To tie in with HBO’s new biopic of Liberace, here is that ivory tickler’s notorious first and last effort at being a big-screen matinee idol. It’s freshly on demand from Warner Archives, and here’s the dish:
In a perfect bit of casting, Liberace plays a popular concert pianist, a showman who gives the people what they want. His efficient bespectacled secretary (Joanne Dru) has silently pined for years but for some reason he doesn’t notice her. He’ll flee from a conversation with her to go chat with his manager (William Demarest) while the latter is taking a bath! And said manager lives with him in the same swanky New York penthouse, as all managers surely do. Hmm.
Well, our man begins a whirlwind romance with some aging debutante (Dorothy Malone) after he chooses to carry on the masquerade when she mistakes him for someone he’s not. Hmm again. After he’s proposed, he finds he must keep from her his terrible secret—he’s going deaf! The cat gets out of the bag and our brooding hero now participates in one of Hollywood’s most convenient near-mythical plot devices, the miracle of lip-reading, in order to eavesdrop on the petty joys and miseries of the little people in the park across the street. Will stalking them make him a better person? Maybe, but it mostly seems contrived to spare him from marrying Malone. Hmm once more.
The movie’s primary function is to present the dozens of concert pieces, from Mozart to “Beer Barrel Polka”, that audiences were paying to see in living Warnercolor. As such, the film presents a creditable vehicle for the maestro’s performance style and a welcome break from the stiff plot that keeps interrupting these relaxed musical asides. Irving Wallace’s script remakes a creaky stage drama filmed twice before (both times with George Arliss) as The Man Who Played God. Whenever we get away from the melo and back to the drama, the film feels draggy and, ironically, overstated by everyone except Liberace, whose relative restraint might have seemed stiff and unconvincing to viewers and critics. At any rate, they seemed to have trouble buying this rosy-cheeked, nasal-voiced fellow as a serious romantic actor. Let’s say he was no Rock Hudson.
Director Gordon Douglas may have thought so too, for he keeps milking reaction shots from minor characters and bystanders. The results feel overdone and tacky, but unfortunately not in the true Liberace manner, for his character sports simple tuxedos with neither glitter nor fur nor candelabra. So in a way it’s “Liberace” and not Liberace; that tux is a straight-jacket that doesn’t allow him to be himself. For a more satisfying Liberace, check out his nicely outrageous comic turn in The Loved One. Still, if you’re even reading this review, you probably want to see this manifestly insincere Sincerely Yours at least once.
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// Notes from the Road
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