Sunday, December 30, 2012

Career (1959)

I don't know why Career hasn't been on my radar before now as it is a very good movie -- perhaps the best I've ever seen regarding the struggles for an actor to find success.

Anthony Franciosa plays Sam Lawson, a young man who leaves his fiancee (Joan Blackman) and hometown of Lansing, MI to build a career as an actor in New York. He is barely scraping by when he joins a struggling theater troupe led by Maury Novak (Dean Martin), and he isn't paid for his acting work.  The struggling theater group folds, and Maury accepts a job in Hollywood and eventually becomes a successful director.

Meanwhile, Sam's dogged determination to be a working actor costs him his marriage.  When the successful Maury refuses to help Sam, Sam retaliates by marrying Maury's alcoholic girlfriend Sharon, the daughter of a successful Broadway producer (vividly portrayed by Shirley MacLaine). The marriage brings Sam low-paying but steady work. His marriage ends as he is called up for Army service in the Korean War.  When he gets out of the service and tries to resume his acting career, Sam finds that he has been tainted because of his previous relationship with Maury -- now blacklisted in Hollywood because of Communist ties.

I'm amazed that so much plot and character are compressed into this film.  The lean script is deftly written. The black-and-white cinematography, art direction, and Edith Head's costuming all deservedly received Oscar nominations. Dean Martin was quite good in his dramatic role as Maury; it's a role that isn't particularly redeeming.  Shirley MacLaine is effective as spoiled rich girl Sharon.  Anthony Franciosa excels in the lead as the actor who won't give up on his dream.  Carolyn Jones is powerful as Sam's agent Shirley -- I think she was an underused actress in her career. Robert Middleton was memorable as a Broadway producer.  Donna Douglas, famous as Elly Mae on TV's The Beverly Hillbillies, is also in the film.  I didn't recognize her while watching the movie, however. (Maybe she's a better actress than I thought!)

Career is a much better movie than I expected.  It didn't feel dated to me --it seemed to be a solid story that happened to be set in the 1950s. Supposedly this is the first Hollywood movie to mention the blacklist, and supposedly blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo contributed to the screenplay. However the movie credits only mention James Lee as the writer and as the author of the source play. Joseph Anthony did a fine job directing this interesting movie -- it flows well and all the components are better-than-average. Career gets an A- from me.

I watched Career on Netflix streaming on December 30, 2012.

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