Walk on the Wild Side ()

directed by Edward Dmytryk
featuring Laurence Harvey, Capucine, Jane Fonda, Anne Baxter, Barbara Stanwyck

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This moody and controversial drama takes place in Depression-era New Orleans. Dove (Laurence Harvey) has traveled by bus from Texas to find his wayward lover Hallie (Capucine). He meets young Kitty Twist (Jane Fonda) as the two get off in the crescent city. Teresina (Anne Baxter) gives him a job at her small cafe. In his free time, Dove searches for Hallie and finds her at work as a prostitute in the Doll's House. Dove implores Hallie to return to him but she refuses. When the lecherous lesbian madame Jo (Barbara Stanwyck) ...

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Gissinglover

May 5, 2020

"Lurid, Tawdry, And Sleazy Melodrama"

Critic Bosley Crowther panned director Edward Dmytryk's "Walk on the Wild Side" unmercifully upon its release in 1962. I loved the film when I first saw it many years ago. It has stayed on my mind, but I only saw it again today, when it was presented on full screen at the American Film Institute. The AFI has honored Fonda with its 2014 "Lifetime Achievement Award" and is holding a retrospective of her movies at its lovely Washington, D.C. area theater. "Walk on the Wild Side" was Fonda's first major screen role. She received a Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer. Fonda plays a spitfire young prostitute, Kitty Twist.

Bosley Crowther's strictures on this "Lurid, Tawdry, and Sleazy Melodrama" have not changed my feelings about this raw film, which combines the work of two famous American writers. The film was loosely based on a novel by Nelson Algren. The American novelist John Fante, the author of "Ask the Dust" wrote the screenplay with participation by Edward Morris and Ben Hecht. The movie captures the shady, violent low world of the French Quarter of New Orleans during the Depression.

The movie is best-known for its opening sequence with a menacing black cat and his fight with another stray as the credits roll and the film's theme song plays. Sam Bass directed this sequence and a follow-up at the conclusion of the film. Brook Benton sings the title song. The musical score of the film captures the feel of a New Orleans bawdy house where much of the action takes place.

The film tells the story of a young Texas farmer, Dove Linkhorn, (Laurence Harvey) who hitches and hops trains to New Orleans in search of his long-lost love Hallie Gerard (Cappucine). In the course of his trip, he meets-up with another wanderer, Kitty Twist (Jane Fonda) seeking the opportunity for fortune in New Orleans. Dove resists Kitty's advances during the course of their travel together. Eventually, Kitty winds up working for the Doll House, an establishment in which, as it happens, Hallie Gerard has become the most coveted attraction. Barbara Stanwix plays the sinister madam, Jo Courtney, who wants to have a relationship with Hallie. This was one of the first explicit portrayals of lesbianism in American film.

The film centers upon Dove's and Hallie's effort to rekindle their relationship after many years and after Hallie's life has so changed in character. She had dreams of becoming an artist and still tries to do sculpture in her spare time. Dove is ardent and forbearing while Hallie tries to warn him off. The movie builds to a violent denouement featuring three of the Doll House's vicious henchmen, including Jo's crippled husband.

I was moved to see "Walk on the Wild Side" again after many years. Whatever some may think, I love the film. It still has a sense of toughness and sleaze combined with a feeling of love and vulnerability. It depicts almost hopelessly lost, unredeemed individuals in an underside of American life. I would eagerly watch the film again.

Robin Friedman

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