Judge Daryl Loomis loves a hot southern night.
She's the main attraction.
It started in 1951 with the success of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and cinema's love affair with Tennessee Williams continued for the next two decades, with no fewer than fifteen adaptations of his plays appearing on the screen. It makes sense, as meaty female roles full of overblown sexual dialog means that the biggest, most beautiful actresses will want the parts and moviegoers will come to see them. It was true for Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor, and Ava Gardner, but by the time 1966's This Property is Condemned rolled out, it wasn't so true anymore. Based on a 1946 one-acter, and starring Natalie Wood (West Side Story), people had seen it all before.
Alva Starr (Wood) is the main attraction at the boarding house her mother Hazel (Kate Reid, The Andromeda Strain) owns. She houses railroad workers in Dodson, a hot Mississippi town. There's nothing going on except for the parties Hazel throws for her boarders, mostly to show off her daughter for privileges. One night, a handsome young man named Owen Ledgate (Robert Redford, The Sting) shows up looking for a room for a week, and sparks fly with Alva. Soon, though, it becomes clear that he's from the railroad and, because it's the depression, is there to lay off workers. He's the most hated man in town, but he also becomes the only man Alva has ever truly loved.
Even though it was one of Tennessee Williams' earlier plays, by the time it made it to the big screen, everybody seems to have gotten their fill of his stories of desperate men and horny, crazy women, and This Property is Condemned failed at the box office. There's nothing about the movie that would necessarily indicate a failure, but audiences really didn't care. It's more of the same and, with nothing at all surprising in the story, it just comes off as been there/done that.
If you like the sort of thing, though, This Property is Condemned scratches the itch. The play, adapted and expanded by Francis Ford Coppola, in his first effort away from Roger Corman, has a very awkward framing story involving Willie Starr (Mary Badham, To Kill A Mockingbird), Alva's little sister, who is telling some random kid the story of the boarding house, which is the title's now condemned property. After that stupidity, it sets up as one would expect. Alva gets the attention, wanted or not, from all the boys. There's money trouble and an older man who her mom wants to prostitute Alva too. Handsome big city stud Ledgate rolls into town and, after a bunch of arguing, sweeps her off her feet. Nothing new here.
Still, there's decent chemistry between Wood and Redford, which is crucial in a Williams production, and strong character roles for Charles Bronson (Death Wish) and Robert Blake (Lost Highway). The direction by Sydney Pollack (Tootsie), in only his second major feature, is competent and he makes good use of the southern landscape to deliver an attractive, well-paced film. Everybody involved with the production has done better work before and since, but it's professional work all around. If you like the overheated trappings of Tennessee Williams, This Property is Condemned is worth your time.
This Property is Condemned comes to DVD as part of the Warner Archives collection. It's one of the better movies and one of the better releases from it that I've seen as, generally, what they release on the label are fairly forgettable productions. This disc isn't anything special, but it looks pretty good. There is some softness in the wider outdoor shots, but the rest is strong, with nicely saturated colors that show off the Technicolor cinematography of James Wong Howe (Hud) quite well. The mono sound is perfectly fine. It's nothing special, but dialog and music are both clear. No extras, as usual.
As standard-issue Tennessee Williams, This Property is Condemned is not the best adaptation of his work. If you like the way his plays operate, though, it's still a pretty enjoyable movie; you just aren't going to see anything you haven't seen before. For fans of the playwright and Natalie Wood completists out there, it's a nice little release, but most other people can probably just move along.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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