Sincerely Yours (DVD Review)10 Jun, 2013 By: Mike Clark
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Stars Liberace, Joanne Dru, Dorothy Malone, William Demarest.
Just to drop a name, which is always fun, Martin Scorsese once came into the glorified cubicle that passed as my office at the AFI Theater, eyeballed the original poster for 1955’s Sincerely Yours on my wall, and pronounced, “You’re sick!”
Notorious merely for existing but also as one of Warner’s biggest money losers of its decade, Liberace’s only starring vehicle divides into somewhat unequal thirds as a concert film, a medical drama and a sexual skirmish for ultimate possession of Lee’s loins between co-stars Joanne Dru (patiently loyal secretary) and Dorothy Malone (sweet soul of a society girl on what turns out to be a romantic whim). Gordon Douglas filmed it just a year after directing those oversized ants in Them! (probably the high point of his career), and the result gives its lead a role originally played by, of all people, George Arliss in 1932’s slightly more convincing The Man Who Played God, which was one of the early projects that helped to put over the young Bette Davis. And speaking of God, I swear to Him and you both that this is also a movie where an Irving Wallace script somehow, against all odds, enables Liberace to invoke the name of Lou Groza, the Cleveland Browns’ supreme-o placekicker of my childhood.
The great cinematographer William Clothier had to shoot Yours in wretched WarnerColor, and you have to believe that the set atmosphere was a little different than what he got jawboning with stuntmen on all those John Wayne/John Ford pics that were pretty well the basis of his career — to say nothing of what William Demarest (as Liberace’s manager) must have been thinking during production after all those Preston Sturges comedies. Lou Luminick of the New York Post did a superb job of referencing “echoes” of Yours to be currently found in HBO’s already remarkably resonant Behind the Candelabra, but the earlier picture’s barebones premise simply finds Liberace as a famed (but on the verge of becoming more so) concert pianist who is suddenly struck deaf just as he is about to play Carnegie Hall for the first time. Occasionally, he is told, hearing may return on a dime but only temporarily – a warning issued by an ear specialist played by Edward Platt (who uniquely got to compare the acting disciplines of Liberace and James Dean at approximately the same time, given that Yours and Rebel Without a Cause were released less than a month apart). The only hope is all-or-nothing surgery (and permanently nothing, to complicate matters), which Lee ponders for a while. But in the mean time, the doc suggests that lip-reading instruction might help — advice the patient takes, only to begin using it to spy on neighbors in creepy Rear Window-fashion (albeit for benevolent reasons) from his high-rise apartment.
This is one weird 115-minute package, and the fact that my local downtown movie place originally paired it with Cross Channel (a European smuggling drama with Wayne Morris and distributed by an equally near-the-end Republic Pictures) couldn’t have it any more of a conventional moviegoing experience at the time — or helped the box office. Now, whether all this automatically translates into absolutely one of the worst movies ever — which is the Yours rep — is a possible subject of debate, though it’s certainly not a percentage play going to the mat over it. Though it’s true that the movie evolves into something beyond turgid when it begins to play the Catholic faith card, Douglas handles a couple scenes involving hearing loss and its temporary restoration fairly well. You can also ask how completely (as opposed to frequently) unbearable a movie can be when most of its first 45 minutes finds its showman-lead in concert – though, eventually, even this rubbed in. Per Liberace’s real-life concerts of the day, his “Anthony Warrin” character knows how to keep his target demographic happy — tempering the Castor Oil of Chopin and Mozart with "Chopsticks, Boogie-woogie" (as opposed to Candelabra’s "Boogie Nights") and even some Lee tap-dancing to "Tea for Two."
Let it be said that Liberace was not to the manner born as an actor, and the only time he ever really scored in his mere handful of screen appearances was as part of The Loved One ensemble, when he got deservedly good reviews as a casket salesman. Also for the record, Scorsese called me “sick” two more times during that AFI visit: when I told him I had once programmed the Eddie Fisher-Debbie Reynolds Bundle of Joy at the theater — and when I did my imitation for of him of John Wayne as the Centurion in The Greatest Story Ever Told. It was a memorable day.