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USA 1956
Directed by
Robert Aldrich
107 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves is what was called at the time a “women’s picture”, one given florid treatment by its director Robert Aldrich.

Joan Crawford plays Millicent Wetherby a lonely middle-aged typist living in L.A. who meets a charming younger man, Burt Hansen (Cliff Robertson) falls in love with him and marries him only to find that he is not the man he pretends to be, leaving her having to find a way to save the marriage.

The film’s title and Nat King Cole’s smooth rendition of the classic song which is its source promises a frisson of elegaic melancholy which is never realized in this over-wrought romantic melodrama. The film, however, with its tortured emotionality and screenwriter’s psychologizing will have much to offer lovers of B movies and anyone with an interest in women's films.

Autumn Leaves gets off to a slow start, labouring the key idea of the insecurities on both sides of the older woman – young man relationship, dragging this out for nearly a third of the running time before the wisely cautious Millie gives in to Burt’s testosterone-driven ardour. Of course we know things are not going to go well and by the mid-point we see where this is leading as Burt’s former wife and father turn up claiming Burt is delusional. The kicker here is that in a plot point that doesn’t get enough development nor are they what they seem to be. In the final act Burt loses his marbles and it is up to Millie to pay the price of  love. 

Written by husband and wife team Jean Rouverol and Hugo Butler with additional credits going to Lewis Meltzer and Robert Blees, the film is of interest for its central character of an independent woman going it alone in a man’s world, a character which of course Crawford had made famous in Mildred Pierce (1945), one who here moreover must use her maternal strength to save her weakling husband,

Crawford now fifty years old to Robertson’s thirty-three does a serviceable job of her role although if there is one single dramatic flaw to the film is that it doesn’t spend enough time making us believe in Millie’s attachment to Burt before things go pear-shaped. A less-convincing Robertson seques from puppy-dog devotion to bat-craziness before a good course of shock treatment turns him into a buffed All-American spouse.

FYI: Aldrich won Best Director at the 1956 Berlin International film festival for the film. He directed Crawford again in the camp classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962).




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