On Sunday afternoon, I watched Sydney Pollack’s Sexty Sex release, set in the Deep South, during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, in America, This Property is Condemned (1966), starring Natalie Wood, Robert Redford & Charles Bronson. One of the DVD’s I bought during my trip Down Under, in November 2014.

Natalie Wood as the condemned woman in This Property is Condemned (1966)

Natalie Wood as the condemned woman in This Property is Condemned (1966)

Suggested on the basis of a one act play; by famed playwright, Tennessee Williams; the main plot revolves around a young flirtatious girl, living in a fictional town named Dodson, in the southern state of Mississippi, USA. Partially forced by her mother, she is the entertainment for the townsmen, specifically an unhappy, rich old married man (who is supposedly married to an invalid). The young girl, though unwilling, helps make this particular man happy; one ‘cause her mother tells her to do so, and the other ‘cause she’s sympathetic towards his loneliness. Thus, it’s actually her conniving mother who pushes her to be a sort of prostitute, for the mother’s own benefit, rather than the daughter’s desire. Meanwhile the daughter, though the town flirt, is pretty innocent, who tries to rationalise everything and everyone, and tries to see good in even the worst possible scenarios, and tries to make herself happy. She lives in sort of a dream world, fantasising. Yet, she longs to leave this miserable old town, and lead a happy life. It’s hope against hope that keeps her going.

This is until one day a man shows up on her doorstep, that will change everything in her life, and the livelihoods, of other inhabitants, of this remote old town, she has spent her entire life in.
This Property is Condemned Wood Train PixNatalie Wood is superbly brilliant as the town’s flirtatious, yet quite vulnerable, Alva. One of best, and most unique, performances of Natalie Wood, I’ve seen till date. Very different to the innocent characters she played in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), The Searchers (1956), West Side Story (1961), Splendor in the Grass (1961), or her cutesy comical title role in Penelope (1966). In This Property is Condemned too she does happen to have a very naïve personality, but a very different kind of naivety.

Natalie Wood’s performance here, reminded me of Elizabeth Taylor’s in Butterfield 8 (1960). Both entrapped fallen women; not afraid to flaunt their sensuality, and considered man-traps; yet desperately longing to get away from all the mess they’ve managed to get themselves in, and lead a respectable life; yet unfortunately, destined for tragedy. Natalie Wood was nominated for a ‘Best Actress’ Golden Globe, but the movie never garnered any nominations, in any category, at the Oscars.

Mary Badham & Robert Redford in a scene from This Property is Condemned (1966)

Mary Badham & Robert Redford in a scene from This Property is Condemned (1966)

Robert Redford plays the town’s alien, the railroad official, Owen Legate, who comes to Dodson, to lay off many railroad employees, thus shutting down the town’s main source of income. This was due to the Great Depression of October, 1929, which affected most of the 30’s decade, when a lot of people found themselves unemployed, thanks to the economic crisis the world was suffering from back then.

Owen Legate & Alva Starr fall madly in love in tragic romance.

Owen Legate & Alva Starr fall madly in love, in this tragic romance.

Soon Owen Legate falls for Alva Starr. Yet he isn’t necessarily polite to her, and is quick to insult her, constantly hurting her feelings. At the same time Legate tries to open up her eyes, to stop her fantasising of faux-happiness, she’s invented, and constantly hints on her incapability to stand up to her mother, Hazel Starr (Kate Reid). Hazel Starr is a nasty woman, and Kate Reid does a remarkable job, as the spiteful ‘Mama’. Once when Alva, in a moment miserable drunkenness, hurts her mother’s feelings; by exposing the fact that the mother’s lover, J.J. Nichols (Charles Bronson), only strings along ‘cause he’s sexually interested in Alva, and worse asks J.J. to marry her; the jealous mother finds a way to take her revenge on Alva, in the nastiest unimaginable way possible, for a mother to do to her own child, the condemned property.

Today, it does sound sexist, calling a woman property, let alone a condemned one. But this story is set in the 1930’s. And doubt, the Roaring 20’s would have really had much of an influence, in these remote American towns, like the fictional town of Dodson. But the idea is she is a ruined woman, according to that time period, to the extent that her only hope is to live as a kept woman, of a married man. The story is really sad. When Alva ultimately does manage to escape, and start life afresh with Owen Legate, in New Orleans; a (literal) warning sound of thunder is heard, a sign of a brewing storm, and thus enters her mother, to rule and ruin Alva’s life yet again.

The Two Sisters

The Two Sisters

A very tragic tale, told in flashback, by Willie Starr (Mary Badham), Alva’s tomboyish, and tough, younger sister. A pre-teen girl residing all alone in the boarding house (now a condemned property, literally), once owned by her selfish mother, ‘Mama’ Hazel Starr. Young Mary Badham is just the perfect fit as ‘Willie’, who shares a close friendship with Owen Legate, and most probably the only person, in the entire town, who is sympathetic towards her elder sister’s unhappy life. In fact, Willie is very protective of her older sister. As she narrates Alva’s story, a unkempt, shabby, Willie, by now abandoned by her uncaring mother, is seen dressed in Alva’s tattered old clothes and jewellery.

Director Sydney Pollack chats with Robert Redford and Natalie Wood, while Charles Bronson looks on, seated behind.

On The Sets: Director Sydney Pollack chats with actors Robert Redford and Natalie Wood, while Charles Bronson looks on, seated behind.

The male cast, which include, Robert Redford, Charles Bronson, Robert Blake, John Harding and Jon Provost, are all good in their respective roles; but the highlights of this movie, are the trio of female leads, the mother, and her two daughters, played by Kate Reid, Natalie Wood and Mary Badham, respectively. Especially Wood’s stunning performance, it’s one of a kind.

This Property is Condemned is an excellent piece of cinema; and one of the best directorial ventures, of the great Sydney Pollack. Highly recommendable for all Film Buffs, and Literature Buffs as well. A Must See!!
This Property is Condemned Wood WetThe Best of Wood!!! The Best of Pollack!!!!

This Property is Condemned was released at the height of the second sexual revolution (the 1960’s), in 1966, the year famously dubbed as Nineteen Sexty Sex.

Rating: 10/10!!!!!

Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense
Nuwan Sen n’ the 60’s
Nuwan Sen (Sexty Sex Special)

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