Look back in pleasure
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.