This Property Is Condemned
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124 of 133 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 17, 2004
How could a movie fanatic go wrong with this one? Sidney Pollack directing, with Francis Ford Coppola helping out with the adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play? A great cast , with especially memorable performances from Natalie Wood, Kate Reid and Mary Badham (as younger sister, Willie Starr)? Roberts Redford and Blake and Charles Bronson thrown in for lagniappe? Sounds like great gumbo to me.
Natalie Wood is absolutely alluring in this one. She and Redford, who also teamed together in the memorable INSIDE DAISY CLOVER, did indeed appear to have a lot of screen chemistry. He is the cynical company man who appears like the Grim Reaper in a small, shabby, depression-era southern town, carrying pink slips with him, instead of a scythe. The role has a lot of resonance now, what with all the corporate downsizing currently going on. Needless to say, the townfolk don't much cotton to Mr Owen Legate, with his fancy suit and self-assured ways.
With a couple notable exceptions. Tom boyish Willie Starr is taken by him right away and the minute her big sister Alma sets eyes on him, she's putty. Wood's expression in that initial glance is part of film history.
Owen further antagonizes the townfolk because they see that Alma has taken a shine to an outsider. Alma's been something of a tramp up this point, givining it up to varying degrees to most of the men in the town. Several of them, including an old geezer with an invilid wife, have been fantazising about further adventures with Alma. And Alma's mother is upset with Owen, because she sees that he is going to take away her gravy train. Hazel Starr is one of Williams' great eccentric female characters, and perhaps his most unctuous (though Amanda Wingfield, in THE GLASS MENAGERIE, is no prize, either. Kate Reid is perfect in the role. This, to me is her most memorable performance, followed closely by her title role in AND MISS REARDON DRINKS A LITTLE, which unfortunatley appears to be impossible to find. It's hard to believe she never won an Oscar or a Tony.
This was only the second feature film that Pollock directed. He of course went on to great things with such films as THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY and TOOTSIE. He and Cinematographer James Wong Howe do a great job of capturing small southern town lethargy, as well as 30's New Orleans ambience. The print, unfortunately, could definitely use a full restoration. It's faded noticeably over time. The film certainly warrants the extra work. Yet time cannot wither Natalie Wood. She's still one of the most lovely women a camera ever made love to. This film definitely belongs near the top of the list for screen adaptations of Williams' plays.
BEK
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful
When I first saw this film, as a preteen, I thought it was the ultimate romance. Well, I got older ... and saw it again. And it's still pretty romantic. In fact, it's still a film I watch over and over.
The performances are really juicy. Everyone in it seems to understand the over-the-top quality of Tennessee Williams, and no one disappoints. You'll find Charles Bronson and a very young Robert Blake in supporting roles here. Both Kate Reid, as Wood's driving, ambitious `Mama' using her beautiful daughter to hook the town's men, and Mary Badham, as `Willie', the not-so-beautiful younger sister who idolizes Wood, are quite simply superb. Every move, every look from both are truly sublime.
Natalie Wood has always been one of my favorite stars, and she is every inch the star in this one. It's clear from her first closeup how special, how different, and how exciting Alva Starr is to everyone she comes in contact with. She meets her match in Robert Redford, the man who has no dreams, who sees her in unvarnished black and white but comes to appreciate her need to color life ... in fact, realizes he can't live without it when he's separated from her.
Is it great drama? No. But it's glorious soap opera. The best soap opera, the most memorable Southern soap opera, you're likely to find. These people have real problems, real needs, and they're beautifully drawn by the screenwriters (thank you, Francis Coppola, among others) and by the actors who play them. We're given a lot of time to know them and care about them, and we do care, very much.
It's one of my favorite guilty pleasures, and I expect I'll keep watching it for years to come. Don't miss it.
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57 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2004
A year after Tennessee Williams's 1945 breakthrough success with "The Glass Menagerie," a collection of his then-existing one-act plays was published under the title "27 Wagons Full of Cotton." Included in that collection was "This Property Is Condemned," a two-person play describing a chance encounter between a boy named Tom and an orphaned school drop-out named Willie by the railroad tracks outside a near-abandoned, post-depression-era Southern town. During their conversation, Willie tells Tom about her sister Alva, who was once the town's "Main Attraction" with suitors galore, fancy clothes and always out to party; but died young when her lungs "got affected." Yet, everything about Willie already spells "doom" as well: Her dreaminess and lack of realism, her cheap rhinestone bracelet and raggedy old-fashioned party dress (which were once her sister's), her shabby doll, and of course the fact that she still lives in her family's old railroad-side boarding house, long-since shut down and bearing the sign "This Property Is Condemned," from which the story thus takes its symbolic title.

Inspired by Tennessee Williams's play, Francis Ford Coppola sat down with TV writer-producers Fred Coe and Edith Sommer (as well as uncredited David Rayfiel) and created a screenplay fleshing out the backstory; the story of Alva, who dreams of nothing more than getting out of her small backwater home town and seeing the world (or at least New Orleans, which is more or less the same thing), but is trapped between lack of money and prospects on the one hand and a mother heavily capitalizing on her physical attractions on the other hand. And both the screenwriters and Natalie Wood, who stars as Alva, did the famous playwright proud: Their heroine is as much an inhabitant of Williams's "Dragon Country" - that place too painful to live in, yet somehow endured - as are her sisters-in-spirit Blanche DuBois ("A Streetcar Named Desire") and Amanda and Laura Wingfield ("The Glass Menagerie"); like them hiding from a reality deemed intolerable behind a gauze veil of make-believe, and prone to immediate destruction when robbed of her illusions.

For Alva, however, doom doesn't come at the hands of a man: In fact, although she has acquired the reputation of the town's easiest girl, with suitors ranging from her own mother's boyfriend (a marvelously, tightly controlled Charles Bronson) to a wealthy old visitor from Memphis named Johnson (John Harding), railroad executive Owen Legate (Robert Redford), in town with a suitcase full of pink slips and thus the quickly-maligned catalyst of the railroad-dependent community's demise, falls for her when he begins to see through her easygoing facade. (She, of course, was smitten the minute she laid eyes on him ... and sister, I sure am with you there. We're talking about Redford in his prime, after all.) Owen and Alva are a classic case of "opposites attract" - he the realist who never dreams, dislikes his job but does it because someone has to, and tries to make her face the reality of her situation, albeit with the aim of empowering, not destroying her; and she the romantic, who can dream herself inside a snow globe when she wants to feel cold, believes that places vividly imagined are almost as good as places actually visited, and sometimes feels so suffocated by her town's encroaching atmosphere that she has physical trouble breathing (which of course also foreshadows other things). Natalie Wood and Robert Redford have incredible chemistry - their prior collaboration in "Inside Daisy Clover" quite obviously helped a lot - and truly bring to life the precarious, only seemingly carefree young Southern belle and her reluctant lover. But just as crucial is the relationship between Alva and her manipulative mother (Kate Reid), who stands for everything that her daughter is not and, although practically inexistent in Tennessee Williams's play, as an agent of destruction is a worthy peer to his most brutal characters, first and foremost "Streetcar"'s Stanley Kowalski.

While it can hardly be said that the movie is "based" on Tennessee Williams's play - the opening credits aptly use the term "suggested by" - the play itself remains largely intact as an outer frame; using Willie (Mary Badham of "To Kill a Mockingbird" fame) as a narrator and taking the majority of the dialogue between her and Tom ("Lassie"'s Jon Provost) straight from the play. Much the same is true for the Starr boarding house, which in the movie's opening and closing shots quite closely matches Tennessee Williams's (as always) elaborate stage directions, describing the building as "a large yellow frame house which has a look of tragic vacancy:" only one example of James Wong Howe's and Stephen Grimes's excellent cinematography and production design, complimented in turn by the great, venerable Edith Head's period-sensitive costumes.

For most of the movie's participants, "This Property Is Condemned" was a harbinger of even bigger things to come: Although Natalie Wood was a bona-fide star (and the only actor receiving "above the line" billing) and both child actors' parts did not come close to the earlier ones that had made them famous, Francis Ford Coppola was yet to create "The Godfather," Sydney Pollack would go on to direct the much-acclaimed "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?," Robert Redford's career would skyrocket with "Butch and Sundance," and for Pollack and Redford together this was only the first in a seven-film run, including blockbusters like "The Way We Were" and "Three Days of the Condor" and culminating in 1985's multiple-award-winning "Out of Africa." Thus, this is also an important testament to the level of work that facilitated their respective paths to glory. Conversely, in Natalie Wood's case this was probably her last truly great appearance, unmatched by any of her remaining work in the 15 years until her untimely death. For everybody involved, however, it was an important career milestone - and with its spot-on atmosphere, fine acting and all-around great production values it's a movie I'll take over many a more recent release any time; no questions asked.

Also recommended:
Tennessee Williams: Plays 1937-1955 (Library of America)
Tennessee Williams: Plays 1957-1980 (Library of America)
Tennessee Williams Film Collection (A Streetcar Named Desire 1951 Two-Disc Special Edition / Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 1958 Deluxe Edition / Sweet Bird of Youth / The Night of the Iguana / Baby Doll / The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone)
Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie (Broadway Theatre Archive)
The Rose Tattoo
Suddenly, Last Summer
Baby Doll
Tennessee Williams' Dragon Country (Broadway Theatre Archive)
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Inspired by the great Tennessee Williams' one act, two person play of the same name, brought to the screen by sreenwriter Francis Ford Coppola and directed by Sydney Pollack, "This Property Is Condemned" is a sordid, sick, and ultimately sad story of the Starr family trying to make a go of running a boardinghouse minus their runaway father during depression era in a small backwater town called Dodson in the state of Mississippi.

Told in flashback sequence from the jaded eyes of a young pre-adolescent who has experienced and seen too much in her short life, Willie Starr who idolizes her older sister, Alva and "main attraction" of Dodson...

When Mr. Owen Legate, (Robert Redford) railroad official, struts into the small town from big city New Orleans, he has with him a suit pocket plumb full of pink slips for a good majority of the railyard workers. It will certainly be the undoing of the small town and the families who live there. Owen rents a room in the Starr boardinghouse and comes to know the oldest daughter, town flirt, dreamer and screaming to get outta Mississippi, Alva Starr, played to sheer perfection by Natalie Wood.

Alva's mother has a relationship "of sorts" with a snake of a man named JJ, played very understatedly and well by a young Charles Bronson. JJ is really hot after young, beautiful and promiscuous Alva, not Alva's 43 year old dried up horrible witch of a mother who plays Alva's pimp during the entire movie.

Owen gets to know Alva in more ways than one as they start a torrid love affair. This ignites her mother's and the whole town's revenge upon Owen and Alva.

Repressed desires of ALL KINDS, sultry women, sweltering weather and a handsome stranger... this CERTAINLY IS Tennessee Williams territory.

Highly Recommended!

Happy Watching!
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2000
This in many ways is a small movie, especially when compared to the blockbuster giants of the Starwars movies and the large epics of the 50's and 60's. What makes this so special is that the people that starred in it and those who were responsible for the making of this movie are BIG. Tennessee Wlliams writes the screenplay, Natalie Wood, Robert Redford were rising stars when they took on the roles. Even direction, music and production are from some of Hollywood's best. The story is a favorite for those who lived in the South in 30's or 40's. Overall, while I have many big favorites, this is my little great favorite.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on May 14, 2004
I certainly agree with everyone on this film! It is one of the most under rated films of all time. Natalie Wood's performance and beauty are timeless. One has only to look in Natalie Wood's eyes to see the raw truth and honesty behind this electrifying performance. Any fan of Classic film or Natalie Wood MUST own this DVD.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2001
I agree with one of the other viewers. Did Mr. Maltin see the same movie that I saw? This Property is Condemned? I thought that it was one of the best love stories I've ever seen. I saw it also as a teen, and have since seen it several times as an adult. Natalie Wood, the beauty that she was, makes even railroad trash appealing. And the flirtation between her and Robert Redford! What fine jobs acting! It makes you want to believe that there was an actual real-life romance between them. My favorite scene is the one where Wood tries to impress Redford with her knowledge of big city hotels, and is truly embarrassed with her lack thereof. Charles Bronson is his usual, no-nonsense, hard edged self - but this time he ends up with the short end of the stick. You have to see this flick! It's full of romance and will keep you glued to the screen.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2000
I absolutely love this film. It encapsulates so many emotions. I know it was panned by critics and audiences in 1966, but sometimes it takes years to appreciate a film like this. Natalie Wood was brilliant as Alva Starr, a restless teen being sexually exploited by her greedy mother. Mary Badham was fabulous as her happy-go-lucky sister, who is neglected by their mother in favor of Natalie's character, Alva. Robert Redford is great as the railroad representative who changes the town and Alva forever. Charles Bronson is creepy as Alva's mother's boyfriend. The song "Wish Me A Rainbow" is featured throughout and is beautiful. Natalie Wood was not even nominated for and Oscar for this, but I think it is one of her finest performances!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 1999
A very under-rated film with a stellar cast of actors (Robert Redford in an early film role, Natalie Wood, Charles Bronson in a straight, dramatic role and Mary Badham, the girl who played Scout in "To Kill a Mockingbird" -- she turns in another great performance), direction by Sydney Pollack and Francis Ford Coppola gets a writing credit. You don't get much better than this. The relationship between mother and daughter is intense and dominates the film. Maybe it was TOO intense for the reviewers. A great film, based on a Tennessee Williams story.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2004
In 1966 I was in the Air Force at Keesler AFB in Bolxi Miss. One night, with a friend, I was in Gulfport Miss, I head the sound of a steam engine's whisle. This was long after steam trains. I found that they were filming "This property is condemded" in a little nearby town of Bay St Lewis Mississippi. I watched as they filmed many senes. Being from LA ...filming was not new to me. Today when I view this movie I am realistically placed back into a time in the south that I can not contradict. TPIC is a wonderful time-set melodrama. I can watch it over and over. And even though I was there in the 60s I can get the feel of the depression time. As a side note Jane Mansfield was killed in an auto crash while this film was in production just miles from the senes.
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