her many sexual histories.

Shot by the great Floyd Crosby (David’s father, of Tabu/High Noon/Roger Corman fame), Wind keenly varies the photographic tempo of its many apartment interiors, though it also gets us outdoors for stickball, a Central Park outing and even a trip to the beach. The movie’s look also emphasizes how much makeup Albright has (or thinks she has) to use simply hanging around her rather respectable-looking digs. It’s wrong to make more of the movie than there is, but August was a major sleeper and pioneer indie of its day, one that the latest MGM/Fox on-demand lineup has thankfully sprung from obscurity. Turner Classic Movies recently gave the picture a Saturday night showcase, but before that, I don’t recall it being shown on TV since the mid-1980s … on, of all venues, the old Nostalgia Channel. But nostalgia for what? A woman’s despair?


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