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February 02, 2009

Susan Slade

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Delmer Daves - 1961
Warner Brother Region 1 DVD

What struck me most about Susan Slade is that with genre considerations set aside, this film has the same concerns as Delmer Daves' westerns. Death and the domination of nature over everything else loom as large here as a film like The Last Wagon. Daves' recurring themes are of characters having an authentic sense of identity, and of developing mutual respect without regard to such trappings as race or class.

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The key men in Susan Slade's life are connected to nature. Her father is a mining engineer, her first lover has devoted his life to mountain climbing, while would-be suitor Troy Donohue runs a horse stable. Some of the dialogue may be a little too arch, for example when mountain climber discusses virgin peaks with Connie Stevens. The combination of a close-up of an anguished Connie Stevens, briefly frozen, and double exposed against the surging tide of a rocky beach, with a pounding Max Steiner score, may be loading the dice on the heavy side. Daves use of long shots in the several scenes with Susan Slade riding her horse wildly was probably a way of minimizing the identity of a stunt double, but it also consistent with his previous films where the characters are all but lost in their respective environments.

The weakest part of Susan Slade might be Susan herself, in the form of Connie Stevens, although I would give her credit for effort. Daves was hoping to duplicate that A Summer Place magic, and indeed, there is a scene with young lovers on a ship, with Max Steiner's famed theme on the soundtrack. In A Summer Place, teenage Sandra Dee, accused of losing her virginity, is forced to be examined by a gynecologist. Dee conveys the terror of what is both a personal and physical invasion. Connie Stevens was always better suited for television in lightly comic roles. There were times when I thought that the underrated Dee would have delivered the pathos that Daves was aiming for in several highly dramatic scenes.

There isn't much suspense when Connie Stevens is suppose to choose between Troy Donohue and Bert Convy. The set up for the climatic finish is also very obvious. Still, Steven won me over when, caught up in overwhelming despair, she rides at full gallop to the beach and flings herself into the water. Part of why Delmer Daves films were popular in their time is because he understood the pain and sincerity of young love.

For those with Netflix subscriptions, let me also advise you that The Badlanders is available on their instant viewing channel. Not available on DVD, and shown in a pan and scan version, this is a remake of The Asphalt Jungle as a western. The film stars Alan Ladd, but the ones to watch are then husband and wife Ernest Borgnine and Katy Jurado. Even though Daves does not have screenplay credit, some of his same themes regarding race and class are evident. Kent Smith, playing a less than honest businessman here also appears in Susan Slade as the kindly family doctor.

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Posted by peter at February 2, 2009 12:20 AM

Comments

Iīm quite in your breath about this movie. And I want to ask for a place in the sun, maybe belatedly and without any kind of hope, for the great "Spencerīs mountain", a sort of "How green was my valley II" which is one of his best features.

Posted by: jesus cortes at February 2, 2009 07:45 AM