Saturday, April 25, 2009

8 Things I Love About Susan Hayward in I'll Cry Tomorrow

A couple of weeks ago, I re-screened I'll Cry Tomorrow, Susan Hayward's 1955 Academy Award-nominated vehicle. My first viewing of this film a couple of years ago was a bit wonky (the tape stopped recording 40 minutes in and I missed probably 15 minutes in the middle) and I've grown to appreciate Susan Hayward so much more in that time so I decided this film was in need of another look. And boy am I ever glad I did that. On the surface, I'll Cry Tomorrow may not seem like anything more than your typical Oscar-bait biopic, but it's actually one of the few films about alcoholism that shows the dark, gritty and positively disgusting underbelly of the disease. Sure, the film does this in the most glamorous way possible, but it's positively riveting to watch.

The film is a solid A, but the woman who gets the most credit for that is Susan Hayward. Her performance and acting style is not for every one, but if you're lucky enough to love it, I'll Cry Tomorrow is a sight to behold. Because it left such an impression on me and I want as many people as possible to seek out this movie, here are eight reasons why Susan Hayward is utterly fantastic in I'll Cry Tomorrow.

Susan Hayward-isms If you've seen a Susan Hayward musical number before, then you know that she has certain, um, characteristics that pop up over and over again in them. Mainly, she uses her arms and makes the same five poses, or a variation of them, throughout the entire number. I know the word "genius" is thrown around a lot (especially by me) and it's meaning has been diluted a bit, but that is the only word in the English language that is applicable to Susan Hayward's ability to turn these ridiculously hammy hand gestures into something that works even half as well as it does in her first musical number, "Sing You Sinners." And that's not even talking about the way she occasionally tosses her head back with that big ole cheesy grin plastered on her face. If you're unprepared, these signature bits may throw you off and automatically write off Susan Hayward's acting ability, but once it clicks, you won't be able to get them out of your head. Genius, indeed.

Subtle Comic Timing I was HOWLING at the 20 second mark of this clip.

Knows the Importance of Being Fabulous At All Times I'm not going to reveal what event is the trigger of Hayward's character's alcoholism, but I think it's important to note that even after this traumatic event, Hayward still finds it's necessary to lie around in her bed with her hair all done and makeup applied perfectly. She's Susan Hayward, damnit; there's no way she's looking like a commoner!

"When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob Bobbin' Along" Another example of why Susan Hayward's musical numbers at the shit, yo. She is completely rocking those twirls at the end.

Monologue at 1:16 “He’s alright…he’s fine. He’s a real doll. Our maid left this morning because I’m such a drunk. Everybody feels sorry for him. Nobody feels sorry for me. Yup, there’s drunks and there’s drunks. You see, I’m what you call an ‘adorable drunk.’ He…he’s mean! Maybe you can tell me, mister. Why is it when some men get drunk, they get mean, real mean? And then, and then, they next day, they’re sorry. So sorry. He’s great, he’s, he’s my husband….he’s a doll. Got the scars to prove it. Oh well! That’s okay with me. I’m no good. I’m no good. That’s the way it’s gotta be. I’m just nothin’ but a hopeless drunk. Getting just what I deserve. Oh well. That’s life.”

Camp When describing a performance, the word "camp" often gets a bad connotation. But, when it's done right and the film's structure is loose enough to allow it, the results can be astounding. Just think of Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? or Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest and you'll see that camp does not always equal bad. This same principle can applied to Hayward's performance in I'll Cry Tomorrow. She's loud and larger than life, but she can get away with it since director Daniel Mann makes sure to scale back the entire film at certain points so she can just let loose with reckless abandon. It could have been a complete disaster, but Hayward knows how to camp it up like a true pro.

Voice over at 0:40 “Every night after that, I drank myself to sleep. I felt I no longer needed Katie’s reassurance- I was getting it out of the bottle! For the first time, I was completely secure on the stage. I was sure at last that they liked me and I deserved it. I was something! I was GLAMOROUS! I was the BEST singer IN THE WORLD!”

An Acting Style That is Both Misunderstood and Forgotten Today Going through Susan Hayward's Oscar-nominated work, it quickly becomes apparent that her acting style will be divisive, especially to modern-day viewers not familiar with the pre-Method Era style of acting she embodies. I know that when I first saw her films, I found it odd that this ham of an actress was a widely respected thespian. Over time, I've come to respect her audacity and sheer balls to be so batshit crazy over-the-top with any of her performances. With her big booming theatrical voice, sweeping gestures and go-for-broke desperation, Susan Hayward's performance in I'll Cry Tomorrow pierces through the doldrums of mid-50's American cinema like the a loud, menacing rocket launched into the atmosphere. When she's drunk, she's drunk, slurring her words and stumbling out of nightclubs with all the subtlety of a foghorn. And when she's desperately searching for a drink, not knowing where the hell she is, Hayward is fighting and scratching her way through dirt and grime and the most awful places imaginable to get some booze. It's not pretty and it's certainly not the most comfortable thing to sit through, but that's precisely why it works so well. With a method actress like Julie Harris in the role, I don't think the performance or I'll Cry Tomorrow as a whole would have worked so well. No doubt Harris would have been great, but I think there would have been too much internalization on her part, and the film completely relies on the showy, "surface" effects of alcoholism. With Harris (or any other Method actress), the film's depiction of alcoholism wouldn't have been as dirty or gruesome. Thank goodness Hayward was there with her unusual acting style to lead the way.

1 comment:

StinkyLulu said...

I love this movie so much.
Thanks for such a fun and generous write-up.