Sweet Bird of Youth (1962) Poster

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Memorable 1960's.........
Panamint7 February 2007
Paul Newman is outstanding as the ultimate gigolo gold-digger. This movie also features the quintessential "Heavenly" daughter/ big bad daddy performances by Knight and by Begley, who is frighteningly effective.

Geraldine Page is perfectly imperfect and unattractive- remember she is this way for dramatic effect. You aren't supposed to like her. Anti-heroes and character studies were really featured in that era's plays and films. Such characters don't have to be likable and seldom are. Wonderful 1960's actresses Mildred Dunnock and Madeleine Sherwood also give their usual gem-like performances.

If you want to see what 1960's-style movie-making was really all about, view this one. Sure it is uneven and maybe a little old-fashioned by today's standards, but you can get an idea of why some of us are nostalgic for a decade that is known for big changes in movies, but otherwise somewhat forgotten. Here you get a good dose of the cynicism and fine acting of the 60's but without the annoying pretentiousness that was so prevalent in films of the era.

Also, you don't have to be familiar with the stage play or Tennessee Williams in order to appreciate this movie-making effort by Richard Brooks.
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The film has a splendid array of impressive performances…
Nazi_Fighter_David20 January 2009
Chance Wayne (Newman) has only one talent—sexual prowess—and he's been bumming around for several years, satisfying rich women in the hope that he can find fame in Hollywood…

He picks up a faded screen star, Alexandra Del Lago (magnificently played by Geraldine Page), who takes constant refuge in vodka, hashish, oxygen masks and young studs… She promises to get him a movie contract, and they drive to his Southern hometown, where he plans to find his sweetheart, Heavenly Finley (Shirley Knight), and take her along to Hollywood… He doesn't know that on his last visit he left her pregnant, that she had an abortion, and that her father, the corrupt and vigorous politician Boss Finley (Ed Begley), is out to get him…

Through a strong, powerful performance, Newman managed to be a celebrity—dropping names, giving large tips, arrogantly stating: "Just because a man's successful doesn't mean he has to forget his hometown."

He's also extremely sneaky and gently tolerant, as he charms Alexandra while recording what she's saying for blackmail purposes… But he's finally pathetic: a desperately insecure man, addicted to amphetamines, attending to Alexandra and performing as a lover at her whim… His mask of swaggering bravura really disappears when he tries to see Heavenly… He becomes confused and desperate—walking with regular steps, rubbing his hands together, pleading urgently over the phone…
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Deliciously Overwrought
Lechuguilla17 July 2006
Highflying melodrama permeates this Tennessee Williams play converted to film by Director Richard Brooks. What makes this Southern soap opera fascinating is the cast of tawdry characters, beginning with Chance Wayne (Paul Newman), a charming, ambitious gigolo who, despite his best efforts, can't quite make his worldly dreams come true.

But this time he's got a real plan for success. Chance returns to his hometown on the Gulf Coast, bringing with him a boozed-out, high-strung movie star named Alexandra Del Lago (Geraldine Page). Chance hopes to grab his hometown girlfriend, Heavenly (Shirley Knight), and the three of them skedaddle off to Hollywood, so that Chance can make it big in the movies, with the help of Alexandra, of course. Thing is ... Alexandra is so spaced out, she can't remember who Chance is, or where she met him.

Chance's homecoming is anything but cordial, mostly because of the influence of Heavenly's dad, 'Boss' Finley (Ed Begley) who, along with Finley, Jr. (Rip Torn), has it in for Chance. Complicating matters even more is Miss Lucy (Madeleine Sherwood), 'Boss' Finley's mistress whom Heavenly can't stand.

Having originated as a stage play, the film takes place mostly indoors, and is very talky. But the Tennessee Williams dialogue is predictably incisive, with commentary both on the whims of success and on the fleeting nature of youth.

By far, my favorite element of the film is the deliciously overwrought performance of Geraldine Page. With her distinctive voice, her mannerisms, and her stunning acting ability, she chews up the scenery and then some, overpowering everyone and everything else. No actress could have been more credible in the role of Alexandra, an almost comical character, whose firmness, vanity, self-centeredness, and dramatic flair make her both weak and strong at the same time.

Although flashbacks tend to disrupt the flow, the film's screen story is otherwise very good. With great performances from multiple actors, excellent color cinematography, and an appropriately jazzy/blues score, "Sweet Bird Of Youth" is a film treat, in the grand tradition of cinematic melodrama.
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Exceptional entertainment; Newman and Page are outstanding
robb_7726 February 2008
There are numerous qualities that make SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH a stellar film, starting with the tremendous source material. Williams' tale of fading film actress and princess-by-marriage Alexandra Del Largo escaping Hollywood after a failed comeback attempt and being taken advantage of by aspiring actor/gigolo Chance Wayne is full of ripe drama, all of which is fully exploited by the 1962 film. Williams' typical subplots of southern hypocrisy are also well incorporated into central story by director/screenwriter Richard Brooks (who also helmed 1958's sensational CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF), and actually heighten the tension of the piece. Even with the censorship of early-sixties cinema (including an unnecessarily re-written ending), Brook's SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH still packs a mean punch.

Also crucial to the film's success is casting. No matter what film you're watching, you can always depend on Paul Newman to deliver the goods (which is precisely why he remained a top box office drawl up through the mid-eighties), and he gives one of his absolute best performances SWEET BIRD. Newman had originated the role of Chance in the original stage production, and his immortal screen performance of the role has clearly benefited from the hundreds times that he had previously played the role on stage. Arrogant, masculine, and painfully gorgeous, Newman nearly incinerates the colloid! Also returning from the original stage play is Geraldine Page as Alexandra, the ultimate boozing, wash-up actress. Page is nothing short of sensational – a true thinking, feeling, conflicted woman who is desperate to run away from her problems, but completely uncertain of her next move. Alexandra is vain, insecure, and even comedic at times, and Page finds the perfect balance in her portrayal, as she understands that the very qualities that make Alexandra so strong is also what causes her to be weak. Page won a well-deserved Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama, but lost the Oscar to Anne Bancroft for her tour de force performance in THE MIRACLE WORKER - seeing that both performances are so phenomenal, I would venture to say that the votes for both awards were probably mighty close.

The rest of the cast is no less impressive. Ed Begley won a Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as 'Boss' Finely, and it is refreshing to see the actor let loose in a vile performance without any obvious apprehension. Rip Torn and Mildred Dunnock are great in supporting bits, and Oscar-nominated Shirley Knight is hauntingly lovely as the appropriately named "Heavenly." Director Brooks also makes excellent use of the widescreen frame, composing many exceptional shots that are all but destroyed when the film is altered from its original Panavision format.

Certainly some viewers will carp about the re-written ending (the studio demanded that things end "happily") as well as the removal of such hot-button topics as abortion and castration to appease the censors, yet none of these omissions dramatically affect the film. Even though he caved in to the studio in terms of the finale, director Brooks must be given credit for focusing on the characters and dialogue and avoiding the temptation to "dress" the play up for movie audiences. The film is firmly planted in its central relationships, and this is what carries the day. No matter how censorious the Production Code may have been, no one could mask the white-hot dynamic between Newman and Page.
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Page is simply magnificent!
MLaug2247725 August 2002
Gerladine Page is truly magnificent in this picture. A great actress who died way too early. Her portrait of the drunk doped out film actress is amazing. Newmna, Begley, Knight are very good indeed but it is Page who is truly great. I never saw her give a bad performance. Thank goodness she won an Oscar just before she died. It was richly deserved.
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A wounded bird, but still effective...
Poseidon-329 December 2002
Even with some of the seamier elements removed and with the tweaks in the storyline, this film has great value due to the acting of the principals. Newman stars as a would-be glory boy who has repeatedly failed to make a success of himself and has been reduced to playing gigolo to various wealthy women. Page is a deeply troubled actress on the downside who gets dragged with him to his home town when he plans to get an "in" in Hollywood through her, thus convincing his old sweetheart (Knight) that he worth leaving her family for. Unfortunately, Knight's father (Begley) and brother (Torn) have not forgiven Newman for the fallout from one of his previous visits to Knight. The main thrust of the drama concerns the animosity between Begley and Newman and the balancing act he must maintain with the weary, neurotic Page. Widescreen viewing is a must even though the bulk of the film takes place indoors or on sets. Newman is excellent throughout and the film is offers a rare exploitation of his physical charms (attributes he often fought against during his earlier career.) Page is wonderful, running the gamut of emotions and investing her character with loads of quirks and moments of interest. Knight does very well, though her role is primarily decorative. Begley took home an Oscar for his bellowing, overbearing, vulgar portrayal. Also scoring are Torn as the son trying unsuccessfully to impress Begley and the always interesting Sherwood in a rare sexy role. Dunnock turns in a typically worrisome, effective performance as a Newman supporter. There are two small, but intriguing, gaffes in the film. In one scene, Begley and his cronies are watching a newsreel in a room filled to the brim with smoke, yet (because the image was superimposed later) the screen never has any smoke in front of it. Later, Newman "lights" his cigarette off an oil lamp, yet it doesn't light. He visibly notices this and does his best to cover it. Some of the symbolism is heavy handed (check out the wacky opening!) The film may disappoint devotees of the original play, but it's polished production and memorable acting turns make it a strong piece of work.
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A thing of beauty is a joy until it fades.
rmax30482322 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Playwright Tennessee Williams has said he slept through the 1960s. He's still awake here, though maybe a bit groggy.

"Sweet Bird of Youth" is full of juicy parts and vicious scenes. Paul Newman is a young man who has been traveling around -- New York, Hollywood -- seeking to cash in on his good looks, so far without success. This vision of mortal splendor was imparted to him by Boss Finley, Ed Begley. Finley is not called "Boss" for nothing. He's insinuated himself into one powerful political office after another in this Southern state and now runs it as his personal fiefdom. The state police serve as his body servants.

Years ago, love was growing between Newman's character, Wayne Chance, and Begley's daughter Heavenly, played by succulent blond Shirley Knight. Love is a fine thing and all that, but to Begley it was an irritant because Heavenly was a débutante whereas Newman was some kind of BUSBOY at the local hotel. You and Heavenly want to get married and that's great, Begley tells him, but you got to go out and conquer the world first so's to be worthy of her. Hollywood and New York, that's the ticket. Speaking of tickets, here's a one-way to New York and a hundred dollars to go with it. Now seek your fortune, and good luck to ya. You come back now, sometime in the distant future, you hear?

Dumb Newman accepts the bribe and is off on a quest for the Holy Chalice. He returns to St. Claire once in a while to see Heavenly on the sly and during one of these visits he impregnates her before leaving to continue his pursuit of fame, which by now has acquired functional autonomy. Like Duddy Kravitz, he still believes he's doing it for someone else but he's mistaken.

Basically, this film is the story of his final visit. Everyone in town warns him to stay away from Heavenly and get out of town. Never mind that he's dragged the famous but aging movie star Alexandra Del Lago, Geraldine Page, into St. Claire with him, along with her Cadillac and her money. We feel sorry for her because she's on the run from her latest movie, which she believes to have been a failure, and Newman is exploiting the hell out of her, but she's exploitative and narcissistic herself and exploits him back. This raises an interesting question. If a woman orders a man to make love, and he's ashamed of himself, can he still do it? I always could but, I mean, how about Newman's character?

The plot get pretty complicated and I don't want to get into it in any detail. Besides, it's been modified to suit a more general audience. I remember seeing the theater marquis in New York with Newman playing the same part on the stage. I didn't get to see a performance but I read about it. Gee, that was a long time ago. I feel antediluvian.

The film's writer and director, Richard Brooks, is sometimes thought of as a man who castrated Tennessee Williams for the movie audience, what with the homosexual theme of "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof" being further submerged, and then this one, in which the world "castration" is particularly apt. But then, in the 50s, you could only push the envelope so far.

Boss Finley's goons bash Newman's face in so he'll never be beautiful again. But does it matter? You bet it doesn't. Newman and Knight run off happily together. Geraldine Page discovers her latest movie wasn't a disaster at all but the greatest hit in the history of the entire planet and she skids off in her Cadillac, happy as only a vicious lover of self can be. Word of some skeletons in the Finley closet are made public and the voters and higher authorities reject him and Begley winds up ruined. This is what is known as a "happy ending" in the trade.

Newman is something of a bastard in this film and the part is within his range, just as "The Hustler" and "Hud" were, but it's still one of his more lackluster performances. Geraldine Page's character is over ripe and she makes the most of it. The hysteria is delicious. Shirley Knight is just adequate. But Ed Begley is great -- toothy, overbearing, treacherous, sadistic, barking out orders to massacre people in between the hollow and flagrantly phony greetings. His girl friend, Madeleine Sherwood as "Miss Lucy," matches him in her determine spite.
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Close to top flight Williams...
JasparLamarCrabb9 January 2006
SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH may not rate with such Tennessee Williams masterpieces as A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and CAT ON THE HOT TIN ROOF, but it's still a top flight piece of entertainment capturing A LOT of great acting. As ne'er-do-well Chance Wayne, Paul Newman creates one of the most memorable of the callous, self-serving characters he would play throughout the '60s. Returning to his hometown as a self-anointed hero, he's pathetic. With fallen movie queen Geralding Page in tow, he sets his sight on the girlfriend he corrupted. As Heavenly Finley, Shirley Knight is heartbreaking. Page and Knight play polar opposites --- Page is a vain, desperate diva while Knight is all inner turmoil...in fact she appears to be trying to turn herself inside out from the shame she feels. Ed Begley plays Knight's father, the ruthless and corrupt "Boss" Finley. Begley had a lot of good roles in his long film career, but this takes the cake. He's rotten to the core. The film is mostly studio bound, but that only enhances the stylish direction by Richard Brooks. The classy supporting cast includes Rip Torn as Boss Finley's degenerate son, Tom Jr., Mildred Dunnock as Newman's unlikely ally and Madeline Sherwood as a vindictive good-time girl.
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Page is fantastic!
StreepFan1262 July 2003
If you have seen a picture of Geraldine Page, then you know she was a plain looking woman. Yet in this film, through great acting, she manages to convince the audience that she is a glamour movie queen, and pulls it off! After seeing this film, quickly followed by The Trip To Bountiful, I now know why Meryl Streep herself once said, that "Geraldine Page set the standard by which all actresses try to compete with."
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Newman and Page - yowza!
blanche-211 November 2007
Geraldine Page, Paul Newman, Madeline Sherwood and Rip Torn all recreate their Broadway roles for the film version of "Sweet Bird of Youth," a 1962 film based on Tennessee Williams' play and directed by Richard Brooks. Again and as usual, some bite has been taken out of the original story in order to get past the censors.

Geraldine Page is the drunk, drugged and over the hill movie star Alexandra del Lago, who has picked up with a Hollywood gigolo, Chance Wayne and promised him a film career. At present she's escaping from what she perceives as a disastrous comeback. Chance returns with her to his home town, yearning for the respectability and success that has eluded him. Instead he runs into trouble from his ex-girlfriend's crooked politician father, Tom Finley (Ed Begley) and Finley's son, Tom Jr. (Rip Torn) who want him out of town because of what happened to Heavenly (Shirley Knight). In the play, Chance has given Heavenly a venereal disease; in the film, she's had an abortion. Chance desperately tries to see and speak with Heavenly, appealing to her Aunt Nonnie (Mildred Dunnock), but it leads to more trouble than he bargained for.

Page is a powerhouse as Alexandra, more glamorous than we're used to seeing her and as sloppy a drunk and druggie as you'll ever find. Alexandra's a selfish user, and she's got the technique down pat. The role of Chance, another selfish user, came fairly early on in the handsome Newman's career - he came very close to being typecast as these fast-talking amoral men. In those days, Newman struggled with a lack of emotional availability and these roles fit him beautifully. Thankfully he grew to encompass parts in films such as he had in "The Verdict" and became one of our greatest American actors. Madeline Sherwood, so effective in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," is equally good here as Boss Finley's girlfriend; her scene with Begley in her hotel room is truly terrifying. Begley is fantastic, mean as dirt, as is Torn as his equally cruel son. And "Desperate Housewives" fans will be interested to see a slim, pretty Shirley Knight as Heavenly, a somewhat vapid role for such a strong actress.

The DVD has a screen test for Chance by Rip Torn, who would later marry Page. He and Page perform a scene between Alexandra and Chance from the play - though the scene is in the film, it has been changed slightly. It's total stage acting, quite different from the film, but both are excellent, Torn giving Chance a lot of intensity. Though in those days he was very good-looking, he probably didn't come off as enough of a boy toy for the producers. It's a very interesting extra and well worth seeing, as is this somewhat watered-down "Sweet Bird of Youth."
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Last Chance
bkoganbing9 May 2008
Even though this film version of Sweet Bird of Youth was compromised by Hollywood's Almighty Code in its last days, there's still enough of Tennessee Williams's drama to enjoy and savor.

A lot of the cast like Paul Newman, Geraldine Page, Madeline Sherwood and Rip Torn came over from Broadway. That certainly helped, no doubt about it. They and the new cast members make extra base hits every time they're at the plate.

One of the new cast members, Ed Begley who took the place of Sidney Blackmer as Boss Finley and won an Academy Award for playing Boss Finley. This is hardly new territory for Begley, playing the rapacious and lustful town boss, he's certainly done these kind of parts before. That experience is probably what got him the Oscar. Begley had some stiff competition that year with Telly Savalas from Birdman of Alcatraz, Victor Buono from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Terence Stamp for Billy Budd and Omar Sharif for Lawrence of Arabia.

Finley is one evil dude, quite along the lines Sidney Greenstreet in Flamingo Road. It's a part I could see Greenstreet doing with relish. What he threatens to do to Paul Newman and what actually gets done is the letdown ending of the play.

Richard Brooks directed and adapted Tennessee Williams's play for the screen. Brooks started out as a writer and later branched into directing. Into his hands came the changes described above. Another big compromise was exactly the nature of the disgrace Paul Newman left with the Finley family over daughter Shirley Knight.

Newman plays Chance Wayne, would be actor and now just kept boy toy of fading film star Alexandra Del Lago who is Geraldine Page. Her character is remarkably similar to Vivien Leigh's from that other Tennessee Williams work, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. She turns out to have more character than originally thought.

Newman arrives in his hometown in Florida where Ed Begley and his family reign supreme, presumably under the protection of Page. But he's got to see Knight and explain he's finally going to hit it big. The scheme involves a little blackmail on Page. That doesn't deter Ed Begley and his son Rip Torn. They will avenge the family no matter what.

Even with the changes for the screen, Chance Wayne maybe the sleaziest character Paul Newman ever played or possibly Tennessee Williams ever wrote. Newman wants to be a film star and wants to do it the easy way. If he's got any acting talent that's besides the point.

Tennessee Williams was not as far fetched in his character as you might suppose. One does wonder who among our Hollywood hunks might have taken the road Chance Wayne tries, even part of the way.

Page and Knight were nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, but both lost to the duo from The Miracle Worker another Broadway play, Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke respectively.

Maybe at some point we'll see a faithful version of Sweet Bird of Youth and you can see the kind of compromises Brooks made. Until then, this one will do nicely.
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Good Laudy ! It's gaudy!
brefane8 July 2006
Over-produced and watered-down version of Tennessee Williams' stage play features atrocious acting and patently cardboard characters and drama. Alexandra DeLago was the center of the play but, Richard Brooks, the scenarist and director, has allowed the stock supporting characters,political shenanigans, and crowds to take center stage;perhaps to justify the use of CinemaScope.

It's fun to watch Page tear into her role with such brio but, even she becomes somewhat irrelevant because she has so little to play against. Newman is wooden and unconvincing, and was much better a year later in HUD. Ed Begley's Oscar-winning caricature of wicked,impotent "boss" Finley is effective but, holds no surprises, and too much time is wasted on Shirley Knight(Heavenly) and Mildred Dunnock(Aunt Nonnie),who are dreary and largely expendable. The flashbacks feel superfluous, and the film feels longer than its 2 hour running time.

There is one memorable scene:Madeleine Sherwood's yowl when Begley shuts the jewelery case on her fingers. If you don't think this film is silly, then compare it with Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard(50)where the relationship between a faded star and the younger man she keeps is imbued with social, psychological, and human interest. Page's flamboyance, and what remains of Williams' dialog are the only justification for seeing this film.
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Among the sleaziest and most action-packed of all Tennessee Williams' adaptations
MartinHafer23 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This was a very tough movie to watch--far tougher than other Tennessee Williams adaptations that I have seen. The viewer is left almost breathless from all the many, many plot elements that occur so quickly. There is practically no sin that not been committed in the two hours of the film--hypocrisy, adultery, fornication, drug and alcohol abuse, physical violence and abortion all are dealt with in this movie! In many ways, this film made CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and some other Williams plays look like Disney productions! As a result, you eventually get to the point where there is almost an overload of evils--you get numb due to all of it. There literally was enough going on in this movie to make two or three movies.

Now the acting was exceptional throughout and technically it was an exceptional film as well. In particular, I felt that Ed Begley (who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this film) and Geraldine Page were standout performers. In Begley's case, it must have been difficult to be THAT violent and malevolent. His extremes in mood and the very violent outburst with Madeleine Sherwood was exceptionally well acted. However, the even more difficult performance was that done by Geraldine Page who played a broken down and chemically dependent actress that still manages, from time to time, to have some amazing periods of lucidity and insight. Her part easily could have been like parody, but she infused it with realism. Now, of course Paul Newman was as always a wonderful actor in the film, and Rip Torn played a guy you just loved to hate.

All in all, a very good but exceptionally difficult film to watch and one I would NEVER recommend children watch! It's just way too adult in content!


It turns out that this movie was toned down for the silver screen. In the play, Shirley Knight does not have an abortion due to becoming pregnant by Newman, but gets an STD and has a hysterectomy! Plus, in the end, Newman does not have his face mildly disfigured, but he is castrated! This puts a MUCH DIFFERENT spin on the film and there is no way Ms. Knight and Mr. Newman would have ever driven off together in the happier Hollywood version of the film. I can understand their need to tone it down, but it does severely lessen the impact.
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It's all Geraldine Page
jstyles1-128 January 2004
I saw this film the year it first came out, and recently again on video. My reactions were rather surprisingly much the same: it's second-rate Tennessee Williams all glitzed up with one of the three or four most memorable performances by an actor, woman or man, I've ever seen--Geraldine Page as the Princess. She's so good she even makes Newman look wooden. This isn't acting--it's something beyond performance.
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Heart as the Convenient Cage ... for the Sweet Bird of Youth ...
ElMaruecan8221 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
"Sweet Bird of Youth" flying away … deserting our lives ... leaving us with the painful scars of lost memories … vanishing in the air ... erasing our last hopes, and painting our future with a mark that gets more and more indelible ... as time goes by …

Richard Brooks' film, adapted from a successful Tennessee Williams' play echoes one of our deepest fears : losing it … losing what? Simply that little something you can't really put your finger on during the biggest part of your life, and can only perceive it while it has definitely deserted it and became a vulgar souvenir, in a word : youth. Youth like an invisible crown on young people's heads and that only older people can see … youth, like a ticket for success …

It's ironic that the title resonates as another famous one, "Sweet Smell of Success", both bears the same resonance, the same power in their symbolism, as if one couldn't go without the other … indeed, this bird of youth has a sweet smell, and one thing is certain, we can smell its absence all through the film. The movie is a eulogy to the youth that physically left the glorious and decadent Alexandra Del Lago, Geraldine Page, or that killed the inner idealism of Chance Wayne, Paul Newman … two characters portrayed with such a natural authenticity that I wonder if those parts weren't self-reflexive ... don't get me wrong, they were both great, but we never know when reality outshines the fiction …

Geraldine Page had the magnetism of a has-been diva like Norma Desmond with the realistic touch of fragility from Vivien Leigh's Blanche Dubois … or wait a minute, this was from 1962, right? In fact, she had Bette Davis's constantly bitter nostalgic attitude toward the past glory in "Baby Jane Hudson", with the delicateness of Lee Remick from "Days of Wine and Roses" … this was a great year for female alcoholic roles, and I'm still torn about which performance would have deserved the Oscar, but let's not spoil the review by these random cinematic considerations …

The film is about the haunting feeling of youth's volatility and therefore its inner preciousness … it's about a time we spend building dreams, told from the view of people aware of that. Indeed, there's a stressing and disturbing feeling of emergency as if all the characters in this film were trying to fulfill their dreams by any means. The worst or let's say, the most tormented of all is of course, Paul Newman, at the pinnacle of his sex-appeal, as a man who tries to take advantage from the fading reputation of her "hostage", Alexandra Del Lago … to blackmail her so she can obtain him a screening with a famous director. Newman as Chance Wayne, if that is his real name, is the wanna-be star, getting off his waiter condition to conquer the governor's daughter, Heavenly, to prove his value, influenced or corrupted by the very ideas of the governor, the Big Finley, played by Ed Begley, believable as the reminiscent of the bigot-minded juror #10, with his sneaky son, a young unrecognizable Rip Torn.

In fact, the whole subplot is quite secondary when you consider the real heart of the film, where it's all about the indecent dichotomy between youth and success. It's in fact highlighting the personal fear of Tennessee Williams himself, who after the successes of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" doubted on his own ability to keep up that level of greatness. A legitimate fear that inspired one thrilling journey into the souls of insecure people, one star who thinks herself as an old relic, and a young gigolo who'd sell his soul just to become someone, forgetting that if you're eager to sell your soul, it still proves that you have one. Chance is a good guy but spoils every of his actions by believing he should be better than what he is, and his self-loathing obsession will be his doom.

But the film is less an invitation to accept our own condition than to contemplate the devastating effect of confidence, whether it's lacking or overworking. And in the case of Chance, the man who carries this name with a particular irony, you realize how unlucky he was, as he wasn't able to domesticate his own fear of the future. This encouraged him to leave his girl, to achieve his dreams, but life gives you one chance, Chance, never more … the second miss was fatal as this lead to a miscarriage for his love, and the cruel reputation of a degenerate undesirable human being in his hometown. The whole dilemma will end up to be whether to follow Alexandra or Heavenly, heart or ambition, both the epitomes of youth that can not be separated, and it's not like he didn't try.

The conclusion would disappoint the purists as they would expect a darker epilogue for a movie that covers so many dark and taboo undertones, especially when they know about the content of the original play, but I agree that it would have been too dark regarding the general mood of the film. The ending didn't need to be that happy but the symbolism is still powerful as it allowed Chance to be redeemed. It's Hollywood ending, but the movie efficiently made the point that success or happiness can also be a matter of good or bad luck, and through Chance Wayne, Tennessee Williams gives us a self-approach of what he could've been if he wasn't successful or as a matter of fact, what Newman could've been …

Thanks God, this is only a movie …
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Expurgated Tennessee Williams
moonspinner5521 May 2006
Director Richard Brooks adapted this Tennessee Williams play about a small town ne'er-do-well who returns home on the arm of a boozing, faded movie star, which quickly stirs trouble with the town locals who are in the midst of a political upheaval. Talky material goes mostly flat, yet does get a boost from the sterling cast (Paul Newman, Geraldine Page, Shirley Knight and Supporting Oscar winner Ed Begley). Censors were said to have removed much of the story's minutia for shockable 1960s audiences but, although this must have pained Brooks, he doesn't stage what's left with anything but melodramatic urgency. Remade (and improved) for TV in 1989 with Elizabeth Taylor as the actress. ** from ****
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better than cat on a hot tin roof
kyle_furr22 February 2004
This Tennessee Williams film stars Geraldine Page and Paul Newman as a faded movie star and a gigolo. Ed Begley won a best supporting actor and Geraldine Page and Shirley Knight were also nominated. Paul Newman was shut out in the oscars. Let's just say if you like Tennessee Williams you're most likely going to like this movie.
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Heavily Bowdlerised, but still retains some fire
ian_harris16 December 2002
All the movie versions of Tennessee Williams' plays are bowdlerised to some extent, but for some reason this one particularly grates. Perhaps it is because I am a spoiled brat who was lucky enough to see the famous stage version with Lauren Bacall directed by Harold Pinter. You were left in no doubt in the stage version that Chance did not stand a "snowballs chance in hell" (forgive the pun on balls and chance) when he sent the Princess on her way.

Still, the movie version has pace and charm. The thugs are heavy enough. Geraldine Page and Paul Newman are both superb. I have not yet seen Summer and Smoke but shall seek it out now having seen Page in this one. I think Paul Newman is better in this movie than he was in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, although overall I rate "Cat" higher than this one.

The rally and the chaos arising from it all seems to happen a little too quickly in the film - of course it is incidental (offstage) in the play but it all seems to go haywire in the blink of an eye somehow.

Nevertheless this is ultimately a chamber play and the movie version, bowdlerised though it might be, is a good proxy, especially for those unable to see a good production on the stage.
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The movie of the Tennessee Willaims play, with Paul Newman.
TxMike12 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Over my years of movie watching I have come to regard Paul Newman as one of the very best actors of modern times. Here he was about 35 and playing a small town guy, Chance Wayne, from the Gulf Coast who is convinced that he has the looks and talent to make it in Hollywood, so he has been gone from home a number of years, leaving behind an old girlfriend (Heavenly) and a few enemies who used to be friends.

As the movie starts we see Chance driving a convertible, and a sign 'leaving Florida', and west along the Gulf Coast, with a sleeping woman in the rear seat. We soon find out she is Hollywood actress Alexandra Del Lago (Geraldine Page, also about 35), drunk on pills and vodka. Seems she wasn't too sure about the reception her latest movie was getting so she was running away and hiding. It never is clear where the movie is actually shot, but it appears to be along the Mississippi coast.

Chance Wayne's whole existence seems to be using his pretty boy looks to romance women, like Del Lago, who he thinks can get him into movies. But now back home, he runs up against his former girlfriend's's corrupt politician dad 'Boss Finley (Ed Begley in an award performance) and 'Junior (Rip Torn), who are out to send him along the road for having done Heavenly wrong. On his side is Aunt Nonnie (Mildred Dunnock), who works at the Finley house.

The movie has all the look and feel of a Tennessee Williams play or movie. The characters are exaggerated but are entertaining.

SPOILERS FOLLOW. The movie differs in important ways from the play. Instead of having given Heavenly venereal disease, which resulted in a hysterectomy's, in the movie he had gotten her pregnant which resulted in an illegal abortion. Near the end instead of castrating Chance to remove his charm, 'Junior' only broke his nose, and it appeared Chance and Heavenly would end up together. He never got his opportunity for a screen test, as Del Lago found out her latest movie made her a hit again, and she didn't need Chance. The changes were made to get approval from the movie censor board.
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Another Success of Tennessee Williams
esteban17478 February 2006
Tennessee Williams was much more than a good writer, he was a man with sense to describe the misdeeds or wrong matters. The content of his novels is only comparable to Theodor Dreiser's ones.This film is a good example of Williams sense, and probably Paul Newman in the role of young Chance Wayne did not disappoint neither the director Richard Brooks nor Tenessee Williams. The film shows discrimination of rich over a poor guy, who was quite ignorant, but wanted to succeed as an actor in Hollywood. Instead he had to behave as Gigolo serving as a driver of famous actress, always far from his beloved girl due to the fact that she was rich and the daughter of city's major, while he was a nonety and poor. It is a kind of Romeo and Juliet but where money is the main limiting factor and not the rivalry of the families. Obviously his father wanted at any cost to prevent her to be with Chance. Certainly Tenessee Williams wanted to show the hypocrisy and false values of the medium where those persons were living, and he succeeded.
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Conservative in style, but still remains enjoyable today
JamesHitchcock4 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"Sweet Bird of Youth" came towards the end of Hollywood's Tennessee Williams cycle of the fifties and early sixties, being preceded by such films as "A Streetcar Named Desire", "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "Suddenly Last Summer", and closely followed by "Period of Adjustment" and "Night of the Iguana". Indeed, Williams is an author whom I know better from the cinema than from the theatre; he lacks the following in Britain that he enjoys in his native America, and performances of his plays here are infrequent. ("Sweet Bird…..", for example, was not performed in London's West End until 1985, nearly 30 years after it was written).

The main character is Chance Wayne, a drifter who returns to his Southern home town. He left the town several years ago with high hopes of becoming a Hollywood actor, but he has enjoyed little success, and has ended up as a gigolo, preying on lonely older women. (His name is highly significant. Wayne is a "chancer", one who lives by his wits and enjoys taking risks. The surname at this period would have evoked the great Hollywood star John Wayne, but Chance has had none of his namesake's success).

Wayne's latest conquest is a film star named Alexandra del Lago. Alexandra was once beautiful and highly successful, but is now ageing, addicted to drugs and alcohol, lacking in self-confidence and terrified of losing her looks. Wayne is only interested in Alexandra because he wants her to use her influence to advance his stalled acting career; his main purpose in returning home is to rekindle his love affair with his former girlfriend, Heavenly. Heavenly is the daughter of the local political boss Tom Finley, a Huey Long-style politician, who maintains a grip on State politics through corruption and strong-arm tactics. It was Finley who forced Wayne to leave town after he got Heavenly pregnant, a pregnancy which was terminated by abortion.

The emotional, passionate nature of many of Williams' characters made his plays very popular with film-makers, but in the fifties the American theatre tended to be more liberal than the American cinema as regards the portrayal of sexual themes, and a number of his plays were somewhat bowdlerised when turned into films. "Sweet Bird of Youth" is no exception. The reasons why Finley ran Chance out of town are not the same in the two versions; in the play he infected Heavenly with a venereal disease, something unmentionable in Production Code Hollywood. (Pregnancy outside marriage and abortion were quite controversial enough). The ending is very much softened compared with the one Williams originally wrote.

Paul Newman plays Wayne in the same cool, nonchalant, laid-back style which characterised a number of other his roles. (It was Steve McQueen who earned the nickname "King of Cool", but Newman could have been a pretender to his throne). Several of these were also drifters, such as Cool Hand Luke or Ben Quick in "The Long Hot Summer". For me, however, the real stars of the film are not Newman but Geraldine Page as Alexandra and Ed Begley as Finley. Page (who was nominated for "Best Actress") was excellent as the drunken, self-pitying junkie, and perhaps even better at the end of the film when Alexandra recovers her self-confidence after discovering that her latest film has proved an unexpected success. Begley certainly deserved his "Best Supporting Actor" award for his portrayal of the ranting demagogue Finley; the one nomination which rather surprised me was "Best Supporting Actress" for Shirley Knight (Heavenly), as she did not seem to have all that much to do.

"Sweet Bird of Youth" is not quite in the same class as some of the other entries in the Williams cycle, such as "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (which was also directed by Richard Brooks and also starred Newman) or "A Streetcar Named Desire" with its four towering performances in the leading roles. It perhaps represents a rather conservative style of film-making, looking back to the fifties rather than to the stylistic revolution of the late sixties. (After "Night of the Iguana" in 1964 Hollywood was to fall out of love with Tennessee Williams). It is, however, well-made and well-acted, and still remains enjoyable today. 7/10
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down on his luck wannabe fights city hall
helpless_dancer26 January 2000
Sweeping story of a loser who takes up with a alcoholic actress running from her past. He hopes she will get him a role in the movies, but all she cares about is herself. When they come into his hometown, he wants to see his old girlfriend, but is unwelcome by her family. This sets off a hothouse of emotions on both sides. Good drama dealing with the good and bad side of man.
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"Failure is a contagious disease".
Galina_movie_fan6 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
"Sweet Bird of Youth" (1962) was directed by Richard Brooks who also wrote the screenplay based on one of the darkest and most pessimistic plays by Tennessee Williams. Paul Newman stars as Chance Wayne, handsome, charming, lusty, and fame-hungry young gigolo who returns to his Southern home town after long stay in Florida and Hollywood where he tried to make a career as a movie star. He hoped to reconnect with two women he loved and left behind, his mother and his first love, Heavenly Finley. He hopes to make it this time because he brought with him a famous and once beautiful but now fading movie star with drinking problems, Princess Cosmonopolous aka Alexandra Del Lago (Geraldine Page). She needs a companion, he needs her connections. Once again, he will realize and bitterly admit that "Failure is a contagious disease". His mother died just before he returned and Heavenly's father, a local political boss (Ed Begley), hates him and swears revenge for having broken his daughter's heart. The film works thanks to the wonderful performances from Page, Begley, and breathtaking Paul Newman who looked like he was able to catch the sweet bird of youth and who gave an outstanding performance. Brooks changed the play's ending to give Chance and Heavenly hope for the better future but in the light of what we've seen, the movie's final feels like forced and unsatisfying.
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Good acting, but not the best story
HotToastyRag10 July 2017
In Sweet Bird of Youth, Paul Newman reprises his stage role in Tennessee Williams's play. If you've never seen a Tennessee Williams story, or if you're not used to play-to-movie adaptations, this isn't the best one for you to start with. It's very wordy, very slow, and very obvious it was written for the stage.

Newman plays his specialty: a bad boy who comes back to his hometown and stirs up trouble. If you're a fan, you won't be disappointed by his performance. He's been away, trying to make it as a Hollywood actor, and when he returns, he brings a has-been, booze-soaked older actress with him. Geraldine Page plays her specialty: just shy of crazy. She vacillates between losing her mind and taking the audience down with her, and realizing how pitiful she is and gaining the audience's sympathy.

A young and beautiful Shirley Knight enters the picture as the girl Paul Newman left behind. She's sweet and lovely, and ironically named Heavenly. For those of you who know Tennessee Williams, you know this story will be tragic. The dramatic setup is intense, and the title hints at sadness. It's not the best movie, and at times it's hard to watch, but if you like this genre, you'll want to add Sweet Bird of Youth to your list.
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Tennessee Williams does it again; great cast too
jacobs-greenwood5 October 2016
Directed by Richard Brooks (Elmer Gantry (1960)), who also wrote the screenplay for this Tennessee Williams play, this above average drama with Paul Newman in the title role features Ed Begley's Academy Award winning Supporting Actor performance (on his only nomination). Geraldine Page received a Best Actress nomination, and Shirley Knight (The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960)) received her second Best Supporting Actress nomination.

Paul Newman plays a former young stud who returns to the Southern town of his youth after years of failing while attempting to make it as an actor in the movies. He's got a former, frequently drunk and/or high, aging actress (Page) in tow. As her gigolo and driver, he's still trying to use her to get what he wants in the film industry, trading on his looks and sex for her connections. Once home, however, he seeks out his former girlfriend (Knight), who happens to be the daughter of the biggest man in town, and one of the biggest in the whole state, Tom 'Boss' Finley (Begley). Finley more or less ran Newman's character out of town all those years ago and, with help from his son Tom Jr. (Rip Torn), won't hesitate to do it again. I won't spoil the reason why, nor reveal what happens in the end. Though neither is pleasant, it's the kind of delicious just desserts that Williams always has for his flawed protagonists. Begley is terrific as the hypocritical moralist, and Page is a kick, especially after her character regains her self- confidence. Madeline Sherwood plays 'Boss' Finley's mistress and twice AA Supporting Actress nominee Mildred Dunnock plays his sister.
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