Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Sure Hope It's Waterproof...

Film: A Hatful of Rain
Format: Internet video on laptop.

The idea of a parent misjudging his or her children is a pretty old story. There are plenty of novels, plays, and movies in which a parent dotes on an undeserving child and ignores or mistreats the child who really deserves respect. A Hatful of Rain takes that basic idea and spices it up by adding drugs and giving it a noir twist. That’s at least the intent here; whether or not it’s successful will depend, I suppose, on the viewer.

In a way, this is sort of Death of a Salesman replacing the story about the father and focusing on the sons. John Pope, Sr. (Lloyd Nolan) arrives at the apartment home of his son Johnny (Don Murray), Johnny’s wife Celia (Eva Marie Saint), and Johnny’s younger brother Polo (an Oscar-nominated Anthony Franciosa) to pay a visit. John is extremely proud of his elder son, who is a decorated Korean War veteran. Despite being a bartender himself, he’s also ashamed of Polo, who works as a bouncer in a nightclub.

What John Pope doesn’t know, and in fact what Celia doesn’t know, is that Johnny’s experiences in the war have left him addicted to morphine. The real reason for John Sr.’s visit is that he wants $2,500 that Polo has promised to him. Unfortunately, that money has gone straight into Johnny’s arm at the rate of two fixes per day, $20 per fix. Neither one can tell their father what really happened to the money, which only makes John more angry at his younger son. John is also unaware that Johnny can’t keep a job (he’s been fired from a series of them), and probably wouldn’t believe it even if he were told.

That’s really the film here. Johnny and Polo keep the truth from John and Celia, and all of the blame is continually heaped on Polo. Meanwhile, the police are rounding up all of the dealers in town, making it harder and harder for Johnny to score. Additionally, he’s already in for $500 with Mother (Henry Silva), who won’t give him another fix until he pays up, and who threatens him with a beating administered by Chuch (Gerald S. O’Loughlin) and Apples (the great William Hickey, who was evidently once a young man). Eventually, everything comes to a head with everyone finding out about Johnny’s addiction problem. It’s very After School Special.

That’s really the big problem here. A Hatful of Rain is filled with Acting! from most of the parties involved. Anthony Franciosa, who was Oscar-nominated for the role is the one who seems to rein this in the best, but there’s plenty of histrionics and yelling. This is compounded by the fact that Polo has feelings for Celia and those feelings might be reciprocated. We get some tender moments between the two of them that, sadly, feel a lot more like affectation than genuine.

There’s a nugget of a story here, but really only the nugget. The addiction story had been done before and done better: The Lost Weekend certainly hits almost the exact same notes with similar family drama and more interesting withdrawal symptoms. Adding in a crew of gangsters is interesting, but ultimately doesn’t do a great deal to make this so different that it must be seen.

The other problem is that this is very evidently based on a stage play. I didn’t realize that going in , and director Fred Zinnemann does use some New York locations to good effect, but the most important scenes look as if they could just as easily be played on a stage…because that’s where they were originally written for. I figured this out long before I found out that that was the case, and I find that frustrating, particularly with a director normally as good as Zinnemann.

As much as I wanted to like this, I simply couldn’t. Franciosa is admittedly solid in his role, and I enjoyed seeing William Hickey as a young man. In fact, the scenes involving Mother and his thugs tend to be the best in the film, or at least the most interesting. Ultimately, though, this is a film that I feel like I’ve not only seen before, I’ve seen done quite a bit better. It’s worth tracking down only for the insane OCD completists like myself. Anyone else can watch virtually any other film about addiction and find something more meaningful and more interesting than is on offer here.

Why to watch A Hatful of Rain: You’re a junkie for drug tales.
Why not to watch: A plot you’ve basically seen, this time in a very obvious conversion from the stage.

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