Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee & "Where the Sidewalk Ends"

Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee

Sandra Dee, "The Reluctant Debutante," 1958.

Sandra Dee, "A Summer Place," 1959.
 I wasn't too familiar with Sandra Dee's films until I started seeing them on Turner Classic Movies.  Of course I was familiar with the line from the song in "Grease" where a bad girl compares herself to Sandra Dee when pretending to be pure and virtuous, but I had never seen one of her performances.
Dee was incredibly popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but her star faded fast when she grew too old for teenager roles and the public didn't seem to accept her in more adult fare - at least as far as I can tell from her IMDB bio.  But from these two films I can tell she had a great screen presence, a touch for light comedy, and some trouble connecting on a more dramatic note. 

In "Debutante" she plays a young American girl visiting her aristocratic father, and his new wife, in England.  While there she has her "coming out" ball and gets mixed up with various young men trying to woo her.  She's very charming, lighthearted, and convincing in the role, holding her own in scenes with Rex Harrison.  I credit director Vincente Minelli with getting such a good performance.
In the melodramatic "A Summer Place," directed by Delmer Daves, released just a year later, Dee stars with fellow hearthrob Troy Donahue as a pair of star-crossed young lovers.  She seems much older than her 17 years, almost as if she is playing at being a grown up, and it takes away from her charm.  I'm sure audiences loved the frank approach the young lovers have towards sex - they sneak away from their parents, who are also involved in various love triangles, to fool around near the raging ocean surf - but ultimately the film embraces a more conservative approach to family.  Classic late 1950s mixed messages, wanting to excite the teen audience but not quite ready for the counter-culture waiting in the wings.

"Where the Sidewalk Ends"

Dana Andrews, "Where the Sidewalk Ends," 1950.

Gene Tierney, "Where the Sidewalk Ends," 1950.

"Where the Sidewalk Ends" is a great tough guy film noir, featuring Andrews as a sullied cop who accidentally kills a suspect, then has to cover it up.  Too bad the dead guy has such a good looking ex-wife in Gene Tierney.  Andrews tries to keep his own misdeed covered-up until he can get the guys responsible for the bigger crime, but as usual in these things it doesn't work out and Tierney has to pay for what he's done, keeping his honor but losing the girl.  Great direction by Otto Preminger, and written by Ben Hecht, one of the best screenwriters of that era.

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