May 11, 2005

filmsgraded.com:
Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962)
Grade: 46/100

Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards

What it's about. An earnest adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's downer play. Aging actor James (Richardson) heads a troubled family that includes morphine-addicted wife Mary (Hepburn), tuberculous infected son Edmund (Dean Stockwell), and alcoholic wastrel Jamie (Robards). Our four leads engage in lengthy, revealing, and ultimately savaging conversations. The play takes place on a single day, circa 1910.

How others will see it. This is not a movie for everyone. Even classic movie fans, eager to see Hepburn or Richardson in action, may find the film an unpleasant experience. It is a play that could be appreciated by actors and authors, both amateur and professional. But despite its plaudits and cast, this difficult adaptation is obscure today, and will be a tough sit for most viewers.

How I felt about it. The Tyrone family sticks together, but it's a bed of nails, not a bed of roses. Every family failing is blamed on at least two members, and every minor success is demeaned and dismissed by others.

Hepburn shoots up, but it's not just her fault. Hubby neglected her, and Edmund just had to be born. James pays all of the family's bills, but he's nevertheless condemned as a miser and (gasp!) as a bad investor. As if Hepburn's dope or Robards' alcohol are better financial decisions.

A discussion of the movie is inevitably a discussion of the play, since the adaptation is faithful. The characters, of course, are far more honest and cruel with each other than they should or would be. Dual family crisis of Edmund's confirmed TB and Mary's resume morphine injections provoke drawn-out handwringing discussions, but in this era before the internet, television, or even radio, the literary family instead chooses to lash out at each other, casting aspersions and even direct blame.

Curious that among these individual conversations between the leads, none take place singly between Hepburn and Robards. Since both are addicts, they would have to agree to disagree on that even score. Hepburn's motherly love is instead slathered on Edmund, whose likely terminal illness cannot be faced, only avoided by an escape to the 'prescription.' Does that mean Robards' drinking is caused by the loss of mother's love to Edmund? If so, it is the only family skeleton left in the closet. The many other skeletons swirl about our protagonists' heads, tormenting them ceaselessly.