Back Street [1961]

back_street_1961-dvd-r1-universal-136178/10 | 30.Jan.12
Back Street

DIRECTOR: David Miller | WRITERS: Eleanore Griffin, William Ludwig | CAST: Susan Hayward, John Gavin, Vera Miles, Charles Drake, Virginia Grey, Reginald Gardiner, Natalie Schafer | USA

The only thing I can say about Back Street is that I love it. Always have, always will. Fannie Hurst’s novel was dated when it was first made into a film in 1931 but the material was hopelessly ridiculous in 1961. Susan Hayward (as Rae Smith, couturieuse) is at her stagiest worst and is fabulous; she plays a woman who doesn’t age a minute or change her wardrobe over the roughly 15 year span of the story. John Gavin (Paul Saxon, scion of the Saxon’s department store empire) is yet again a fabulous Ken doll hunk who doesn’t need to act so he doesn’t bother trying. Virginia Grey (Janey, Rae’s sister) is quite good as a low rent Eve Arden, Reginald Gardiner (as Dalian, this film’s answer to Mainbocher) should have been given more and better lines since his verbal sparring with Susan Hayward looks like it could have been developed into something special. And then there’s Vera Miles as the drunken shrew wife, Liz Saxon. She steals every scene she’s in. Upstaging everyone is Alexander Golitzen’s 1961 fashion-forward chic art direction, although a couple of the gowns Jean Louis designed for the movie (for which he was nominated for an Oscar) are almost as fun. And the dialogue! Some of the lines are part of my internal Bartlett’s:

RAE: Do you know the worst part? He was trying to seduce me with champagne. Domestic champagne, yet.

RAE: Oh That’s how I see myself when I become a famous designer with my own salon. That’s my signature, all small letters. Very chic, don’t you think?

RAE: It has line, style, simplicity. It says something.

And my personal favorite:

PAUL: Liz, a few more drinks and you’ll fall flat on your face.
LIZ: Let’s find out!

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