Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Every Breath You Take

Film: Julie
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

You know that scene in a cheesy thriller where our heroes are in an airplane and the pilot has become incapacitated and someone else has to land the plane? That trope started with Julie from 1956, so it gets the credit or the blame, as you see fit. Evidently, it’s pretty accurate in terms of the technical method of having a non-pilot land a large plane. I realize that in this case I’m giving away the ending of the film, but Julie stars Doris Day, and you didn’t think that a film studio was going to kill off Doris Day, did you?

Julie kind of wants (and by “kind of” I mean “desperately”) to be a film noir with a female protagonist. It succeeds in this for the first two acts and then jumps right out the window with our airborne drama. Ah, but I’m ahead of myself. It’s important to know, though, that Julie is very much a film of two halves.

Our titular hero Julie (Doris Day) has just married Lyle Benton (Louis Jourdan), a concert pianist and friend. We learn immediately a few important things. First, Lyle is insanely jealous of any man showing any amount of attention to Julie and of Julie paying attention to anyone but him. When they fight about it in the car while she is driving, Lyle presses his foot down on hers, sending the car careening down the highway with Julie desperately attempting to steer them away from an accident. When they finally stop, Lyle reveals the depths of his jealousy—he’d happily kill her to prevent another man from having her. We’re off to a good start.

It’s then revealed that Julie is a widow and that her previous husband committed suicide. Ah, but did he? The night that he died, Lyle was there, and Lyle admits that he was interested in Julie before her first husband’s death. Since we’ve already established that he’s crazy, we’re now starting to wonder just how crazy he might be. Julie confers with friend Cliff Henderson (Barry Sullivan) and then tries to coax a confession out of her new, scary husband. It’s surprisingly easy to do—he freely admits to killing her husband so that he could marry her himself.

With this out of the way, Julie flees with the assistance of Cliff, but Lyle seems to know her every step. The police can’t help because there’s no proof of anything. With Cliff’s help, Julie changes her name and returns to her old job as a flight attendant (yes, it’s “stewardess” in the film, but times change). Even this doesn’t through Lyle off the track. He ambushes Cliff, shoots him, and discovers Julie’s new name and whereabouts. He also discovers what flight she is on and manages to sneak onboard without her noticing. This is what leads to our intrepid heroine flying the plane at the end of the film.

Naturally, there are some significant problems with Julie, beginning with the title song, which was somehow Oscar-nominated (along with the screenplay). I watched this film a couple of hours ago and I can’t tell you how the song went or any of the lyrics (aside from the repeated “Juuuuuuuuuuuu-lieeeeeeeeeeeee”). All I can tell you is that Doris Day sang it, and bully for her. Drop a jazz soundtrack in here and we might at least be starting somewhere interesting.

For the first two acts, the biggest issue is that Lyle seems to immediately know everything about Julie’s actions and whereabouts no matter what she does or what is done on her behalf. We don’t really get a solid idea of how he seems to know everything—how he knows (for instance) what false name she uses to check into a San Francisco hotel, or specifically where to locate Cliff while Cliff is out on the road. I give the film props for making Lyle’s stalking really creepy. Much of it involves him playing tape recordings of him playing the piano, and these moments are really disturbing and effective.

And then there’s the third act, which is honestly pretty ridiculous. There was a great deal of potential drama in the situation we’re given—Lyle and the object of his obsession together a few thousand miles up with no way out. But the whole idea of forcing Julie to land the plane seems like ridiculous pandering.

As a final note, I don’t really have any issues with any of the performances here, but I do need to say something about Louis Jourdan. The guy is French and speaks with a French accent. As such, the name “Lyle Benton” really doesn’t work. This is an original screenplay. How hard would it have been to simply rename the character Lucien Benoit? At least then he’d match how he sounds.

Julie is right around the point of being campy fun. I’m not sure it gets all the way there. I kind of enjoyed it, at least until it just disappointed me.

Why to watch Julie: With some willing suspension of disbelief, the first two acts are pretty good.
Why not to watch: The third act is ridiculous.

7 comments:

  1. Yeesh this movie! I searched for it for years since it was the only Doris Day movie I hadn't seen, then the TCM gods helpfully scheduled it and what a honey baked ham to finish up with!

    It does attempt initially to examine a serious problem, the defenselessness of women against abusive husbands in the fifties when restraining orders weren't available. But that tone is dropped pretty quickly and it becomes the cinematic equivalent to clutching your pearls for the remainder of the film. Doris must have been a wreck by the conclusion of filming since she is rarely anything less than a strung out mess. A mess in immaculate hair and makeup however. The location filming is beautiful, that along with the cars made me really wish it was in color though I think you're right that it was going for some sort of noirish feeling.

    It is all kinds of soapy goodness, and it's a must for Day fans, but at bottom it's an absurdly overwrought meller. The plane sequence is the perfect topper!

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    1. If you watched this on TCM within the last couple of years, you almost certainly watched the showing that I recorded on DVR and watched today.

      Had this been a movie that stuck to the idea of defenseless women and abusive husbands, it would have ended up being a pretty damn good movie. Unfortunately, it really wants to be lurid even if it also doesn't really allow itself to become too lurid.

      If I remember Robert Osborne's chat after the movie, this was one of the last times Doris Day did anything like this because Julie required her to be essentially hysterical for the entire running time.

      It's actually a great idea for a film. It just goes really far off the rails into Crazytown instead of sticking with a smaller and more believable premise.

      Honey baked ham...man, I'm going to steal that.

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    2. Yes I'd read the same thing about Doris and the rigors that drama played on her emotional well being. In her autobiography she said that since she was an instinctual actress she put it all out there and had no technique to compartmentalize her emotions thereby leaving her a worn out rag doll by filming's end.

      She did one more overblown melodrama-the hysterical, in more ways than one, Midnight Lace which being a Ross Hunter production is dripping in jewels, lush surroundings and a quality cast...Rex Harrison, Roddy McDowell and Myrna Loy wearing at one point what might be the ugliest hat ever put on a woman. Poor Doris is turned into a scream queen having maybe ten minutes tops where she isn't in some state of distress. She looks a million throughout but refused to do anything as exhausting from that point on.

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    3. That's pretty much what Robert Osborne had to say--the rest of her movies were a lot calmer and easier on her.

      It's kind of too bad, because Doris Day had some qualities that made her a really good damsel in distress.

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  2. If flight attendants count, there's a 1930s airplane movie called Without Orders where the co-pilot (played by Ward Bond, of all people) goes crazy, knocks out the pilot and jumps out of the passenger plane with the only parachute. Flight attendant Kay (played by one of my screen crushes Sally Eilers) has to land the plane! In a snowstorm! On a frozen lake with the runway area marked out by flares!

    OMG! I can hardly stand it! It's too suspenseful!

    Also starring Robert Armstrong, the guy on the radio telling her how to land an airplane on a frozen lake in a snowstorm.

    I've only seen the ending so I have no idea why Ward Bond went crazy.

    I've never seen Julie but I REALLY REALLY want to see it now.

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    1. When I go into the history, I'm pretty much limited by what I can find. The "she has to land the plane" info comes from Wikipedia. It may well reference her being the first to land a jet. Don't really know except what I've read.

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    2. Wikipedia is usually a good place to start but the Internet is full of people making absolute statements that are rubbish.

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