Saturday, July 09, 2011

Saturday Morning Out-of-Nowhere Film Adaptation: The Young Philadelphians (1959)

You know when it's Saturday morning and you're up and you don't want to get out of bed so you channel surf? And you hope to find a movie just starting so you can just watch it and not do anything?

My Saturday Morning Movie of this kind was The Young Philadelphians based on the novel The Philadelphian by Richard Powell. Note: I think they titled it on the young ones because the novel is supposedly a generation-stretching epic and we just hang out at the tail end.

Released in 1959 and starring Paul Newman in black and white ( as opposed to Paul Newman in delicious technicolour), it is a society story of social climbing, almost-affairs, oddly timed neck-arch kisses (so popular of the day) and black pumps with neat hats worn by secretaries with few speaking lines fringing law offices where great scandals take place. Look at the caption on the film poster! It's all about angry young moderns in suggestive poses, stripping the upper crust to the scandalous flesh underneath. bwa ha.

A young woman realizing that the man she has married for money and stature is impotent (played by Batman Adam West) flees to the young irish immigrant who loves her. Returning from her wedding night away from her spouse, she learns that Batman has been killed in a car crash. The young irish immigrant still loves her and visits her in the hospital 9 months later when she has given birth to their son. But, she wants her boy to have her late husband's clout of a family name so she refuses to accept his love. She also confronts her late husband's mother and says that even though they all know the child was not an actual Lawrence, she will keep the name for her son; but never expect anything else from the great family.

Fastforward years later and Paul Newman is a promising law student who takes a summer job in construction with his irish immigrant father as the foreman. During the summer he drinks at classy parties with his friend Chet ( Robert Vaughn who would go on to star in that 1960s homoerotic spy vehicle opposite David McCallum; but who was nominated for an Oscar here) and woos a really dazzling Barbara Rush: the daughter of a prominent lawyer.

They want to get married but her father eventually coaxes Paul into his established firm and Barbara thinks that Paul has sold out and used her for monetary gain.

...and it goes on and on with social cues and competing law firms and Newman getting smarter and smarter and wearing prettier suits and you really think this is a film about a young man's ambition and resilience. After all, he fights in the Korean war and even holds Chet's hand when his arm is blown off ( the still remaining one).

There are cold, wistful meetings with lovely Barbara and hi-jinx when Paul uses his (as of yet unknown to him) dad's political connections to sneak into the county records to steal a high client from a duelling firm.

Barbara and Paul run into each other, immaculately dressed, there is a scene where Paul almost has an affair with a hot, talented wife of a mentor lawyer and Paul even snuggles a chihuahua to charm an elderly client.

You would think that it's about how Paul learned to make it on his own and strive to live up to his heftily purchased ( purchased in death, emotion and sacrifice ) birth name.

But, actually, just when you think that you have 20 more minutes of the film and more awkward neck-arch kisses, it turns INTO A MURDER MYSTERY/COURTROOM DRAMA!

Honestly, readers, I had no idea that this happened as I knew nothing about this film so this blind-sighted me with melodramatic, scandalous delight! Suicide! Purchased Guns! stolen inheritances! scenes in the jail "Drunk Tank", unshaven men! trust issues! MENTAL ILLNESS!

There hasn't been a twist this unexpected since the Usual Suspects.

Chet ( Robert Vaughn pulling out the acting chops that scored him the Oscar nod) is charged with murder and Paul ( even though he is a tax lawyer) bumps high criminal lawyers to take the case for his friend. It's all a sequence about character, doing what's right, what makes a man a man, and who stole my cheque just because I slugged too many whiskeys!?

Oh kids, they just don't make them like this anymore. At all. Ever.

I promise you that I will never read the source material ( life's too short for twisted murder mystery/ courtroom drama/ class tales of sordid American Dreams ); but this was an enjoyable and intense and really interesting flick.

So, some Saturday morning on the verge of blurry-eyed " Should I go back to sleep?", I hope, instead, you give 2 hours to this gem.

Also, there's Paul Newman.


Unknown said...

So happy you liked this movie. Paul Newman is awesome in it - and I love the murder mystery/courtroom drama switch at the end. BRILLIANT fun. :)

LitLover said...

I just watched this movie for the first time a few weeks ago. It really was stunning. Anything with Paul Newman in it is automatically visually stunning (swoon), but the plot, director, and supporting cast were all great. Movies from that time period had all the intangibles.