Tuesday, January 16, 2018

She Drinks a Whiskey Drink, She Drinks a Vodka Drink

Film: I’ll Cry Tomorrow
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

It took Susan Hayward five tries to win an Oscar. Four of those five, including her eventual win, were portrayals of women had fallen in some significant and terrible way. That terrible failing might be alcohol (Smash-Up), booze and a bad marriage (My Foolish Heart), or crime (I Want to Live!). With I’ll Cry Tomorrow, it was a return to alcohol, and many of the same places she went in Smash-Up. It’s also a return to what she did in With a Song in My Heart, in that she’s playing a real person and a real life.

I’ll Cry Tomorrow is the story of Lillian Roth (Hayward), an actress and performer in the early days of the movies. Roth was thrust on stage by her mother (Jo Van Fleet) and forced into a life of performance. It’s never really clear that this was something that Lillian wanted for herself. In fact, when she, out in Hollywood, reconnects with David Tredman (Ray Danton), a childhood friend, she’s absolutely ready to ditch the life completely. David, an entertainment lawyer, gets some solid gigs for Lillian as the two prepare to get married. But David suffered from some mysterious (and never defined) malady, and he dies suddenly while Lillian is on stage.

This is thus the beginning of Lillian’s many, many problems. David’s death leads her to emotional breakdowns, from which she recovers via the bottle and an eventual split from her domineering mother. This leads to a string of disappointing and increasingly dismal relationships. Sailor Wallie (Don Taylor) eventually leaves her since they had only drinking in common and he tired of being Mr. Lillian Roth. The destruction of this relationship leads her to Tony Bardeman (Richard Conte), who promises her that they will both dry out. But he continues to drink and becomes abusive.

Eventually, Lillian escapes and returns to New York and her mother. Because of when this film was produced, we’re going to get an uplift at the end; in this case, that uplift is going to come at the hands of Alcoholics Anonymous and Burt McGuire (Eddie Albert). Recovery is absolutely going to be in the cards here, at least in terms that the film can give us.

It’s Susan Hayward who caused me to watch I’ll Cry Tomorrow and as a fan of Hayward, I can’t say that it was a wasted time watching. But it’s Jo Van Fleet who, more than anyone and anything, is going to stay with me. I’m surprised that wasn’t nominated in a supporting role. Early on, she is brutal and vicious, demanding of her daughter. The pretense is, of course, that she’s doing everything for Lillian, when she’s really doing it for herself. By the end of the film, she is broken, both by her own behavior and that of Lillian and completely pitiable.

But Hayward is the main attraction, and no one dove into these broken roles the way that Susan Hayward did. With a role like this one, where we are going to watch someone go from a position of being wildly popular and successful to literally contemplating suicide in a cheap hotel, a certain amount of buy-in is necessary from our star. Hayward was always game for a role like this one, and here no less than in her other broken and battered roles.

While this is true, there’s also a great deal of unnecessary melodrama with this film. Hayward does what she can, but she’s forced into melodramatic beats. Mid-way through the film, as she tries to dry out on her own, she has a moment of weakness that plays out almost as farce. Toward the end of the film, when she decides to walk into an AA meeting, it takes forever to get her up the stairs and into the door, each step playing out like she’s moments away from public execution.

One aspect of the film I do find interesting is the evident need for Lillian Roth to consistently have a man in her life. The moment one man walks away, she falls for the next one to approach her. In some ways, this is more interesting than her alcoholism—this need for needing someone seems just as destructive and virtually ignored in the film. In fact, this is more or less treated like a symptom of the booze.

I don’t know how much I like this movie. I think it’s interesting, and I’m generally always interested in watching Susan Hayward on the screen, but of her nominated roles, I think this might be the least of them.

Why to watch I’ll Cry Tomorrow: Susan Hayward was a force of nature.
Why not to watch: There are moments of high melodrama that don’t really fit.


  1. I like Smash-Up better.

    Lillian Roth is awesome! She did one of those Max Fleischer Sing-A-Long cartoons that's worth tracking down.

    Her two best movies are Animal Crackers (with the Marx Brothers) and Ladies They Talk About (with Barbara Stanwyck). I saw her in Madam Satan fairly recently and that's a crazy crazy Cecil B. DeMille disaster movie about an out-of-control party dirigible. It's several kinds of awesome in its way, and Ms. Roth is fantastic.

    And YouTube has a clip from the 1933 film Take a Chance where Ms. Roth shows you what she's got ... and she's got a lot!

    1. Honestly, I liked Smash-Up more as well. It's less melodramatic and gives Hayward a little more to do in terms of dealing with the personal demons of the character.

  2. I don’t know about this being the least of her nominated vehicles. I’ve always liked it the best of the five as far as her performance goes, though it’s not my favorite of her work-that would be between The President’s Lady and The Lusty Men.

    It is melodramatic but I knew that going in. What can you expect from a film whose taglines are “This story was filmed on location….Inside a Woman’s Soul!” and “She fell from fame to shame!”? Having read Roth’s biography I don’t know if they could have really gone any other way than high melodrama, her life was the stuff of it. She did describe that first walk into AA almost as if she was heading into an execution but felt that she had no further to fall and it was this or actual death.

    It is too bad they didn’t pursue that fact that she always needed someone, Roth did make mention of it in the book. It stemmed from a few sources, one was the fact that her mother had hovered over and pushed her practically since birth to perform and excel so she didn’t trust her own judgement but a big part of it was the booze and the feeling of security not drinking alone gave her and then the desire to feel valued which despite all her success she never did until AA. Sadly it seems that Burt turned out to be a louse as well, walking out on her and their marriage and emptying their joint accounts. She never remarried but had a successful stage and cabaret career and managed to stay off the bottle. A very hard road but apparently she was content at the end, her tombstone reads-“As bad as it was it was good.”

    I agree that Jo Van Fleet is a knockout as Lillian’s mother giving a multi layered portrait. She was nominated, and won, this year but for her work in East of Eden as the hardened madam Kate. She’s very good there but I would have rather seen her get the nod for this more varied role though I’m positive this fed into her win.

    But it’s Susan Hayward who is the engine that makes this go and she is dynamic. As you say she buys in to the character totally unafraid to plunge deep into the troubled Lillian and often look like hell. The one small fault is she is a trifle mature at the beginning to be a just out of her teens. Her walk as she staggers through skid row first in long shot and then as she nears the camera and her face is twitching uncontrollably is a powerful moment as is when she comes flying out of her dressing room obviously tanked and tosses away the line “You better put up the chair” to a stagehand and then pulls herself together enough to sing a tender version of “Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe” while still teetering on the edge of passing out. She also gets to show she had a decent pair of pipes since she does all her own singing in the film.

    It isn’t one of her films I return to often, too harrowing and sad, but a terrific showcase for a pair of very talented actresses.

    1. I like Hayward a lot, and a lot of it is reasons that you've more or less mentioned here. She wasn't afraid to have herself shown in a negative light, either in terms of the character she is playing or her own physical appearance. It's something she had in common with Olivia de Havilland. There are moments here when it's all Hayward swinging for the fences, and those are some of the better moments of the film (well, that and Jo Van Fleet being both awful and pitiable).

      I also may not have been clear in the closing. I don't know that this is Hayward's worst nominated performance, but I think it might be the role that I care the least about, if that makes sense.