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Friday, May 15, 2015

Sidney Lumet | A View from the Bridge


london bridge is falling down
by Douglas Messerli

Norman Rosten (based on the play by Arthur Miller), Sidney Lumet (director) A View from the Bridge / 1962
 

Obviously, it is not London Bridge in this American film based on the play by Arthur Miller, that is falling down, nor even Brooklyn Bridge near the shipping yards where the Carbone family lives and works. The bridge is a symbolic one, common to Miller’s dry literary conceits, suggesting that Eddie Carbone (Raf Vallone), the bridge to his sister’s past through his caring for her daughter, Catherine (Carol Lawrence), and to his wife’s Sicilian roots through his invitation into their home of the immigrant relatives, Rodolfo (Jean Sorel) and Marco (Raymond Pellegrini), Indeed, Carbone begins the drama as a human link at least, if not a bridge, between the dock workers, administrative brutes, and the workers’ lawyer, Alfieri (a role excellently acted by Morris Carnovsky). And we quickly perceive Eddie as a solid edifice who supports and loves his family, alternately teasing and attempting to please his adoring but increasingly troubled wife, Beatrice (Maureen Stapleton, in a strangely muted performance that more closely resembles the acting style of Jean Stapleton in All in the Family than Maureen’s usually endearing outsiders).

     The trouble is that this human bridge is gradually falling apart, his emotional rivets slowly being loosed by deep psychological yearnings of which the simple Italian workman is unaware. His role as protector to Catherine has, over the years—due to both his wife’s and the girl’s empathetic maternalism and loving placation to his sometimes violent temperament—has grown into unspoken love for the niece, his “Madonna,” that is quietly smoldering into lust. 
     The arrival of his wife’s relatives, the ox-like, married Marco and the handsome blonde Southern-Italian Rodolfo, who quickly falls in love with the beautiful girl who is close to his own age, changes everything, and shifts the family dynamics so completely that Eddie is suddenly forced to perceive not just the impossibility of his unconsciously burning fantasies but that he is no longer a man in his prime. As nearly all of our major American dramatists, from O’Neill, Williams, Miller to Albee have made evident: sexual desire and aging are nearly always an incendiary mix.
      Director Sidney Lumet has done nearly everything he could to take Miller’s self-consciously claustrophobic, hot-house drama into the real world, spilling out crucial events into early 60’s derelict New York streets that reminds one a bit of Elia Kazan and Martin Scorsese. The scene in which Eddie literally trails after the couple, Rodolfo and Catherine, following them into a automat, insistently watching them as they enter a movie and, later, a dance club, adds texture and deeper dimensions to Miller’s stagey work, as we begin to wonder which one of the two is he really stalking, and imagine his emotional responses to the apparently innocent acts he witnesses. 
     And the final street battle between Marco and Eddie and Eddie’s suicide, with a curved metal lifting-hook, could not have been better dramatized. But the problem with Miller’s drama is that his simple-minded and brutish lead, Eddie, needs to be told, time and again apparently, what his problem is—without him ever catching on—which puts nearly every character in the work in the position of verbally accosting him with the “facts,” as if each were required to take turns at playing a hack psychologist. Accordingly, although the audience catches on quite quickly to the heart of the matter, the drama requires that the “hidden reality” be restated over and over in sometimes yawn-inspired declarations.

     And what gets suggested in Miller’s script, without being fully developed by either the author or his commentators, is that Eddie is not just jealous of Rodolfo and desirous for his niece, but that—in his macho conceptions of the handsome tenor, who can dance and design dresses evidently with equal ease, as a homosexual—he may have other latent desires as well. In the intense scene played-out as a demonstration to reveal to Catherine what Rodolfo “really is,” wherein Eddie plants a full kiss upon the kid’s lips, Eddie literally displays the sexual tensions from which he is suffering, as in the very next instant he attempts to embrace Catherine as well.* 
    But it is all too much to imagine that this brute of a man could possibly be so conflicted; and, besides, by this time we no longer care. He’ll never ever be able to figure it out and resolve any such psychologically complex concepts. The only thing he can imagine to ease his passions is to turn into a “rat,” turning in his wife’s illegal immigrant family members to the authorities. And even then, he cannot comprehend that in that act he himself has forever dirtied his name, not Marco or his neighbors, whom he blames.                     

     Since the view from this collapsing Brooklyn bum reveals that he is ready to dump all those who he once supported into the dirty waters of the East River; and since the internal scenes were inexplicably shot in France, this film, about Italo-Americans, dubbed into both French and American-English, might as well have represented it’s view as emanating from a falling London Bridge. As New York Times critic Bosley Crowther pointed out, “Mr. Miller’s longshoreman, unlike his salesman, is better off dead.”

     Still we can’t quite help ourselves wishing that in this south-borough version of West Side Story, Tony and Maria (Carol Lawrence’s most memorable role) might escape as Rodolfo and Catherine to Manhattan, along with Beatrice and Marco, to start a new life: the singing duo might have easily discovered brain, heart, courage enough to carry on in Lumet’s The Wiz! Besides Rodolfo always wanted to see Broadway! Maybe he was just a little bit gay after all.

Los Angeles, May 14, 2015
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (May 2015).

*I suddenly remembered a related event wherein an acquaintance I’d made as a Freshman in 1965 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee told me that he was reading Miller’s play, and was struck by the major character’s homosexuality. For years after, reading reviews and commentaries about the play, I found absolutely no mention about Eddie Carbone’s possible homosexuality. In hindsight, I can comprehend why. Perhaps the young friend was simply being a particularly astute reader— or perhaps he was trying to bring up another discussion, of which, in that year, I was yet quite innocent.

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