In a small town, during the Great Depression, a spirited young woman, Alva Starr (Natalie Wood, Love with the Proper Stranger), falls in love with a mysterious stranger, Owen Legate (Robert Redford, Three Days of the Condor), whose job assignment will forever change the lives of the townspeople.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Like a slow-cooked gumbo, this succulent Southern platter bursts with complex flavors thanks to generous portions of nuanced performances and a multilayered script. Sensitively directed by Sidney Pollack (Tootsie and Out of Africa), the unfairly-neglected This Property Is Condemned is a moving drama about unfulfilled dreams, love, and the fragility of human nature.
This Property Is Condemned is based on a one-act play by Tennessee Williams. The play is very short and features just two characters: a young girl named Willie and a boy named Joe. In the play, Willie proceeds to tell Joe the story of her sister, Alva, and the goings-on in the Starr Boarding House, Willie’s family business. Because the play consists mostly of Willie’s narration, the audience is required to use their imagination.
Playwright Williams allegedly hated how the movie destroyed the simple structure of his play, but I thought writers Fred Coe (A Thousand of Clowns), David Rayfiel, Edith R. Sommer and a very young Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather), did a good job expanding Williams’s tale. I did think that the movie’s last third was slow and uninvolving. Although the film goes into an extra inning for no apparent reason, this is still one of the better films based on Williams’s work.
Above all, This Property Is Condemned is a must-see film for fans of Natalie Wood. She gives one of her best performances as the troubled Alva. Wood shows us, intelligently and artfully, the tragedy of her character — Alva has deliberately embraced fantasy in order to deal with life’s ugly truths. It’s shocking that she didn’t get an Oscar nomination — Woods did nab a well-deserved Golden Globe nomination — for what I think is an extraordinarily effective performance.
Robert Redford does well in a rather underdeveloped role. Sadly, the female roles are better written than their male counterparts, so Redford is forced to work extra hard to overcome this disadvantage. The actor has great chemistry with Wood and that helps a great deal. Redford and Wood have different acting styles (fire versus ice) and that makes their scenes together very interesting.
Mary Badham (To Kill a Mockingbird) gives the second best performance in the movie — she plays the precocious Willie. Pre-stardom Charles Bronson (Death Wish) and Robert Blake (In Cold Blood) play a pair of railroad workers infatuated with Wood’s Alva. Kate Reid (Atlantic City) has a few good scenes as Wood’s manipulative mother. Dabney Coleman (9 to 5) has a tiny role as a salesman. It’s a particularly strong cast.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
This Property Is Condemned has never gotten much attention. It was a box-office and critical failure. Even now, the film is rarely discussed. But I think it is a beautiful movie, with timeless themes. Natalie Wood’s heartfelt, brilliant work is reason enough to give the movie a try. Highly recommend! Color, 110 minutes, Not Rated.