SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR
Scen.: Dwight Taylor. F.: George Barnes. M: William Hornbeck, Tom McAdoo. Scgf.: Hal Pereira, Walter Tyler. Mus.: Victor Young. Int.: Joan Fontaine (Jenny Carey), Ray Milland (Alan Miller), Teresa Wright (Edna Miller), Richard Derr (Tony Collins), Douglas Dick (Baker), Herbert Heyes (Crawley), Harry Bellaver (Billy), Paul Valentine (Albert), Frank Orth (cameriere), Alex Akimoff (cameriere). Prod.: George Stevens per Paramount Pictures. DCP.
Up until I Remember Mama, Stevens filmed how people lived. From that point on, he began to strive for more, to get under the skin of the characters. His ardent empathy reached an apex with the most underrated film of his career, and a hidden gem: Something to Live For. Imagine Ray Milland’s alcoholic in The Lost Weekend rehabilitated, seasoned, married with two kids and holding down a nine-to-five job in advertising. Yet something is missing in his life, which has now come to resemble an advertisement. Serving a good cause in his spare time, when an Alcoholics Anonymous rescue call comes in, he rushes to help the troubled drinker only to discover it’s a she: Joan Fontaine as a has-been actress. He saves her, they fall for each other, she brings back the vitality to his life, which according to his own wife (played by Teresa Wright) has become far too sober. Afterwards their lives improve but, as in many Stevens films, the pain and loss remain. Dwight Taylor’s sensitive script, originally titled Mr and Miss Anonymous, was based on his mother, an actress and alcoholic. Stevens got on board when he was still editing A Place in the Sun. Shooting began in May 1950, but an unsuccessful August 1951 preview, coinciding with the release of A Place in the Sun, delayed the film’s release until March 1952 – and couldn’t save the film from the eventual commercial failure that pushed it into oblivion. It also gave future critics, even in book-length studies of Stevens (including those by Donald Richie and Marilyn Ann Moss), the excuse to ignore and undermine the film. Yet the direction, in its accomplished sense of cluttered space, entanglement and inescapabilty, is full of artistry. The vulnerable characters are trapped in bars, hotel rooms, offices, elevators and, in a sequence worthy of a Rossellini/Bergman film, a pharaoh’s tomb in a museum – an unlikely place for the reaffirmation of human bonds. They search for a romance that is lost before it’s found. The romantic dream fails but the stage show with which the film ends is just beginning. Is this a triumph for artificiality and conformity? Stevens’s dark and tender film leaves you with this thought as no other film does.