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High Cost of Loving, The (DVD Review)

28 Sep, 2015 By: Mike Clark

Available via Warner Archive
$21.99 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Jose Ferrer, Gena Rowlands, Bobby Troup.

Gena Rowlands will be getting a special Oscar come November, though I’m assuming (in keeping with academy policy of the past few years) that the presentation will rate only a few fleeting excerpts on next year’s televised Oscarcast itself so that the air time once allotted for genuine movie lovers’ events can go to an Orlando Bloom clip show or some such youth-audience ephemera.

To help fill that gap, here, at least, is the actress’s big-screen debut — which had to suffice until Rowlands returned to the movies in 1962 with The Spiral Road and (super memorably) Lonely Are the Brave, the Kirk Douglas jewel that he and son Michael and every Kirk fan rate at or near the top of the senior Douglas’s career despite being virtually unseen at the time. (I myself only saw it at the time because the RKO theater chain was having an anniversary and let the first 75 people in line see it for free).

In this earlier outing, which remains obscure, Rowland is cast opposite director/lead Jose Ferrer in a minor but agreeable comedy that managed to amuse Pauline Kael to a point. The actress’s role: a suburban wife regularly drives in daily to what appears to be an informal job — yet still looks as if she has spent three hours getting the hair just so, a future generation’s soccer mom in the making.

From the opening semi-comatose waking-up scene (one of the movie’s best), we see that this cannot possibly be true and that she likely has five minutes to slap on some makeup. But who’s complaining? She’s stylish and even head-turningly chic for one who appears to be dwelling in a mid-sized city — one where husband Ferrer would seem to be in line for a promotion when his employer merges with another company and a different management team comes in to reshuffle the executive deck. Competent but, as we’ll see, not perfect, the new bosses (or actually, an underling) make one major screw-up from which the rest of the story sprouts — throwing the couple’s major breadwinner into a funk of anxiety just as his wife announces she may be unexpectedly pregnant after nine years of marriage.

As is true with many other comedies of the period — even pleasantries like this one — the observational nuggets to be gleaned here are sometimes more interesting than the story at hand. This is the ’50s when everyone drank, so the fact that Rowlands may be with child (as it used to be termed in Pearl Buck novels) isn’t going to keep her from that six o’clock martini. By the way, Richard Deacon plays her borderline wacky gynecologist, a role in contrast to that of Lumpy Rutherford’s dour father on “Leave It to Beaver” around the same time. That would drive me to drink, for sure.

We also see Rowlands pulling out of the household’s two-car garage in a VW, which I don’t recall seeing in many Hollywood domestic comedies of this vintage. But most striking here and certainly the most topical feature is the movie’s portrayal of age discrimination in the workplace — a reality that a friendly exec played by Jim Backus doesn’t even try to deny. And the age at which nervous mid-management can expect to experience the squeeze-out? Try 35, which is when people today are still paying off student loans.

Ferrer may be wired a little tightly for a light comedy, but you can’t say he doesn’t convey the character’s well-earned anxiety (this is a guy who really does need that nightly martini). I always liked Ferrer as an actor, but he could never conjure up much mass appeal in conventional leads after winning his 1950 Oscar for Cyrano de Bergerac. And the flurry of films that he directed in this period — an eclectic bunch if there ever was one — weren’t disgraces but failed to catch on to significant degree (see also The Shrike, The Cockleshell Heroes, The Great Man and I Accuse). 

High Cost arrived after these others — or at least did in New York, where its opening didn’t occur until a couple months after it had already played out in smaller markets. This kind of geographical gun-jumping never did a movie any good unless it was obvious yahoo bait like, say, Billy Jack or, say, Don Knotts comedies, which were never going to make any Manhattan-ite forget about Edward Albee or Stephen Sondheim or even Joe Franklin in the first place.

And in my Midwest city, the classiest of its downtown 2,700-seaters did this agreeably modest endeavor no favors by booking it without any protection — unless you consider co-feature Return to Warbrow with Phil Carey and Andrew Duggan an ample insurance policy against what the neighboring houses were playing: Witness for the Prosecution (which had a robust three-week solo run) and the intellectually disreputable but money-printing Rodan (for which leveled Japan needed an insurance policy itself).


About the Author: Mike Clark

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