Good Ol’ Fashioned Drama Revisited

I was trying to think of something earth shattering to say on this last day of 2012, but profoundness evades me.  Instead, I’d like to end the year with a little creativity!  I’ll think of something profound to say on my other blog later.  I also promised someone that I would write this and am just now getting around to it :-).  I have learned so much this academic year.  If something should happen and 2013 leaves me behind, I can say, although I have one lone semester left, I have already accomplished what I set out to do in this collegiate experience.  My main goal was to become a better writer.  Everything else I’ve learned was an added bonus.  So, I would like to dedicate this final post to creativity, my love of words, and wit.

Good Ol’ Fashioned Drama” was one of my favorite posts.  The movie I discussed is one of my favorites, and I actually wrote about it for a final project this past semester.  “Good Ol’ Fashioned Drama Revisited” is going to be a totally awesome mesh of the two.  Enjoy!

I do not consider myself to be a movie buff, but I do enjoy watching movies.  Usually you can find my eyes glued to a high-octane action thriller with digitally enhanced sound that is just oh so crispy.  I love a good surprise, and mystery and suspense films totally play into that.  I’m not down with chick flicks, but I do enjoy a good crying jag.  That is why I love a good, old fashioned, tear-jerking drama.  That’s why I love the dramas from the 40s, 50s, and 60s.  The acting is superb, the drama oozes from every crevice, and the production itself is a character.  The music, lights, shots, and script all were important elements in these films.  Without them, they would not be so wonderful.

Modern dramas are just ok.  They lack so many elements that made the old films great.  Nowadays, all you need to win at the box office is a halfway decent story (and not even), celebrity actors, a superfluity of sex, graphic violence, foul language, more sex, more language….They make me ill.

I love the old dramas because they leave so much to the imagination.  They were not afraid to leave the audiences hanging over a cliff.  Nowadays, everything is delivered with a happily ever after wrapped with a nice bow.  There is nothing to talk about afterward except our own interpretations of what we’ve already seen.  There is nothing to think about for years to come.  The absolute best drama I have seen to date is Madame X (1966).  It’s an American adaptation of a French play starring Lana Turner and John Forsythe.  Other notable actors were Burgess Meredith and Constance Bennett.  Turner’s character is Holly Anderson, Forsythe plays Clayton “Clay” Anderson Sr., Bennett is Clay’s mother, Estelle (the real antagonist if you ask me!), and Meredith is Dan Sullivan–our antagonist.

The Andersons were a powerful and wealthy family in Connecticut.  The film picked up with Holly and Clay arriving at the grand Anderson estate.  It was fully loaded with servants, park-like yards–perhaps “grounds” is a more proper term–a dramatic, winding driveway, and too many rooms to count.  They had eloped.  Clay, as well as the entire lineage of Anderson men, was into politics.  He had what Estelle called “Washington fever.”  Holly was not accustomed to this way of life.  She was a regular girl from Los Angeles with a regular job living in a regular two room apartment.  Estelle did not take kindly to the idea of eloping.  The moment she laid eyes on Holly, we know that she was not the girl she would have picked out for her son.  But she pretended to like her–in public.

Life progressed, and the Anderson family grew.  They had a son named Clayton Anderson Jr.  Holly and Clay were still very much in love years later, but Clay’s career goals were putting a strain on the marriage.  Holly couldn’t understand why he had to go away all the time, and he could slow down to spend quality time with his family.  At one point, Clay was doing a series of charitable acts to improve his image to get more votes.  He went to random places like South Africa, and he was gone for more than six weeks.  This was the longest he had ever been away.  At first Holly would just sit at home and mope.  She turned down all of the party invitations and was just plain miserable.  After a while, Estelle convinced her that she should get out and enjoy life.  She said, “Life doesn’t stop because Clay is not here.”  Holly didn’t like the idea at first, but she got a call from one of her girlfriends who convinced her to come out and play.  This friend introduced her to a man named Phil Benton (Ricardo Montalbán).  This was supposed to be a “double date,” but Phil didn’t have a date, so that’s why she called Holly.  Phil was immediately enamored with Holly.  She kept it professional though.

Phil started calling Holly to hang out, and she obliged.  At first she was just interested in having some company.  She didn’t realize that he was already in love with her, and she was attracted to him.  One night at dinner, Phil raised a toast.  “To six wonderful weeks,” he said.  The look on Holly’s face was priceless.  She, a.) didn’t realize they had been “dating” for that long, b.) just realized that she was “dating” him, and c.) didn’t know how she was going to stop “dating” him.  That night, Clay came home.  Honestly, she was expecting him, but she had forgotten.  He was already home unpacking when she walked in the room.  She was extremely surprised to see him.  The exchange between them was golden.  The camera took a medium shot of both of their reactions to each other, and then a wide angle two-shot of them standing on either side of the room.  They were probably only ten feet away, but it seemed as though they were a million miles away.

He asked, “Where’ve you been?”

She replied, “Where’ve you been?”

“Fair enough.”

Insert very awkward pause.

“I want to kiss you, but you seem so far away,” he said.

“It’s been such a long time,” she said.

Clay had to leave again in the morning, but he promised that after this next trip they would always be together.  He was finally getting what he wanted.  In two weeks he was going to send the yacht to collect the little family to live happily ever after in a little on house on a friendly street with lots of children in Washington.  The next night, Holly made her way to Phil’s house to break it off.  She remembered that it was Clay whom she loved and that she was a married woman and the relationship was not appropriate.  Phil did not appreciate it.  He tried to convince her that nothing in the world mattered except the two of them being together.  They quarreled, and he tried to seduce her into submission.  She threw him off her, but when she did, she accidentally–really–threw him down the stairs.  He was dead.  She fled.  Back at home, she tried to tell Estelle what happened, but she already knew.  She had her followed ever since the day she arrived at the estate!  She black-mailed Holly into leaving the country to spare the family the shame of the scandal.  The cover story was that she died at sea (on the yacht).

Reluctantly Holly agreed to Estelle’s terms, and she left.  She had a new identity and was left to start a new life.  Estelle had given her a fake passport, and there was a bank account already established for her in Geneva under the name Elizabeth Miller.  The rest of the film is about the downward spiral of Holly’s life.  She truly loved Clay and little Clay, and life without them was no life at all.  She encountered many men who wanted to love her, but she wouldn’t let them.  She moved from country to country trying to avoid the pain and sorrow she felt, but you can’t run from what is inside of you.  She also started drinking…hard.  That’s when her life really got out of control.  After a while, she didn’t care about herself and got involved with all kinds of unsavory characters.  She had become a drunken, filthy slut.

In Mexico, she was living in a rat-hole motel, and she met the last dirt bag she got involved with: Dan Sullivan (Burgess Meredith).  She didn’t know this, but he was a womanizer.  He preyed on women and screwed them out of their money–pun totally intended.  They started hanging tight–drinking together.  When Holly got drunk, she told stories about her old life as Mrs. Holly Anderson.  Sullivan remembered the stories of the “death” of Holly Anderson, but he couldn’t help the resemblance between her and “Betty Miller.”  The stories she told when she was in a drunken stupor added up.  He put two and two together and decided that she was telling the truth despite how much she denied everything when she was drunk.  He took her to New York to do a “job,” but he the real plan was to meet her son in order to black mail her.  Clay Jr. was a young, brand new attorney.  Holly found out about this covert operation, and although her life was not worth anything, still wanted to protect her son from her sins.  She killed Sullivan.  She signed a confession as “X,” and the media called her Madame X.

The film ended with the trial.  Holly is actually being represented by her son, but neither of them know it.  Things happen in the trial that cause Holly to realize who he is, but he still doesn’t know her.  [SPOILER ALERT] Just before the jury comes back, Holly died and Clay Jr. never finds out who she really was.

I pray that no one ever attempts to remake this movie because they would ruin it.  First of all, I am quite certain the director would continue the trial scene.  The jury would come back, and they would probably say she is not guilty.  The Andersons would go home and have a come to Jesus moment, and Estelle would confess to everything.  I’m not quite sure how he would do the rest, but all of that would already be too much.  The movie would start with Clay having lunch in some LA restaurant, and Holly would be his server.  Of course, they would show how the relationship began, and then go on to show them eloping.  We are too attached to closure!  Everything has to have a beginning and an end, but it’s not necessary!  Having unanswered questions at the end is healthy.  I first saw this film maybe 15 years ago, and as you can see it still affects me.  What happens off camera is part of what makes a movie great.  But today there are no off screen mysteries.  I wish we could see more elements of good ol’ fashioned drama in films today.





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