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Apples on the Lilac Tree & Bitter Waters

Gasser

     Do you know what 1956 television audiences apparently found funny? A man who is skilled at putting together an organized breakfast. I concede that in the Screen Directors Playhouse episode Apples on the Lilac Tree that a group of wives greeting each other in the hallway of their apartment building while grabbing the morning milk is funny when you add a one husband to the equation. I was a bit surprised, however, when the studio audience supplied laughter to a scene of this man flipping eggs, grabbing toast and pouring coffee in an organized rhythm. Nevertheless, the episode teaches us the hazards of moving into new roles after 10 years of marriage.

     MacDonald Carey plays William Tyler who acts as housewife as his spouse works as an executive assistant at a bathing suit company. He knows all the ins and outs of maintaining the household, but when his schooling is finally complete and he is accepted for an assistant professorship, the couple consider swapping roles. The wife Maggie (Joan Caulfield) is out of her element as cook and housekeeper, however, making life unpleasant for them both. Her boss has additionally begged her to return to work and to assume a more prestigious position. It looks as though neither party will be happy in the new set up, but a pregnancy will apparently solve all ills.

     Apples on the Lilac Tree sets up a great premise and conflict, but the resolution is not a sufficient one. Although William is very happy to become breadwinner and make use of his advanced degrees, albeit at a lower household income than his wife hauls in, Maggie is miserable at home. She cannot get a grasp on cooking or cleaning and misses the importance her position at the bathing suit company had. She was “unhappy” in that job because she was taken for granted and often required to work late, but the new position offered her would have meant an even greater salary and a title of prestige. Her having a baby does not resolve her issues in being stuck at home but does give her a better purpose in life.

     Another Screen Director’s Playhouse with an unsatisfactory conclusion involves romance around the turn of the 20th century, entitled The Bitter Waters. George Sanders plays middle-aged man Charles who never married because he was scorned by the woman he loved who sought riches instead. He is vacationing with his nephew Archie (Robert Vaughn), who is attracted to a young woman across the casino. She is Linda (Cynthia Baxter), who happens to be the daughter of that heart-breaker Louise (Constance Cummings) who dumped Charles ages ago.

     The young people want to get married, and Archie has money, but Louise is inexplicably opposed to the possibility. The women leave town to avoid progressing the romance, but the men find them and are as intent as ever to have the man and woman engaged. Louise finally reveals to Charles that her aversion to the courtship is that Linda has become a woman colder and harder than she who seeks only money and will make the young man miserable. The families move on, but at the episode’s close we see Linda moving in on another wealthy suitor.

     The Bitter Waters‘ conclusion caught me off guard and seemed rather abrupt as I perhaps thought I was watching a movie and that we would see Linda’s further efforts to land a mate. The secret about Louise’ opposition to the marriage was a surprise, although I was expecting something more scandalous, such as that Linda was in fact Charles’ daughter conceived out of wedlock. The Bitter Waters was certainly a dark story bereft of any real romance, but I was dissatisfied in the end.

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Cry Justice & Affair in Sumatra

Dullsville

     The two Screen Directors Playhouse episodes I watched this week were the first disappointing ones among those I have seen, one moreso than the other. One of the greatest compliments I have given to these half-hour TV movies are that they somehow fit a whole film plot into a short timeframe and do it without feeling rushed. That was not the case for Affair in Sumatra.

     You might have also noticed me questioning whether Ralph Bellamy is capable of playing a romantic lead. To that I got my answer: no. The older Bellamy in Affair in Sumatra is a doctor who travels to a jungle land to act as physician/surgeon and also conduct research on jungle diseases. When driving into the village where he will be stationed, the man’s Jeep splashes mud onto a native-looking woman who refuses to answer him as he tries to apologize. Not long after he re-meets this Lotti (Rita Gam) who is the owner/director of the hospital. Bellamy’s Dr. Kelog convinces the woman to invest more money into the dreadful supply and sanitation conditions of the hospital –it seems the hospital director played by Basil Rathbone has been siphoning off excess money– but does not give her enough romantic attention.

     The romance between Bellamy and Gam feels abrupt and rushed if not utterly unnatural. The woman lures him into kissing her the first time and follows up with a slap before allowing the second kiss to proceed. When their relationship hits the rocks, Bellamy’s expressionless face and eyes show how uncommitted he is to the role’s romantic requirements. Also, being half white, half Sumatran, Lotti for some reason opted to return to Sumatra to start the hospital but is utterly unhappy because the natives do not like her, which raises the question of why she remains there. Affair in Sumatra Director Byron Haskins fails to connect the audience with both the love affair and the moral obligations of the story.

     Director George Sherman‘s Cry Justice is mildly better but clearly would have been improved if offered as a full-length feature. Gil Foster (Macdonald Carey) and Jim Wheeler (Dick Haymes) are attorneys in a western town who have a brief spat at the open of the movie over Jim being jealous of his colleague. Later the sheriff (James Dunn) approaches Gil to say Jim is afraid of him because of an alleged threat on his life Gil made during their fight. The next day, Gil visits his friend’s house to find it torn apart with pools of blood evident, some of which gets on his jacket. Bringing this matter to the sheriff, Gil is eventually put to trial for Jim’s murder when officials find bones and boots burned up in the victim’s fireplace.

     Newlywed Gil goes to jail for 10 years on the circumstantial evidence and spends that time petitioning the Supreme Court to rule on whether the “double jeopardy” constitutional amendment applies to all crimes. Gil suspects that Jim faked his death, so after his release from prison, the convict goes looking for the man who wronged him, eventually finding him.

     Cry Justice was not bad but could have been better if more time was put into the plot and if it were not so obvious that the victim was still alive. The portion pertaining to the young fiancée, played by June Vincent, who loses her husband first to prison then to the man hunt could also have been finessed to heighten the emotional pull of the story.

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