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'Ada'/'I Thank a Fool'

Tacking Hayward


Ada

Director: Daniel Mann
Cast: Susan Hayward, Dean Martin
Distributor: Warner Archive
Rated: Not rated
Year: 1961
USDVD release date: 2012-10-2

I Thank a Fool

Director: Robert Stevens
Cast: Susan Hayward, Peter Finch
Distributor: Warner Archive
Rated: Not rated
Year: 1962
USDVD release date: 2012-10-2

Freshly available on demand from Warner Archive are two lavish Sixties melodramas, in Cinemascope and Metrocolor, starring Susan Hayward.

First up is Ada. While campaigning for governor of Tennessee with his folksy smile and his gee-tar, easy-going chump Bo Gillis (Dean Martin) falls in love with a iron-willed "trollop" (Hayward), who's not far from a sharecropper's childhood in Alabama. She will prove to be his most valuable asset and far stronger than any of the men around her, including the soft-spoken boss (Wilfrid Hyde-White) of the political machine that created her husband and is prepared to break him as soon as Bo wises up to his function as a rubber stamp for croneys who milk public funds.

As a melodrama, this has its share of far-fetched developments, although maybe not all that far-fetched. As a romance, it's standard. As a drama about politics as a world of greed, money, manipulation and cynicism, it's as good any of its time (e.g. Advise and Consent and The Best Man) and only a few rungs down from, say, All the King's Men or A Face in the Crowd. In other words, it feels depressingly apt, even if it sugars the pill with a semi-upbeat ending. It looks good in widescreen, and although the color hasn't been restored to new lustre, it always shows Hayward looking mighty fetching in green. You can see the difference by comparing with the faded trailer.

Everything about I Thank a Fool is so far-fetched, it must be embraced outright as voluptuous gothic melodrama. That's easy when the print is in such excellent shape that we can appreciate how the excellent director Robert Stevens and photographer Harry Waxman tear loose in a movie beautifully designed by legendary stage designer Sean Kenny (his only proper feature). A couple of very high-angle shots, presumably taken from a crane, are breathtaking in their gratuitous loveliness, and it's all scored in lush yet nervous tones by Ron Goodwin. A couple of wildly obvious rear-projection moments isolate a character who's alienated from reality, so even this flaw can be justified thematically. This was produced in England and Ireland by Anatole de Grunwald, who wasn't chintzy. Combined with a what-the-heck-is-happening scenario, it all makes for a movie that virtually watches itself.

The story is something about a doctor (Hayward), jailed briefly for manslaughter in a scandalous case, who ends up working for the arrogant barrister (Peter Finch) who convicted her. He wants a keeper for his high-strung wife (the ravishing Diane Cilento), who has unfortunate issues with her daddy (Cyril Cusack). Karl Tunberg's script, based on a novel by Audrey Erskine-Lindop, doesn't seem to know whether it's piling on twists or rewriting itself as it goes along, especially at the end. If the movie can't decide, we won't. And frankly, we have no idea who's thanking which fool for what. We only know it keeps us seduced and punchy.

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