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Toys in the Attic (DVD Review)

17 May, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Available now via Amazon.com CreateSpace
$19.98 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Dean Martin, Geraldine Page, Wendy Hiller, Yvette Mimiuex.

Dean Martin’s on-screen sibling mixes got interesting in the 1960s, especially when he played the brother of John Wayne (then 58) and Michael Anderson (22) in 1965’s The Sons of Katie Elder. With Earl Holliman somewhere in the middle as well, Katie and her honey were obviously compatible for a long time.

A close second, though, would be this oddball 1963 adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s play about repressed incest and other hothouse excesses in New Orleans, which casts Dino as the younger brother of Wendy Hiller and Geraldine Page, both Oscar winners and mainstays of prestige projects. Page plays the one who gets a little too giddy here when the family’s prodigal son makes his periodic visits — usually with a stash of cash from some suspect source or bragged-about booty that has just mysteriously vaporized.

This family ne’er-do-well also has a young bride played by Yvette Mimieux, not long after this seriously blond actress was cast as the mentally incapacitated beauty (this is for real, not a slur) hoping somehow to enter into wedlock with George Hamilton in The Light in the Piazza. This time, Mimiuex’s affliction is nowhere near this pronounced. She’s just kind of simple and kind of a clinger, though undeniably gorgeous. Which doesn’t make Page too happy.

After a career directing live TV, George Roy Hill made Attic his second feature (of only 14 total) before he really got rolling several years later with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, Slap Shot and another Ohio-bred male lead (Paul Newman). The eponymous source here is a play by one of the 20th century’s more celebrated playwrights, which means it provides the affirmative answer to a trivia question for the ages: Did or did not Dean Martin ever appear in a movie based on a work by Lillian Hellman? Think of this the next time you see Jane Fonda in Julia.

In a perverse way, Martin’s casting simultaneously throws the result off its rhythm while remaining the best reason to sit through an interesting attempt that just doesn’t work — supplying a huge curio factor because he’s playing it straighter than usual. Martin’s other serious roles usually had elements of humor (The Young Lions, Rio Bravo, Some Came Running) or came in vehicles too schlocky to take seriously (Ada, Airport, some his later Westerns). Like Career and (very late) Mr. Ricco, this is one of the few movies where his standard persona is relatively submerged, and his strongest scenes come at the end when he’s angered, cursing and has just seen a woman with whom he’s been long involved get her face carved up by a rich husband’s thugs.

Like Otto Preminger’s Advise and Consent, released a few months earlier, Attic also features a much older looking Gene Tierney after the ’40s superstar returned to the screen following a long absence following a host of honestly earned personal problems. As Mimieux’s rich mother, her character knows some deep, dark secrets — and in a movie like this, especially one made in the early ’60s, some of them are going to involve race.

Heller’s performance is probably the best, though also the least showy, and this always accomplished actress (once the screen’s original Eliza Doolittle) blends into the woodwork. Speaking of this, the interior set of the Hiller-Page home has so lingered in my memory ever since adolescence that I’m surprised it’s the costumes that got Attic its one   Oscar nomination.
Immediately after this, Martin relaxed with 4 for Texas and ventured back into his standard casting milieu: Frank Sinatra, Anita Ekberg, Ursula Andress, Mike Mazurki, Jack Elam and (in cameos) Arthur Godfrey and the Three Stooges. And that’s another trivia question: name the actor whose resume was ecumenical enough to embrace Lillian Hellman and the Three Stooges in the same year?


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