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  • Benjamin May

Toys In The Attic (1963) Review

Julian Berniers is a raconteur and habitual schemer who travels home to New Orleans with his wife Lily to visit his elder sisters Carrie and Anna. Carrie and Anna dote on Julian, with Carrie being especially ecstatic over and obsessed with him. He hasn't been back for months, and the two sisters are confident he has squandered all his money, as he has done so many times before. However, this time, Julian arrives mysteriously in the black, flush with cash and bearing many gifts. This doesn't sit well with Carrie, and Lily has her own reasons to be suspicious of her husband. Though all seems to go well for a while, the ultimate ramifications of Julian's arrival prove to be unexpected and devastating, in George Roy Hill's 'Toys In The Attic.'

Based on the play of the same name by Lillian Hellman, 'Toys In The Attic' is a lightweight Tennessee Williams style melodrama that entertains, though doesn't break any particularly new ground. With a screenplay by James Poe, the narrative is sadly predictable and underwhelming, featuring many 'Southern' cliches and derivative scenarios. Some of the characters are very obviously and poorly written, with motivations so thin they make cigarette paper look hefty. Additionally, the dialogue rarely if ever rises above the level of a soap opera, and twists introduced throughout are ham-fisted and foreseeable.

All that said, there is a realistic relationship in the film featuring two interesting characters that impresses greatly; that of Julian and Anna. Their relationship is utterly believable and a fine example of good, understated screenwriting. One doesn't need- or get- extraneous information regarding their feelings for one another or their past experiences, which makes the characters' evident bond so natural and impressive. Contrasted with the character of Carrie- for whom Poe consistently over-writes- or that of Lily- for whom Poe underwrites- Julian and Anna stand out as impressively rounded cinematic creations who interact with one another in a credible fashion.

On the technical side of things, 'Toys In The Attic' has a few elements worth mentioning. Joseph F. Biroc's cinematography is subdued and mutedly artistic. There are some shots that will stick with you, such as Biroc's framing of a fight in a warehouse from the latter half of the picture, which brims with tension and compositional intrigue. Additionally, Victor A. Gangelin's evocative set decoration lends to locations an aura of authenticity, while Bill Thomas's costume design is striking and impressive work. George Duning's sweeping, melodic score is also of note, which brings additional drama to the proceedings.

'Toys In The Attic' boasts an all-star cast, headed up by Dean Martin as Julian, a role originated by Jason Robards on stage. Martin plays the character as a good natured, unlucky fellow who honestly tries to do the right thing. One of the warmest, most genuine figures ever in entertainment history, Martin's magnetic screen presence threatens at times to run away with the film; and is easily the strongest selling point 'Toys In The Attic' boasts. He delivers a towering performance of depth and emotional volubility, proving once again that he could handle dramatic roles with ease.

Co-starring as Carrie and Anna are Geraldine Page and Wendy Hiller, respectively. While Hiller masterfully underplays the role of Anna, Page goes rather over-the-top, over-doing the Southern accent and emotional volatility inherent to her character. Hiller, like Martin, steals the film with her natural approach, range and poise. Page minces around like Elizabeth Taylor from 'Hammersmith Is Out,' playing the role at such a heightened level that one wonders whether or not she thought the material was intended as parody. Yvette Mimieux also stars, as Lily; though leaves such a minute impression she may not have been there at all.

'Toys In The Attic' is a bit of a mixed bag at the end of the day, an obvious melodrama featuring elements both over-the-top and understated. Though Dean Martin and Wendy Hiller turn in powerful performances worth remembering, Geraldine Page and Yvette Mimieux unfortunately counterbalance their brilliance with their less than stellar efforts. Additionally, the dialogue is often ridiculously cliched and the narrative is essentially predictable and derivative. In short, 'Toys In The Attic' is a muddled drama featuring inconsistent playthings; some of which will provide you immense entertainment value, and some of which you wish never came out of the toybox.


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