Susan Slade (1961): Stop Me Before I Watch It Again

Susan Slade (1961): Oy, what a time trip!Why did I watch it? I knew it was no good for me. What compelled me to drink long and hard from the cultural kool-aid that this movie proffered?

Well, there are several reasons. It was snowing heavily that Sunday. I’d run out of steam after boxing up the Christmas decorations for another year, and vacuuming the pine needles for the umpteenth time, (which I’ll probably still be doing in June). Inertia had set in and the electronic hearth offered a break from the prosaic, post-holiday tasks. On reflection, some of these justifications and explanations are better excuses than others for spending two hours of my life with this strangely satisfying, if goofy movie. Here are a few factors that make this very guilty pleasure so darn watchable:

The story is eternal, especially for anyone whose life has ever been ruled by estrogen–yup, it’s an über-chick flick. The Sin of Susan Slade first saw light as a story published in the mid-50s by Doris Hume, which evoked numerous letters from readers either hailing the novel about an unwed mother as “a breakthrough in American letters” or as a “new low” in publishing history. Either way, the folks at Warner Brothers were canny enough to see gold in those hyperbolic responses, and snapped up the rights to the story.

Aspects of the tale were dangerously close to borderline for the increasingly creaky Production Code. As witnessed by controversial yet splashy and occasionally thoughtful productions such as Otto Preminger’s The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1956), Elia Kazan’s Baby Doll (1956), and Blue Denim (1959), made just prior to the production of Susan Slade (1961), former taboos about sex, pregnancy, acceptable human behavior, and–oh, yes, sex again, were finding their way on-screen and, most importantly, drawing crowds. There was a big pile of cash to be made if a filmmaker could blend sin with retribution and give the stuffy values of most Moms and Dads a sharp poke in the ribs in the process. The studio system, in an unacknowledged death rattle, still had stables of young actors under contract. This was particularly true at Warner Brothers, where, under Jack Warner, the tough-minded mogul had developed a large presence on the tube via the flourishing dramatic programming they were cranking out on the cheap, (Maverick, Hawaiian Eye, 77 Sunset Strip, to name a few). Using some of these young contract players in movies that appealed to teens began to pay off once WB jumped on the bandwagon promoting the wholesale juvenilization of American movies, (an aspect of movies that remains dominant to this day).

Long withheld from the public’s prying eyes, TCM unveiled this ultimate “popcorn flick”, Susan Slade, last weekend just prior to the issuance of the movie on dvd as part of a set called Warner Bros. Romance Classics Collection, featuring Palm Springs Weekend, Parrish, and Rome Adventure. Troy Donahue, at the height of his fame at Warner BrothersAll these movies, aside from their youthful explorations of life’s capriciousness and sex-starved themes, also spotlight Troy Donahue (1936-2001), who remains for some the ultimate blond heartthrob of their youth. To be truthful, I’ve always confused Troy with Tab Hunter until the late ’90s. That changed on the day when, working in a business completely unrelated to classic movies, I greeted Mr. Donahue in my company’s office where he’d arrived to discuss a business matter. Though I didn’t immediately connect him with the actor Troy Donahue, I noticed that he seemed a very polite, older gentleman, with a slightly quizzical smile, thinning blond and gray hair and, in retrospect, an understandable air of slightly guarded aloofness. Only later, when he was introduced to several other staff members, did I notice an older female colleague’s nervous delight and his patience with her effusiveness. Claiming that she’d never wash the hand he shook again, she walked on air for the rest of the day, telling all her co-workers she had met a girlhood icon. I was more impressed with the man’s good manners, which are always a pleasant surprise when encountering anyone who has been through fame and come out the other side.

Donahue, who only began acting a few years prior to this slew of Warner Brothers movies, later mentioned that he was “only as good as the script he was given.” Troy, who seems a bit overwhelmed by the task of playing an orphaned stable boy who writes The Great American Novel on the side in Susan Slade, is not the central reason to see this story, which is much more of an ensemble piece, with a troubled girl, her parents and a host of “issues” at the center of the story. Some of these “issues” include unwed motherhood, unexpected sudden death, a grandmother posing as the mother of her child’s offspring, a couple of suicides (failed and successful), marriage proposals from two pretty boy heirs, (one of whom drives a Jaguar, the other who dies at an inconvenient moment), runaway horses, and a baby playing with a lighter. There are no floods, or natural disasters (other than unexpected arrival of a wee visitor), or deeply original insights into the human heart.
Grant Williams & Connie Stevens getting frisky in Susan SladeThe viewer is quickly introduced to warm-hearted family man and mining engineer Roger Slade (Lloyd Nolan), who, after ten years working in a bleak Chilean desert, is leaving on a ship for Carmel, California with his wife (Dorothy McGuire) and now 17 year old daughter Susan (Connie Stevens, who was well on her way in show biz as a cute singing tv star of the period). On board the boat, she meets handsome, if impossibly wooden actor Grant Williams, (another WB contract actor best remembered today as the star of The Incredible Shrinking Man). His character is a.) very rich, b.) a passionate mountain climber and c.) has the unlikely moniker of Conn White. Then, again, almost all the males in this movie, (especially those guys with money, talent and charisma), have names that sound anonymous and unlikely, with handles like “Stanton Corbett” (Brian Aherne, as a billionaire industrialist who, with his wife, played by Natalie “Lovey Howell” Schafer, seems to regard the less gilded Slades as favorite pets), his scion “Wells Corbett” (Bert Convy, one-time first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies’ farm team, game show host and far prettier than anyone–male or female–in this movie), and “Hoyt Becker”, (Troy Donahue, who, if Connie’s prediction is correct, “will one day have a monument in Carmel carved with his name alongside Robert Louis Stevenson and John Steinbeck” as another great writer who’d lived in that spot).

But I digress from the shipboard romance that soon occupies Connie and Grant 24/7. As they wander the decks in a romantic haze the young man tries to explain his drive to literally climb every mountain. Conn (Grant) describes his hobby in a manner that makes any viewer wonder, as he claims that alpinists “keep looking for new peaks to conquer. Why, give one of us a virgin peak and we dream about her and get jealous of the men who beat us to her.” Look out Connie. You’re about to be “scaled”.

At this point in the story, Connie Stevens is quite likeable, touchingly shy and stuttering around the libidinous explorer. She’s probably also a bit confused by the mixed messages being aimed her way by her mother, Dorothy McGuire. One moment her Mom is concerned that maybe their daughter hasn’t had enough social experience by growing up in the back of the beyond. Dorothy McGuire tending to Connie Stevens in "Susan Slade"The next instance she is giving her a pep talk that she should go out to win Conn, “the handsomest man on the ship”. McGuire, who, is capable of great tenderness and nuanced expression on film–even when it is a less than perfect script, as she proved in the similar A Summer Place, but she veers from concern into insecure tension throughout the movie as her ideas of propriety are increasingly challenged. Her relationship with Connie seems to have an edge to it, especially when the mother burbles about “true love.” Understandably perplexed by Mom’s advice, as well as her own unfamiliar sexuality, a few montages later Stevens and Grant Williams are snuggling big time in his cabin. Connie, who tries to put into words her mixed feelings about the complicated emotions she feels about sex, finally blurts out apologetically to her lover that “we’ve been sinful.” While any sane viewer might look askance at this swain’s intentions, he proclaims his love and says that it’s okay that they made love, since they’ll be married right after he gets back from his planned Alaska expedition to conquer Mt. McKinley. Dum-da-dum-dum.

Bert Convy, Natalie Schafer, Brian Aherne, Lloyd Nolan and Dorothy McGuire in Susan SladeSoon ensconced in their glorious, Asian themed home in Carmel-By-the-Sea, the Slades get down to the business of living, even if that life seems to be danced to a tune played by a rather controlling Brian Aherne and Natalie Schafer, (who has decorated their entire, lavishly appointed house, which was created by pioneer art director Leo Kuter). Those Corbetts seem to hang around a lot, along with their fervid son, Bert Convy, who appears awfully eager to marry Connie as soon as the boat docks–even though he hasn’t seen her since she was seven years old. Are you trying to tell me he couldn’t find any girls in California before Connie arrived? Connie Stevens, fretful and increasingly worried by Grant Williams‘ extended absence, is completely undone when she learns that he has died. In the scene in which Stevens is told the news, (during a big party, naturally), the actress, gesturing furiously as she pulls her dress off, is helped enormously by the score provided by Academy Award winning composer, Max Steiner. Though Max cribs a bit from the love theme in A Summer Place in this film’s love scenes, the prodigious musician creates leitmotifs for individual characters, and his romantic orchestral music carries the revelation scene mentioned above, as well as the subsequent suicide attempt that follows. The indebtedness of the young stars to Max Steiner‘s score is a particularly felicitous occurrence when the nubile actors are asked to express emotions that are clearly beyond their range.

As you might guess, there are additional flies in this rich ointment, including a bum ticker for Dad Slade, played by one of the main reasons why this film is worthwhile viewing–Lloyd Nolan.
Nolan, who was never an “important actor” or truly considered leading man material, except in the brief period when he appeared as gumshoe Michael Shayne in a series of B movies at 20th Century Fox in the early forties, has been justly celebrated by my fellow Morlock Richard Harland Smith here. While not a truly handsome man, Lloyd Nolan had a nice face, (though one movie loving pal has callously pointed out his alleged resemblance to Bugs Bunny). Lloyd could convincingly communicate both considerable intelligence, tenderness and menace behind his eyes. The actor saved so many otherwise pedestrian films in his six decade career with his deceptive naturalism and relaxed manner, he seems to have been largely overlooked in favor of flashier, less accomplished actors. Lloyd NolanI try to never miss his sometimes villainous, occasionally very funny, and often appealing “regular guy” appearances when they occur. I treasure certain moments on screen.
In one of the most entertaining of the Michael Shayne films,The Man Who Wouldn’t Die (1942), Nolan is pictured driving along lackadaisically in a car, singing an Irish ditty to himself for several minutes. The scene does absolutely nothing to move the plot along or to introduce new information into the programmer, but it spoke volumes about Lloyd Nolan‘s ability to charm in a casual way. In marked contrast to this, his panther-like Mickey Dwyer in Johnny Apollo (1940) and Del Davis in Blues in the Night (1941) are finely drawn portraits of charming yet dangerous men capable of great violence. In Blues in the Night, in particular, his rage with Betty Field‘s character is unusually realistic for that fascinating proto-noir, directed by Anatole Litvak. His eloquently played wartime roles, in Guadacanal Diary (1943) and Bataan (1943) gave him a chance to play flawed, decent men trying to survive with their hides and some shred of inner pride intact in impossible combat situations. Some of his post-war parts, particularly when he played cops are examples of his acting skill at its seamless best. One of his finest performances, as the lonely cop on the beat in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) allowed him to show the sensitive work he was capable of in a good ensemble of actors in that tender story. While he was a flatfoot with a really mean temper in Lady in the Lake (1947), an efficient investigator in Louis de Rochemont‘s documentary drama, House on 92nd Street (1945) and the stylistically similar The Street With No Name (1948), to enjoy his apparently effortless skill at creating a character, providing exposition and giving a realistic texture to an otherwise bland, clichéd scene, check out his scene in a Chinese restaurant in Somewhere In the Night (1946).

By the time that Nolan took on the role of the understanding father to Connie Stevens in this movie, his career had begun on another phase. The films he played in during this stage, including Peyton Place (1957), in which he and Arthur Kennedy were among the actors who gave that tawdry drama some grit and humanity, had begun to be less worthy of his talent, but without his presence, they would have been sorrier spectacles. Lloyd Nolan in Portrait in Black with Anthony Quinn and Lana TurnerCheck out Ross Hunter’s agony fest, Portrait in Black (1960) sometime. Lloyd‘s brief performance as a mad-at-the-world shipping magnate confined to his deathbed has glimpses of a Homeric rage, vulnerability and a slightly paranoid insight into the wizened souls of his family that belies the melodrama of the movie while invigorating it. He steals the movie from no less than Anthony Quinn, and makes one wonder what he might have done if Nolan had a chance to tackle some similarly toned but more worthwhile Eugene O’Neill parts.

Lloyd Nolan on the Broadway stage as Captain Queeg w/ Henry Fonda and John HodiakOther actors also noticed his largely hidden artfulness, including a young James Garner, who once said in an interview that, while appearing nightly in The Caine Mutiny Court Martial on Broadway for a year as one of the silent officers of the court, he learned how to act by observing Lloyd Nolan‘s brilliant characterization of Captain Queeg, as well as the work of John Hodiak and Henry Fonda.

Btw, in case this appreciation for Lloyd Nolan may cause you to suspect that this may be an example of one of ol’ Moira’s tangents, I’d like to quote a friend, whose reaction to this movie and to this actor in particular, was “I LOVE Susan Slade and I want to marry LLOYD NOLAN!!!!”. Calming down a bit, my fellow “Lloydophile” then went on to clarify her feelings a bit, claiming that she “had a secret desire to bump off Dorothy McGuire‘s [character] so that she could have Nolan as her own husband.” For, despite the sometimes serious limitations of the script of Susan Slade, this actor emanates such warmth and loving understanding for his wife and daughter in every scene, that the often hackneyed situations and words are transcended by him. Lloyd Nolan in a contemplative moment in Susan SladeReflecting when alone in his laboratory after discussing the seriousness of his heart condition with Brian Aherne, the character Nolan plays pauses, turns around and rests briefly before murmuring to himself with dramatic simplicity, “Thank you, God–for everything. My friends, my family…and, my life.”
This moment, which I found unexpectedly moving, reminded me of something that I’d come across a few months ago. Director Delmer Daves, whose son Michael had worked as an Assistant Director for decades in Hollywood, was interviewed by John Mulholland and Stephen Bogart on their site at Icons Radio. The entertaining and revelatory interview, found here mentioned that the elder Daves had also been compelled after a major coronary, to curtail his direction of a spectacular run of good Westerns, such as Broken Arrow (1950), Jubal (1956), 3:10 to Yuma (1957), Cowboy (1958), and The Hanging Tree (1959). Delmer Daves, director and writerI couldn’t help wondering if that small soliloquy was a reflection of the chastened Daves, who, in his son’s semi-facetious words, found himself in “Troy Donahue hell”, since the four romantic melodramas he made with the young actor were less taxing physically than his more adventurous movies.

Despite a law degree from Stanford University, he started as a prop boy on James Cruze‘s seminal silent Western, The Covered Wagon (1923), became an actor in Hollywood movies in the late ’20s, evolved into a screenwriter in the ’30s, (contributing to the screenplays of The Petrified Forest and Love Affair, among others), and became a director (and occasional producer), beginning in the ’40s with the highly technical film Destination Tokyo (which he’d written with Albert Maltz) and which starred his friend, Cary Grant. The interesting Daves’ movies that followed tried to document how everyday people struggled with lives that rarely follow the planned path. While still a film critic, future director Francois Truffaut noted the “sweeping crane shots” and “complicated visual flourishes” of his films, but also described him as a director “of effects and accents who documents the exteriors of events rather than entering into the world of his characters.” I have to disagree. While never a director to dwell obsessively on the interior lives of his film’s characters, I’m always struck by the generosity inherent in Daves‘ movies, each of which invariably takes the time to introduce extraneous detail, asides and even characters who help to give a film some nuance of humanity–especially when added by an often unsung supporting player, such as the character played by Nolan in Susan Slade, the Tom Tully character on the submarine in Destination Tokyo, the quietly beautiful performance of Rosemary DeCamp in Pride of the Marines, or the vivid discontentment of Everett Sloane in Bird of Paradise (1951).There are, as well, several other behind the camera professionals whose craftmanship raised Susan Slade a cut above the average Hollywood product. The magnificently photographed verdant seaside landscapes around Carmel, California are so vividly photographed they take on the aspect of another, silent character, giving the people more reality than the script, thanks to the color cinematography of Lucien Ballard. Connie Stevens and Troy Donahue come to an understanding during the denouement of Susan Slade (1961)His compositions are swooningly beautiful and must have been even more impressive on a theater screen. Ballard also gives many soft-focus close-ups of Connie Stevens‘ trembling lower lip and overflowing eyes, as well as seriously glazed ones of Dorothy McGuire‘s sensitive, concerned face, even though the actress is given little else to do in a thankless part that requires her to play an ill-defined character whose protective attitudes seem geared toward social mores of a decade before.

While the film evolves, McGuire‘s absurd and hide-bound insistence on presenting herself as the mother of her daughter’s baby, though steeped in love, seems to lack a grounding in reality, but also seems to indicate a woman who wants to control her daughter’s life to an unnatural degree, especially when she pushes her toward a loveless marriage for security, and asks her to separate emotionally and physically from her own baby. While I find much of this laughable–and, believe me, this movie has a carload of yuks based on the outlandish circumstances it depicts, especially in one particularly lurid scene with the baby in danger–it is sobering to remember that there really was a time when individuals, some famous, such as Jack Nicholson or Bobby Darin, or anonymous members of every community, whose lives, family ties and identity were a sham in an effort to protect them. We can scoff at the lengths that these often cardboard characters sometimes go to in order to preserve a veneer of respectability, but the underlying emotions are real and very messy. Though I have withheld some information to avoid spoilers for those of you who might give in to the urge to watch Susan Slade, I will divulge, that, unlike real life at times, the movie has a happy–if unlikely–ending.

Sources:
The American Magazine, v.159 1955, Jan-Jun, Crowell-Collier Pub. co., 1955.
Douglas, Susan Jeanne, Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media , Times Books, 1995.
Doherty, Thomas Patrick, Teens and Teenpics, Temple University Press, 2002
Hirschhorn, Clive, The Warner Bros. Story: The Complete History of Hollywood’s Great Studio, Crown Publishers, 1979.
Sarris, Andrew, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968, Da Capo Press, 1996.
Truffaut, Francois, Dixon, Wheeler Winston, Cassel, Ruth, The Early Film Criticism of Francois Truffaut, Indiana University Press, 1993.

35 Responses Susan Slade (1961): Stop Me Before I Watch It Again
Posted By Joe aka Mongo : January 7, 2009 11:29 pm

Moira, your “Susan Slade” blog brought back some recollections for me.
When the movie opened in New York we took my niece Annie to see it since she was a big Troy Donahue fan. Both he and Connie Stevens were appearing in person to promote the film. The theater was packed and Annie was in 7th. heaven.
Eventually she was lucky enough to win a Thanksgiving dinner with Troy with some other lucky girls. Of course we voted for her numerous times to win.
She still has momentos from that happy occasion so long ago.

Posted By Joe aka Mongo : January 7, 2009 11:29 pm

Moira, your “Susan Slade” blog brought back some recollections for me.
When the movie opened in New York we took my niece Annie to see it since she was a big Troy Donahue fan. Both he and Connie Stevens were appearing in person to promote the film. The theater was packed and Annie was in 7th. heaven.
Eventually she was lucky enough to win a Thanksgiving dinner with Troy with some other lucky girls. Of course we voted for her numerous times to win.
She still has momentos from that happy occasion so long ago.

Posted By Laura : January 8, 2009 3:13 am

What fun! I taped SUSAN SLADE last weekend, as I’ve been reading so much online about Dorothy McGuire’s career of late — in large part thanks to you — and it looked like it might be entertaining. Thanks for the enjoyable preview!

Best wishes,
Laura

Posted By Laura : January 8, 2009 3:13 am

What fun! I taped SUSAN SLADE last weekend, as I’ve been reading so much online about Dorothy McGuire’s career of late — in large part thanks to you — and it looked like it might be entertaining. Thanks for the enjoyable preview!

Best wishes,
Laura

Posted By Patricia : January 8, 2009 8:36 am

“Susan Slade”. I recall seeing this on television when I was about 10 years old. It scared me. Up until then I thought teenagers were like the folks in the Beach Party movies. I immediately developed Peter Pan syndrome.

Regarding that Chinese restaurant scene in “Somewhere in the Night”. I have often thought that acting shools should show that scene to prospective students. Those who don’t “get it”, should be turned away at the door.

Loved your phrase “wholesale juvenilization of American movies”. May I quote you? I’d like to impress my family and friends.

Posted By Patricia : January 8, 2009 8:36 am

“Susan Slade”. I recall seeing this on television when I was about 10 years old. It scared me. Up until then I thought teenagers were like the folks in the Beach Party movies. I immediately developed Peter Pan syndrome.

Regarding that Chinese restaurant scene in “Somewhere in the Night”. I have often thought that acting shools should show that scene to prospective students. Those who don’t “get it”, should be turned away at the door.

Loved your phrase “wholesale juvenilization of American movies”. May I quote you? I’d like to impress my family and friends.

Posted By Al Lowe : January 8, 2009 10:01 am

I always found Connie Stevens irresistible. I saw her perform with Bob Hope’s troupe when I was stationed in Long Bihn, Viet Nam in 1969.
There was an old Maverick I saw two or three years ago that surprised me. It starts off with Stevens and James Garner, as Bret Maverick, arriving in a town by stagecoach. Stevens has developed a crush on Garner, whom she just met, and keeps calling him “Lover” instead of by his character’s name. I’m surprised that the TV censors let that one by. Also, it couldn’t have been true unless something happened on that stagecoach.

I’m also impressed by Lloyd Nolan’s restaurant scene in Somewhere in the Night. He effortlessly stole that movie.

Posted By Al Lowe : January 8, 2009 10:01 am

I always found Connie Stevens irresistible. I saw her perform with Bob Hope’s troupe when I was stationed in Long Bihn, Viet Nam in 1969.
There was an old Maverick I saw two or three years ago that surprised me. It starts off with Stevens and James Garner, as Bret Maverick, arriving in a town by stagecoach. Stevens has developed a crush on Garner, whom she just met, and keeps calling him “Lover” instead of by his character’s name. I’m surprised that the TV censors let that one by. Also, it couldn’t have been true unless something happened on that stagecoach.

I’m also impressed by Lloyd Nolan’s restaurant scene in Somewhere in the Night. He effortlessly stole that movie.

Posted By Suzi Doll : January 8, 2009 11:51 am

I, too, got sucked into watching SUSAN SLADE. As more and more reviewers and everyday film-goers keep shoving the virtues of gritty “realistic” dramas down my throat, I find myself more interested in the artifice and aesthetics of melodrama. Melodrama may be outdated as a genre, but the acting style, exaggerated emotions, and contrived plots are part of the genre — not indicators of a bad film as young movie reviewers and regular viewers tend to believe. Granted, SUSAN SLADE is not the best example of melodrama as you point out, but I thought the actors were charismatic and sincere in their attempts to bring depth to their characters. This is more than I can say for some of today’s action stars who underplay to the point of boredom, or actors who throw away lines with ironic distancing because they are too hip for the room.

Besides Connie Stevens rules. You go Cricket Blake!!!

Posted By Suzi Doll : January 8, 2009 11:51 am

I, too, got sucked into watching SUSAN SLADE. As more and more reviewers and everyday film-goers keep shoving the virtues of gritty “realistic” dramas down my throat, I find myself more interested in the artifice and aesthetics of melodrama. Melodrama may be outdated as a genre, but the acting style, exaggerated emotions, and contrived plots are part of the genre — not indicators of a bad film as young movie reviewers and regular viewers tend to believe. Granted, SUSAN SLADE is not the best example of melodrama as you point out, but I thought the actors were charismatic and sincere in their attempts to bring depth to their characters. This is more than I can say for some of today’s action stars who underplay to the point of boredom, or actors who throw away lines with ironic distancing because they are too hip for the room.

Besides Connie Stevens rules. You go Cricket Blake!!!

Posted By Bronxgirl : January 8, 2009 2:39 pm

Thank you, thank you thank you for SUSAN SLADE, I was hoping you’d review it!

Posted By Bronxgirl : January 8, 2009 2:39 pm

Thank you, thank you thank you for SUSAN SLADE, I was hoping you’d review it!

Posted By medusamorlock : January 8, 2009 5:39 pm

Wonderful celebration and appreciation of a certain type of genre film. If you’re in the mood for one, they’re the best!

I don’t mean to carp with your marvelous scholarship (and it’s just a typo), but Connie’s mountain-climbing romance is played by Grant Williams (not Mitchell), who was indeed the quite amazingly moving star of “The Incredible Shrinking Man”, a favorite of so many of us classic science fiction fans.

I am a sucker for 1950s unwanted pregnancy movies; I need to watch this one sometime!

Posted By medusamorlock : January 8, 2009 5:39 pm

Wonderful celebration and appreciation of a certain type of genre film. If you’re in the mood for one, they’re the best!

I don’t mean to carp with your marvelous scholarship (and it’s just a typo), but Connie’s mountain-climbing romance is played by Grant Williams (not Mitchell), who was indeed the quite amazingly moving star of “The Incredible Shrinking Man”, a favorite of so many of us classic science fiction fans.

I am a sucker for 1950s unwanted pregnancy movies; I need to watch this one sometime!

Posted By moirafinnie : January 8, 2009 7:52 pm

Oh, Medusa,
Thanks so much for alerting me to the error on Grant Williams‘ name. I really did like him in The Incredible Shrinking Man, though clearly he struck me as anonymous enough to have forgotten to correct his name–though oddly, I did get his last name correctly in my photo caption when posting this piece last night. Oy, I better get some Red Bull next week just before posting (or up my ration of Ginkgo Biloba). I apologize to Mr. Williams‘ family and fans.

Hi Joe,
Thanks for sharing your memories of seeing Connie and Troy in the flesh on such a festive–if overcrowded–occasion. Wasn’t the film a little, uh, adult, for your niece at that time?? I appreciate your input, you gadabout New Yorker!

Gee, Laura,
I’m delighted that you’re enjoying Dorothy McGuire‘s movies recently, though I suspect that you may find her role in Susan Slade somewhat underwritten–not to mention morally confusing, at best.

Hmm, Patricia,
I really like your idea of showing the Chinese restaurant scene in Somewhere in the Night (1946) to acting students and asking them to analyze which of the actors present makes it work. Correct answer: Mr. Nolan, hands down! I’m hardly the first person to point out the “wholesale juvenilization” in our popular culture, though the use of that term probably qualifies me for a new copy of Will Strunk & E.B. White’s “Elements of Style” or at least a spot in the curmudgeon’s Valhalla.

Hi Al,
Never came across anyone, anywhere who did not find themselves a little bit susceptible to the bubbly warmth of Connie Stevens. Her general appearance of blond, innocent sexiness probably contributed a bit to the censors’ overlooking her addressing James Garner as “Lover” on Maverick. This same ingenuousness, even among the sometimes tawdry suds of Susan Slade, is probably one of the reasons a viewer feels a pang or two for her plight. Not to mention the empathy I felt for her after getting an eyeful of some of the wardrobe worn in the movie, such as the half “pleather”, half-knitted sweater she flounced around in during a couple of scenes.

How aptly put, Suzi!
I think you’ve hit on several of the reasons that “women’s films” and nowadays “chick flicks” continue to thrive. “[T]he acting style, exaggerated emotions, and contrived plots” still have a cathartic power for many viewers, (and not just female ones, I’ve found). It certainly didn’t hurt that such seasoned pros among the cast and the crew were on hand to lend some solid structure to this sometimes unwieldy story. And Connie‘s character name of “Cricket Blake” on Hawaiian Eye fit her personality perfectly!

Oh, Bronxgirl,
You just pipe right up anytime. I’ll be glad to try to write about any film related fancy that strikes you, even if it seems that there are far more movies than there is time.

Posted By moirafinnie : January 8, 2009 7:52 pm

Oh, Medusa,
Thanks so much for alerting me to the error on Grant Williams‘ name. I really did like him in The Incredible Shrinking Man, though clearly he struck me as anonymous enough to have forgotten to correct his name–though oddly, I did get his last name correctly in my photo caption when posting this piece last night. Oy, I better get some Red Bull next week just before posting (or up my ration of Ginkgo Biloba). I apologize to Mr. Williams‘ family and fans.

Hi Joe,
Thanks for sharing your memories of seeing Connie and Troy in the flesh on such a festive–if overcrowded–occasion. Wasn’t the film a little, uh, adult, for your niece at that time?? I appreciate your input, you gadabout New Yorker!

Gee, Laura,
I’m delighted that you’re enjoying Dorothy McGuire‘s movies recently, though I suspect that you may find her role in Susan Slade somewhat underwritten–not to mention morally confusing, at best.

Hmm, Patricia,
I really like your idea of showing the Chinese restaurant scene in Somewhere in the Night (1946) to acting students and asking them to analyze which of the actors present makes it work. Correct answer: Mr. Nolan, hands down! I’m hardly the first person to point out the “wholesale juvenilization” in our popular culture, though the use of that term probably qualifies me for a new copy of Will Strunk & E.B. White’s “Elements of Style” or at least a spot in the curmudgeon’s Valhalla.

Hi Al,
Never came across anyone, anywhere who did not find themselves a little bit susceptible to the bubbly warmth of Connie Stevens. Her general appearance of blond, innocent sexiness probably contributed a bit to the censors’ overlooking her addressing James Garner as “Lover” on Maverick. This same ingenuousness, even among the sometimes tawdry suds of Susan Slade, is probably one of the reasons a viewer feels a pang or two for her plight. Not to mention the empathy I felt for her after getting an eyeful of some of the wardrobe worn in the movie, such as the half “pleather”, half-knitted sweater she flounced around in during a couple of scenes.

How aptly put, Suzi!
I think you’ve hit on several of the reasons that “women’s films” and nowadays “chick flicks” continue to thrive. “[T]he acting style, exaggerated emotions, and contrived plots” still have a cathartic power for many viewers, (and not just female ones, I’ve found). It certainly didn’t hurt that such seasoned pros among the cast and the crew were on hand to lend some solid structure to this sometimes unwieldy story. And Connie‘s character name of “Cricket Blake” on Hawaiian Eye fit her personality perfectly!

Oh, Bronxgirl,
You just pipe right up anytime. I’ll be glad to try to write about any film related fancy that strikes you, even if it seems that there are far more movies than there is time.

Posted By StacyB : January 9, 2009 1:54 am

Hi moirafinnie –

Yet another wonderful post about sacred, profane and plain old addictive movies. The first time I saw “Susan Slade” it aired as the 12:OOAM feature on a local station. Didn’t finish watching it until 3:00AM (blasted commercials!) and I had an 8:00AM class later that morning. Later that evening, I mentioned to my mom I had watched it and she let out a sigh saturated with nostalgia and envy. She too loved the fairy tale house, not to mention certain aspects of Connie Stevens’ wardrobe. We both were felled by that red silk shirtwaist with the cashmere (Mom says camel hair) coat featuring a matching red silk lining. And the matching chiffon scarf! And don’t get me started on the San Francisco/Dr Am I Pregnant? green tweed suit. However, I do agree that some of the clothing must have been a trial for poor Connie.

Quite off the subject, the December 22 issue of the New Yorker has an article about the wildly popular “keitai shosetsu” — cell phone novels, which are the forte of teen girls and young women throughout Japan.The content of these novels are almost all exclusively focused upon a girl’s self-sacrifice, masochism and eventual doom,naturally for the love of that certain boy. The plot of “Susan Slade” could be almost identical to these novels except the ending of this film has our heroine experiencing nothing less than a feminist breakthrough. What’s more her mother, her suitor and even Natalie Schafer’s character support Susan’s stance. To me, and maybe to others, this might be another pleasure of the movie.

Thanks for letting me ramble. You are all too kind.

Posted By StacyB : January 9, 2009 1:54 am

Hi moirafinnie –

Yet another wonderful post about sacred, profane and plain old addictive movies. The first time I saw “Susan Slade” it aired as the 12:OOAM feature on a local station. Didn’t finish watching it until 3:00AM (blasted commercials!) and I had an 8:00AM class later that morning. Later that evening, I mentioned to my mom I had watched it and she let out a sigh saturated with nostalgia and envy. She too loved the fairy tale house, not to mention certain aspects of Connie Stevens’ wardrobe. We both were felled by that red silk shirtwaist with the cashmere (Mom says camel hair) coat featuring a matching red silk lining. And the matching chiffon scarf! And don’t get me started on the San Francisco/Dr Am I Pregnant? green tweed suit. However, I do agree that some of the clothing must have been a trial for poor Connie.

Quite off the subject, the December 22 issue of the New Yorker has an article about the wildly popular “keitai shosetsu” — cell phone novels, which are the forte of teen girls and young women throughout Japan.The content of these novels are almost all exclusively focused upon a girl’s self-sacrifice, masochism and eventual doom,naturally for the love of that certain boy. The plot of “Susan Slade” could be almost identical to these novels except the ending of this film has our heroine experiencing nothing less than a feminist breakthrough. What’s more her mother, her suitor and even Natalie Schafer’s character support Susan’s stance. To me, and maybe to others, this might be another pleasure of the movie.

Thanks for letting me ramble. You are all too kind.

Posted By Jacqueline T Lynch : January 9, 2009 8:05 am

Thanks for giving us a fun look back at “Susan Slade.” Acknowledging, and agreeing with, your assessment of this soap opera, I have to say that I enjoyed the younger characters in this one better than in “A Summer Place”, where their petulance was annoying. In both films, the adults, to me, are the more interesting characters. Lloyd Nolan was particularly moving in this film, so subtle and so powerful. The real tragedy of the film (beyond the lurid baby-lighter accident), was Nolan’s having to give up his long-worked for safe little nest and literally risk his life going back to the field for the sake of his daughter. Nice to see him reunited with McGuire from “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” in another role as a sensitive and duty-bound man. McGuire never put a foot wrong. She could play Juliet opposite King Kong and make it work.

Posted By Jacqueline T Lynch : January 9, 2009 8:05 am

Thanks for giving us a fun look back at “Susan Slade.” Acknowledging, and agreeing with, your assessment of this soap opera, I have to say that I enjoyed the younger characters in this one better than in “A Summer Place”, where their petulance was annoying. In both films, the adults, to me, are the more interesting characters. Lloyd Nolan was particularly moving in this film, so subtle and so powerful. The real tragedy of the film (beyond the lurid baby-lighter accident), was Nolan’s having to give up his long-worked for safe little nest and literally risk his life going back to the field for the sake of his daughter. Nice to see him reunited with McGuire from “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” in another role as a sensitive and duty-bound man. McGuire never put a foot wrong. She could play Juliet opposite King Kong and make it work.

Posted By MissGoddess : January 10, 2009 6:50 am

Aaaaaaaaaaaaah! So
THIS

is where it’s at, ey??? This is where all the geniuses go; pictures and everything. Your essay on “Susan Slade” is wonderful. I’d better stay the little fish in the big pond over on the TCM Message Boards. Wonderful wonderful read. I haven’t finished. I think I’ll take your essay to breakfast with me and savor it.

Thank you!

Posted By MissGoddess : January 10, 2009 6:50 am

Aaaaaaaaaaaaah! So
THIS

is where it’s at, ey??? This is where all the geniuses go; pictures and everything. Your essay on “Susan Slade” is wonderful. I’d better stay the little fish in the big pond over on the TCM Message Boards. Wonderful wonderful read. I haven’t finished. I think I’ll take your essay to breakfast with me and savor it.

Thank you!

Posted By CineMaven : January 10, 2009 6:51 am

OMG!!! My humblest of apologies here. I just read Miss Goddess’ post and absent-mindedly typed in her name instead of my own. Jesus, it’s before 7:00am in the morning and I haven’t eaten.

Forgive my error Miss Goddess and Moira.

Cinemaven

Posted By CineMaven : January 10, 2009 6:51 am

OMG!!! My humblest of apologies here. I just read Miss Goddess’ post and absent-mindedly typed in her name instead of my own. Jesus, it’s before 7:00am in the morning and I haven’t eaten.

Forgive my error Miss Goddess and Moira.

Cinemaven

Posted By la peregrina : January 11, 2009 5:35 pm

moirafinnie- I am happy to find others who cannot resist this movie. I too watched on Sunday but only from where Susan and the family were in Carmel. And I too used to confuse Troy Donahue with Tab Hunter. Then I saw a movie Hunter made in England in which he played a psychopath and realized Hunter was the one with the scary eyes while Donahue was the one with the somewhat blank face.

What I like about the overproduced studio films, like this one, from the early sixties is how fake they seem with their fifties sensibilities. Susan Slade was was made after the emergence of beatnik culture, the same year as the Freedom Rides, a year before Bob Dylan’s first record, two years before the publication of “The Feminine Mystique,” and three years before the rise of hippie culture. We now know these things would change films greatly so watching movies from that time period, for me, is like watching dinosaurs meander across the earth with no idea that a very large meteor is about to crash into their backyard and end life as they know it.

Speaking of fake, one thing I noticed in Susan Slade is Troy Donahue’s red jacket. It is the same kind of jacket that James Dean wore in Rebel Without A Cause. Are we supposed to think his character, Hoyt Becker, is as much as a rebel as Jim Stark was in Dean’s movie? Yeah, right.

Oh, and speaking of Lloyd Nolan, I agree with you 100%. There is something “solid” about the man that I’ve always liked.

Posted By la peregrina : January 11, 2009 5:35 pm

moirafinnie- I am happy to find others who cannot resist this movie. I too watched on Sunday but only from where Susan and the family were in Carmel. And I too used to confuse Troy Donahue with Tab Hunter. Then I saw a movie Hunter made in England in which he played a psychopath and realized Hunter was the one with the scary eyes while Donahue was the one with the somewhat blank face.

What I like about the overproduced studio films, like this one, from the early sixties is how fake they seem with their fifties sensibilities. Susan Slade was was made after the emergence of beatnik culture, the same year as the Freedom Rides, a year before Bob Dylan’s first record, two years before the publication of “The Feminine Mystique,” and three years before the rise of hippie culture. We now know these things would change films greatly so watching movies from that time period, for me, is like watching dinosaurs meander across the earth with no idea that a very large meteor is about to crash into their backyard and end life as they know it.

Speaking of fake, one thing I noticed in Susan Slade is Troy Donahue’s red jacket. It is the same kind of jacket that James Dean wore in Rebel Without A Cause. Are we supposed to think his character, Hoyt Becker, is as much as a rebel as Jim Stark was in Dean’s movie? Yeah, right.

Oh, and speaking of Lloyd Nolan, I agree with you 100%. There is something “solid” about the man that I’ve always liked.

Posted By moirafinnie : January 18, 2009 9:39 am

Hi CineMaven,
Thanks for your comments, however overly generous. I don’t think that Miss G. will mind your invoking her name, especially accidentally. Btw, to those who are unfamiliar with the TCM Message Boards, CineMaven and Miss Goddess are among the most astute and amusing contributors there.

Hi La Peregrina,
I noticed that Troy Donahue wore that signature red jacket too. Since both Rebel Without A Cause & Susan Slade were made at Warner Brothers, I’m betting that the coincidence was anything but accidental, though Troy’s “rebel” seems more morose about his personal circumstances, (Dad’s fall from grace, demise, and his own labors at that swanky looking stable), than socially and politically revolutionary as Dean appeared in Nicholas Ray’s film. However, given the vicissitudes of Hollywood life, James Dean–if he’d lived–might have found himself accepting work in his own share of Susan Slade‘s too, I suppose. Hard to imagine, though, isn’t it?

Posted By moirafinnie : January 18, 2009 9:39 am

Hi CineMaven,
Thanks for your comments, however overly generous. I don’t think that Miss G. will mind your invoking her name, especially accidentally. Btw, to those who are unfamiliar with the TCM Message Boards, CineMaven and Miss Goddess are among the most astute and amusing contributors there.

Hi La Peregrina,
I noticed that Troy Donahue wore that signature red jacket too. Since both Rebel Without A Cause & Susan Slade were made at Warner Brothers, I’m betting that the coincidence was anything but accidental, though Troy’s “rebel” seems more morose about his personal circumstances, (Dad’s fall from grace, demise, and his own labors at that swanky looking stable), than socially and politically revolutionary as Dean appeared in Nicholas Ray’s film. However, given the vicissitudes of Hollywood life, James Dean–if he’d lived–might have found himself accepting work in his own share of Susan Slade‘s too, I suppose. Hard to imagine, though, isn’t it?

Posted By la peregrina : February 14, 2009 12:36 pm

…”given the vicissitudes of Hollywood life, James Dean–if he’d lived–might have found himself accepting work in his own share of Susan Slade’s too, I suppose.”

Now that is a nightmare inducing thought. :)

Posted By la peregrina : February 14, 2009 12:36 pm

…”given the vicissitudes of Hollywood life, James Dean–if he’d lived–might have found himself accepting work in his own share of Susan Slade’s too, I suppose.”

Now that is a nightmare inducing thought. :)

Posted By TCM's Classic Movie Blog : June 4, 2010 12:49 pm

[...] late career splash making embarrassingly enjoyable sudsers such as A Summer Place (1959) and Susan Slade, (1960), catering to the emerging youth market, became highly successful velvet traps for the aging [...]

Posted By TCM's Classic Movie Blog : June 4, 2010 12:49 pm

[...] late career splash making embarrassingly enjoyable sudsers such as A Summer Place (1959) and Susan Slade, (1960), catering to the emerging youth market, became highly successful velvet traps for the aging [...]

Posted By muriel : February 10, 2013 7:38 pm

I was a toddler when these Troy Donahue epic melodramas were made. so I did not see them until I was an adult and saw them in technicolor glory on American Movie Classics back when AMC *was* AMC. What fun entertainment.
The thing that really stuck me about Susan Slade was not the sex out of wedlock, the suicides, mountaineering death, the budding novelist, the baby switching. That’s all conventional grist for an epic melodrama mill.
What got me was that Mrs. Slade would accept with huge gratitude, a house completely decorated for her by another woman. I know it was in the nature of a job bonus, but what woman takes a completely furnished house that she had no hand in making without changing something. It would annoy me, and I live in a house furnished from thrift stores, colored by paint purchased from the “Ooops” shelf at the hardware store.
The most tearjerking part for me was when Susan had to say “goodbye” to her beloved horse when they had to move.
Since the family lived in Chile, the California coast, and Guatemala, the only thing they didn’t include in the story was an earthquake!

Posted By muriel : February 10, 2013 7:38 pm

I was a toddler when these Troy Donahue epic melodramas were made. so I did not see them until I was an adult and saw them in technicolor glory on American Movie Classics back when AMC *was* AMC. What fun entertainment.
The thing that really stuck me about Susan Slade was not the sex out of wedlock, the suicides, mountaineering death, the budding novelist, the baby switching. That’s all conventional grist for an epic melodrama mill.
What got me was that Mrs. Slade would accept with huge gratitude, a house completely decorated for her by another woman. I know it was in the nature of a job bonus, but what woman takes a completely furnished house that she had no hand in making without changing something. It would annoy me, and I live in a house furnished from thrift stores, colored by paint purchased from the “Ooops” shelf at the hardware store.
The most tearjerking part for me was when Susan had to say “goodbye” to her beloved horse when they had to move.
Since the family lived in Chile, the California coast, and Guatemala, the only thing they didn’t include in the story was an earthquake!

Posted By Pam Simone : September 25, 2016 3:59 pm

This is a guilty pleasure from my teen years. This was released just as I was entering my teens.
Thanks for your review and additional information on the cast.
I wrote because TCM is showing it today and I am feeling nostalgic and will indulge.
This would make a good entry for a nostalgic cautionary tale movie night with Summer Place and Where the Boys Are or The Best of Everything complete with retro canapés and martinis.
While these movies are not high art, they are still fun to watch for all the kitchey reason but they also give a glimpse into a phase of our culture that has passed.
Thanks again for your review.

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