Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Lillian Roth and I'll Cry Tomorrow

Recently, while on a business trip to Prague I had the opportunity to watch I’ll Cry Tomorrow on the plane. Thank god for portable DVD players! The movie is based on the autobiography of Lillian Roth, one of my favorite dames of the past. A detailed biography on Lillian Roth can be found here

I’ll Cry Tomorrow is not a bad film at all. In some ways it’s almost like a female version of The Man With The Golden Arm. Very tense, dark and dramatic. Apparently Hollywood had a minor obsession with cold turkey films in the mid fifties. There were a few of those weren’t they? Anyway, Susan Heyward does a great job indeed. She even received an Oscar nomination for her interpretation. Even though I really like the movie I have a few issues with it worth mentioning.

When I see a bio-pic I want it to be somewhat realistic and placed in the correct time frame. What I find hard to digest with I'll Cry Tomorrow is that it's so firmly grounded in the mid fifties from start to finish I simply don’t get the feeling of time passing. I wonder why director Daniel Mann took this approach. If it was made to tell the story of Lillian Roth which it obviously is, the movie starts off in NYC about 1920. But you still see 50’s cars and starched skirts all around. As time definitely passes, Lillian grows older but the surroundings seems to be frozen in time. The Sing You Sinners number is turned in to a “Fosse-esque” beatnik nightclub frenzy, quite contrary to the monumental mass scene of the 1930 original.

Sing You Sinners – Original version from the movie Honey (1930)
(We don't get to see Lillian until the very end of this clip.)

It could have been easy to avoid all this confusion by naming Susan Heyward's character something like Betsy Stone instead of Lillian Roth. It would at least make more sense to me since they don't even intend to show a realistic image of the life and times of the real Lillian Roth. I'm sure it would be equally confusing for many people if someone decided to make a bio-pic about the life and work of Kurt Kobain set in the 1930's!

Lillian Roth 1930.

Another thing I thought about was the scene when Susan/Lillian have a wild party night with her soon to be husband. When they finally crash in the wee hours, and are supposed to end up in bed steaming with gin infused lust, the scene quickly cuts to the morning after. We find the love birds decently hung over, in separate beds (there’s even a table between them). They wake up flat on their backs, fully clothed, hair almost in order. The guy even has his tie in place. How believable is that? Then it struck me that this is one of the reasons I like the pre-code cinema better. In a 1932 movie this particular scene would have been very different. There would have been one bed, the lovers would have been almost naked, possibly had one of them also ended up on the floor to further emphasize the wildness of what happened during the night. But in 1955 this behaviour was not suitable. Too bad...

I end this post with one of Lillian Roths finer moments taken from Madam Satan 1930.


Raquel Stecher said...


So many good stuff here.

1) I really want to see Madam Satan now after that clip.

2) I'm very jealous of your portable DVD player. I have to go on a business trip tomorrow and would have loved to have brought a couple of films with me.

3)I noticed your quote "I wasn't made for these times". That's very interesting because I just wrote on my Facebook page "I don't live in this century" Ha!


Jonas Nordin said...

I don't know if you noticed that Lillian Roth was born in Boston. Is there a Lillian Roth Day in Boston?
A day when people gather and sing Sing You Sinners... :)

1. Madam Satan is a very strange and beautiful film. I think it's the only musical/catastrophy movie I know. It's rarely shown though. If you can't find it, I can provide you with a copy.

2. A portable DVD is one of the better investments a movie lover can do, and it plays CD's as well. Totally brilliant!

3. Voilà! Well, it's true. Ever since I was a kid I have had a hard time keeping up to date :) It's nice having company in the past :) Will look at your Facebook site.

Abe Lucas said...

Hi, Jonas! I enjoy your take on classic movies and look forward to following your postings on classic films.

BTW, the original music score for the 1955 "I'll Cry Tomorrow" is available and even includes the Hayward vocals. I particularly like the swanky, steamy Alex North underscore. In fact, his score could be considered a cousin to his own music from "A Streetcar Named Desire."

Here's a link to the score:


Jonas Nordin said...

Alex North is a hero!
Thanks for the comment and the link. I will check it out.

Ginger Ingenue said...

Oh, I want to see I'LL CRY TOMORROW: mainly because I just got interested in both Susan Hayward and Richard Conte!

Kurt Cobain in the 1930s, huh? I think that might be rather fun... ;)

Abe Lucas said...

I'll say one thing about "I'll Cry Tomorrow", it had a great tagline: "Filmed on location...inside a woman's soul."

Abe Lucas said...

Hi, Jonas, I posted a link to your Lillian Roth entry because I just finished up my own Susan Hayward piece.

Oh, and the I'll Cry Tomorrow soundtrack is on sale at the link in my previous post.

Jonas Nordin said...

Great stuff CK! Thanks!
Those beatnik soundtracks are really cool.
I just bought The Man With The Golden Arm the other day.
The soundtrack to I Want To Live is also great.

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