I could have sworn I saw the name Joseph E. Levine in the opening credits but it's not listed in his IMDb CV which is strange since I was reminded throughout of Joe's sanitized, highly fictionalized biopix, HARLOW and THE CARPETBAGGERS, filmed like an episode of TV's THE UNTOUCHABLES. Based on the best-selling memoirs of the Roaring Twenties' most notorious madam, Polly Adler, A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME was a hoot and a half thanks to too-old-for-the-role Shelley Winters' silly bag of thespic tricks. Make that schticks. As a teen-aged Polish immigrant working in a sweatshop, a kerchiefed Shelley acts like Lucy Ricardo in the chocolate factory and when she meets gangster Robert Taylor (looking haggard and embarrassed) and is too shy to speak, she comes off as more than mildly retarded. Young Polly on her dates looks like the guys are out with their mother and there's one particular scene in a parked car that reminded me of Kim Stanley's embarrassing teen turn in THE GODDESS which, ironically, was a role Shelley would have been perfect for. As pretty (?) Polly rises from naive noodnik to NYC's most influential madam thanks to Bob's sponsorship, the underworld meet the elite while political deals are struck in a brothel that looks more like a parlor call from the parish priest than a house of pleasure. Here's a contemporary review:
"Something was missing in this picture and to be blunt about it, the missing ingredient is sex! There is hardly a suggestion of it. It may or may not discourage impressionable young girls from a life of sin, but it certainly is enough to keep anyone away from the movie!"
Outside of the anecdotal (which couldn't be told), there wasn't much of a story so the movie becomes one long cautionary tale on the perils of prostitution which must have pleased the soon-to-be-out-of-a-job censors no end. Polly's girls reap only drug addiction and suicide while Shelly wrings her hands trying to help and the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer message is a woman who goes that route forfeits any right to love and happiness. The ladies looked lovely, however, and although Edith Head's gowns paid no attention to period detail, I caught a quick glimpse of Raquel Welch filling out one of them but I couldn't spot Edy Williams except in a photograph during the opening credits. It's directed by Russell Rouse, the auteur responsible for the 1966 laugh riot, "The Oscar", and has a Burt Bacharach title tune I forgot as soon as it was over. Helping to lend a TV air to it all were "special guest stars" (love them) like Broderick Crawford and Cesar Romero (as Lucky Luciano) paying lip service to near non-existent plot development but whenever my tastes are accused of being too lowbrow, I usually point with pride to the Academy Award-winning Shelley Winters. Why?? Shelley's down there with the best of them and although she's very good at things like blowzy, I now find her range rather limited -and that's OK. "Com'on Polly, do Theda Bara!" Indeed.
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