WINTER DREAMS: Fitzgerald Meets Frankenheimer (& Sternberg & Cassavetes)

1957 was clearly a bumper year for John Frankenheimer on Playhouse 90: the eleven shows that he directed included The Ninth Day (January 10, the only one I can faintly recall having seen at the time), The Comedian (February 14), The Last Tycoon (March 14), and then a second F. Scott Fitzgerald adaptation, which I’ve just seen for possibly the first time, Winter Dreams (May 23), costarring John Cassavetes and Dana Wynter. (That’s Phyllis Love, another costar, in the above illustration.) All of which probably helps to explain why I considered Frankenheimer an auteur before I ever used that term, during my early teens, for his work on Studio One as well as Playhouse 90.

As masterful in way as The Comedian and The Last Tycoon, Winter Dreams departs from Fitzgerald’s material a lot more than The Last Tycoon by concentrating on the sort of details that the original story leaves out, involving (for instance) the hero’s parents and college room mate, and by ending many years before the story does. (The script is by James B. Cavanagh.) The tone is quite different, too; Fitzgerald’s 1922 story is a reverie whereas the adaptation is much more obviously obsessional. And Frankenheimer’s style in this case couldn’t be further from the Wellesian mise en scène of The Comedian; if anything, the lingering, even protracted lap dissolves with closeups of Cassavetes (and, later Wynter), returning again and again to the same climactic make-out scene on a sofa, are hyper-Sternbergian. But it’s also possible to detect some early intimations of Cassavetes’ own future style as a film director to match the intensity of his own performance, much of it in close-ups. [11/26/09]

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