Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Carolyn Jones in THE BACHELOR PARTY

The role that seems to have brought her the biggest amount well-deserved fame was her Goth hipster portrayal of Morticia in the 1960s ABC TV sitcom adaptation of THE ADDAMS FAMILY. When I was a kid, that show was "must-see TV" mainly because of her. Carolyn Jones had a look and talent I found absolutely fascinating -- even when I was just a movie geek youngster. I watched her on that TV series. I always noticed her in old movies that aired on television. Whether the part was big -- like her excellent performance as the jaded theatrical agent in 1959's CAREER -- or small -- like her part as the kooky, stone-faced dogwalker in 1955's THE TENDER TRAP -- Carolyn Jones always stood out. Like Bette Davis, she had big eyes that the camera loved. Also, like Bette Davis, she was so committed to each character she played that you could not help but remember her when the film was over, even if she only had a few lines in the film. I loved her as a brunette. However, Jones worked in three top hair colors on film. In 1952's THE TURNING POINT, starring William Holden, she's in an uncredited role as the floozie blonde "lady friend from Florida" questioned in a commission hearing dealing with organized crime.. In Billy Wilder's THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH, she's a desperately horny redheaded hospital nurse who throws herself on the middle-aged married man in one of his daydreams. She's a brunette in 1957's THE BACHELOR PARTY, a drama written by Paddy Chayefsky. It's a modern-day New York City drama. Her downtown, sexy bohemian character isn't given a name. She's The Existentialist. Carolyn Jones is only onscreen for about 7 minutes in THE BACHELOR PARTY. However, she was so damn good in those few minutes that the performance brought her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
The movie is adapted from a TV play, also written by Chayefsky, and you can see its roots in the film. There are long scenes of dialogue in a contained space such as a room in an apartment or a space in an office. A group of men, co-workers, go out on a wild night bachelor party. One of the fellows is getting married. As they drink, revelations come out and truths about each other are realized. The main fellow is Charlie, played by Don Murray (previously the young rodeo dude to Marilyn Monroe's chanteuse in BUS STOP). He's a bookkeeper by day. He attends night school. His wife has just learned she's pregnant. He worries that a baby will restrict his night school education and that will handicap him from moving up to accountant. Jack Warden plays the hotshot guy who will handle the bachelor party. He just wants to get laid. He's single. One of the guys was so promising in college that friends felt maybe he could become America's first Catholic president. (Keep in mind this was 1957. A few years before John F. Kennedy made that history in the 1960s). As for the groom -- I think if Chayefsky wrote that character in between 1971's THE HOSPITAL and 1976's NETWORK, he would've made him a closeted gay man.

The groom-to-be is nervous about the marriage. He feels his parents pushed him into the relationship. He still lives with a parent. The woman he's to marry is a widow. He's not sure he really loves her. He intimates that he's never been with a woman and the thought of a wedding night scares him. E.G. Marshall and Nancy Marchand are also in the cast.
At the single man's urging, the party group gets on a subway to head downtown to meet some babes. They encounter a sleek Greenwich Village type on her way to a party. She's The Existentialist. She immediately sizes up the guys. They head off to a bar. Later Charlie, the bookkeeper, goes back to the party and sees The Existentialist. He's attracted to her.
She's seated on the staircase, holding court in a way, talking in a non-stop clip and dropping intellectual references here and there with insouciant mentions of her rent payment problems and the loser men she attracts. It's fascinating talk but it all seems like a well-rehearsed monologue from someone with a mask on top of camouflage. Like she's basically someone who doesn't feel as fabulous and sophisticated as she appears to be. We sense she is in Manhattan to reinvent herself -- and did -- yet she is still lonely and tries not to show it. That is a real New York story. I've been there myself.

I saw this movie on TV when I was in high school. One moment that stayed with me was the look of desperation and heartbreak that broke through in her eyes when she's alone with Charlie after all the fancy talk and she says "Just say you love me." For all her hipster chic and posturing, she's a subject in search of a verb.
I watched THE BACHELOR PARTY again recently. I hadn't seen it in years. Carolyn Jones earned that Oscar nomination. Being older, I connected to the beauty and truth of her performance even more. I have a feeling that Hollywood loved Carolyn Jones and also noticed her remarkable talent no matter how big or small the role. Journalist Michael Musto, a longtime buddy of mine, interviewed her and confirmed she was quite close to landing the role of Alma in 1953's FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. Unfortunately, a bout of pneumonia took her out of the running. The role -- and an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress -- went to Donna Reed.

Catch these films for proof that there are no small parts -- if you're a talented, skilled actor like Carolyn Jones was. You'll stand out.  See her in 1953's HOUSE OF WAX, 1956's INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, 1958's KING CREOLE with Elvis Presley, 1959's A HOLE IN THE HEAD with Frank Sinatra and -- my favorite film performance of hers -- 1959's CAREER starring Anthony Franciosa, Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine.

Cancer robbed us of a fine, versatile actress. She died at age 53.

14 comments:

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