>> Monday, December 17, 2007
USA/B&W-103m./Dir: Stuart Heisler/Wr: John Howard Lawson & Lionel Wiggam/Cast: Susan Hayward (Angelica Evans Conway), Lee Bowman (Ken Conway), Eddie Albert (Steve Nelson), Marsha Hunt (Martha Gray), Charles D. Brown (Mike Dawson)
With its wonderfully melodramatic title, flashback structure, and “baby in danger” scenes, Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman is in many ways a prototype for today’s Lifetime Made-For-TV movies. Susan Hayward stars as Angie Evans, a rising nightclub singer, who gives up her career, when the fortunes of her songwriting crooner husband, Ken Conway (Lee Bowman), begin to ascend. Ken rockets to the big time with a hit record, and gives Angie a butler and a nanny for their baby; but with nothing to do and her husband constantly away, Angie begins to hit the bottle hard. Plunging deeper into paranoia and despair with each cocktail, Angie’s marriage hits the skids--eventually leading to the “smash-up” of the title.
If you can slog through the first half hour in which Hayward and Bowman take turns warbling the same three or four songs over and over again, Smash-Up begins to spark some interest. As soon as Angie starts slugging whiskey (and this gal can slug), the lovely Susan Hayward is absolutely magnetic. Whether giddy on joy juice or wallowing in self-pity and depression, Hayward is believable and entertaining without fail. It’s easy to see why her performance was nominated for an Oscar and how she used that success to stake out a career as a leading actress in dramatic weepies.
The script, based loosely on the alcoholic decline of Dixie Lee, Bing Crosby’s first wife, also received an Academy Award nomination. However, that nomination is harder to fathom. The story is soapy and predictable--all the way to the incongruous, upbeat ending (which was more or less required of alky films of the time). Still, the dialog is occasionally sprinkled with wonderfully sharp bits of droll, unsentimental dialog (possibly due to the involvement of Algonquin wit Dorothy Parker during story development), which keeps the material from becoming too maudlin. Although the soapy scenarios are sometimes unintentionally funny, Smash-Up is rarely boring, and it is well worth a view for Susan Hayward’s towering performance.
A note: Check out the “Cinematic Cocktails” section of the blog for information on the “Stone Fence,” a cocktail Hayward throws together in the film.
Drinks Consumed--Whiskey, brandy, absinthe, Cointreau, gin, and unnamed cocktails
Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, staggering, stumbling, sneaking sips, nightmares, hangover, memory blackouts, brawling, and physical violence
Potent Quotables--STEVE: You’re going to Elliot’s party tonight. Remember?
ANGIE: Oh murder. Well in that case, I better have a little drink. Make me something. Will you?
STEVE: Did you run out of double features?
ANGIE: Ah, Steve, you look as low as I felt when I got up this morning. Come on, we’ll both have one--an Old Fashioned, only no sugar, no vegetables, and go light on the ice. Why corrupt good liquor?
Video Availability--Smash Up: Story Of A Woman is available in a few blurry, public domain DVD releases (Alpha Video, Reel Enterprises, and VCI).
Similarly Sauced Cinema--Susan Hayward hit the bottle again as Lillian Roth in the biopic I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955).