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USA 1952
Directed by
Fred Zinnemann
93 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Member Of The Wedding

Producer-director Stanley Kramer is known for his issue-based films (The Defiant Ones,1958, Inherit the Wind, 1960, etc) but here he yields the director’s chair to Fred Zinnemann who does a solid job of transposing to the big screen Carson McCullers’ hit Broadway play about a rambunctious tomboy (Julie Harris) on the cusp of adolescence who dreams of running away from her backwater home in the Deep South.

Julie Harris in her screen debut gives a remarkable performance as the 12 year old Frankie Addams whose only friends are the black housekeeper Berenice (Ethel Waters who these days is remembered as a blues singer) and, begrudgingly, her little brother, John Henry (Brandon De Wilde, who would achieve fame the following year in Shane). These three carry the bulk of the film as Frankie, desperate to have the independence of an adult, kicks hard against the traces of her childhood while Berenice offers her homespun consolation. Harris was twenty-seven at the time but she carries off the age difference with consummate skill, even in close-up managing to shed her actual maturity. The camera however is less convincing when it comes to Berenice's glass eye.

As all three actors had played the roles in stage they know their parts inside out and this is the film’s greatest strength. Wisely, Zinnemann sticks close to the stage production with most of the film taking place in the kitchen of Frankie’s home with an economical night-time journey by Frankie to the seedy side of town which teaches her that maybe the big wide world isn’t as desirable as she assumed.

Whilst as a filmed play The Member Of The Wedding is a commendable effort and Harris fans especially won't want to miss it, the close quarters and the relatively thin nature of the material especially being bereft of the palpable dynamics of the stage, even if compensated for by an attractive score by Alex North, makes this all a bit stifling.




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