ALL THE FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS
US, 1960, 122 minutes, Colour.
Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner, George Hamilton, Pearl Bailey, Susan Kohner.
Directed by Michael Anderson.
All the Fine Young Cannibals was yet another small-town, big-town melodrama of the late 1950s. This one received the full MGM widescreen colour treatment. It was based on a contemporary bestseller and had all the ingredients for soap opera and miniseries.
Direction is by Michael Anderson (The Dambusters, Shake Hands with the Devil, The Wreck of the Mary Deare around this time). Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood had been married, had worked together in several films, as they were to do during the '70s and into the early '80s. George Hamilton was at the beginning of his career (Home from the Hill, Angel Baby). Pearl Bailey gives a strong performance in a supporting role.
The film shows the American values in the small town, cruelty, hypocrisy, the break up of families. In New York, things are little better. The film, perhaps, anticipates a lot of the moral confusion of the '60s, although the ending of the film calls for fidelity in marriage. The film seems dated now, although it could take its stand beside many a soap opera and more contemporary miniseries.
1. The popularity of this kind of soap opera material? The bestseller background? Melodrama and heightened images of life? Entertaining material? Americana, insight into American situations and values?
2. The significance of the title? The characters devouring one another? The original novel was called: The Bixby Girls.
3. Production values: MGM sets and decor, colour photography, Panavision? The heightened musical score? The trumpet music? Especially for the moves and the period?
4. The reputation of the stars, their presence at this time, style and popularity?
5. The opening: poverty, south, families? The influence of parents - especially those strict and over-severe? Chad Bixby and his being influenced by his cruel father, his father's religious background? His love for Salome, her poverty? The severity of her family and their standards? Her pregnancy, refusal to marry Chad ? and the consequences?
6. Robert Wagner's portrait of Chad: a hero. anti-hero? His physically being beaten, the cruelty of his father in the name of religion? His bitterness and aimlessness? Consolation from Salome? Wanting to marry her? Her pregnancy and his fear? His leaving the town? In New York? The encounter with Ruby, becoming her protégé, the bond between the two, his success in playing the trumpet? The irony of Salome and the family going to hear him? Katherine and her decision to seduce him? The melodramatic consequences for Salome and her drinking, for Tony, for the wedding to Katherine and his indifference? His response to her suicide attempt? Ruby's death and his playing the trumpet? Salome and Katherine leaving and his having to confront reality and make decisions? His future?
7. Salome and her poverty, parents, standards, pregnancy, her deciding not to marry Chad, her leaving town, her hopes in New York? The encounter with Tony, the wealth and the family background, a reputation for her child, letting Tony think it was his? Her adapting to the New York high society life? The new encounter with Chad? Her guilt, her drinking? Her decision to go home? Her guilt, her drinking, Her decision to go home?
8. Tony and Katherine as spoilt and wealthy? Tony as the playboy, his wanting to settle down, his love for Salome, accepting the child, his love for it? Katherine and her jealousy, bitchiness, her deciding to seduce Chad, the marriage, her riding and taking refuge in sport, her streak of cruelty, her attempted suicide? Tony seeking Salome out, Katherine reconciled with Chad? How credible?
9. Ruby and Pearl Bailey's interpretation of Ruby, her career, decline, drinking, friendship with Chad, her death?
10. The film's comment on American values ? surface respectability, inner confusion? Severity and laxity, wealth and poverty? Moral confusion, indecisiveness?