Look back in plea­sure

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television -

THE 1950s are re­mem­bered as the golden age of bib­li­cal epics and MGM mu­si­cals, but there was much else to be thank­ful for. Al­fred Hitch­cock was at the height of his pow­ers ( Strangers on a Train, Ver­tigo, North by North­west) and in­di­vid­ual mas­ter­pieces were turn­ing up ev­ery­where: All About Eve, Paths of Glory, Room at the Top, 12 An­gry Men (not to men­tion the French new wave). Two of my favourite 50s films can be seen this week.

Bri­tish di­rec­tor Alexan­der Mack­endrick, best known for quirky Eal­ing come­dies ( The Man in the White Suit), turned his hand to Hol­ly­wood noir in The Sweet Smell of Suc­cess (Mon­day, 2pm, 7Two), and the re­sult was a mas­ter­piece, a per­verse study of ur­ban men­ace and moral de­gen­er­acy in the worlds of show­biz and public re­la­tions (or celebrity and spin, as we now say). Burt Lan­caster is an un­scrupu­lous news­pa­per colum­nist who trades favours with Broad­way spruiker Tony Cur­tis in a com­plex story of sleazy deals and crooked cops.

The Nun’s Story (Sun­day, 3pm, Gem) is Fred Zin­ne­mann’s su­perbly re­strained ac­count of the life of a nurs­ing nun in the Bel­gian Congo (as it was be­fore World War II), with a ra­di­ant per­for­mance from Au­drey Hep­burn as Sis­ter Luke, who de­cides af­ter much dis­ap­point­ment and pri­va­tion that the re­li­gious life is not for her. Hep­burn gives a glo­ri­ous per­for­mance — breath­less with ado­ra­tion — as the daugh­ter of a Bel­gian sur­geon who be­comes a nurs­ing nun. The early scenes of her in­duc­tion into the re­li­gious life are fas­ci­nat­ing and the drama builds pow­er­fully when she en­coun­ters a moody medico (Peter Finch) at a mis­sion. It was nom­i­nated for six Os­cars, but the hon­ours that year all went to Ben-hur — it was the age of the bib­li­cal epic, af­ter all.

In some ways, Sleep­ing with the En­emy (Satur­day, 10.30pm, Ten) might pass as a 50s women’s picture, but it’s given quiet dis­tinc­tion by Ju­lia Roberts, who plays Laura, a model house­wife reg­u­larly beaten by her out­wardly re­spectable, model hus­band Martin (Pa­trick Ber­gin). When Laura fakes her own death to be­gin a new life un­der a new iden­tity, the venge­ful Martin is de­ter­mined to track her down.

And a warm word for Coal Miner’s Daugh­ter (Satur­day, 10.40pm, ABC2), the in­spir­ing story of coun­try mu­sic queen Loretta Lynn from her hum­ble be­gin­nings in back­woods Ken­tucky, with Sissy Spacek in one of her finest per­for­mances.

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