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Saturday Night Cinema: The Young Philadelphians

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Happy New Year!

Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema classic  for those chillin’ at home is The Young Philadelphians, starring a never more gorgeous Paul Newman. Seriously obsessed. And while the film is a bit heavy handed and melodramatic, it is deliciously 1950s. I love it. Classy soapsuds with a cast that’s better than the movie, but so what?

In this film, Tony Lawrence is an ambitious lawyer driven to success by his poor upbringing. He risks everything by defending a wealthy outcast accused of murder, uncovering a world of lies, stolen inheritance, sex, and murder among the upper crust of Philadelphia society.

Paul Newman gives a strong performance in Vincent Sherman’s glossy melodrama about a young, cynical, ambitious man, born on the wrong side of the tracks but determined to change his lot.

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Young Philadelphians’

Published: May 22, 1959

“THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS,” which took up residence at the Criterion yesterday, repeatedly generates the rather disturbing thought that the rich, genteel burghers of Ritten-house Square are equally at home in soap opera.

The Main Line, this sudsy Warner Brothers drama keeps stressing, is as full of skeleton-lined closets as those in improvident South-Side Philadelphia households. Deeply underlined, too, is the fact that the striving for high caste and success will even turn the head of a well brought-up young man in love. Although “The Young Philadephians” appears to be striving mightily to say something trenchant it only makes a surface social commentary.

The script James Gunn has developed from the novel “The Philadelphian” by Richard Powell, is full of sound and some fury including sex, murder, drunkenness and double-dealing, which point up the picture of a city without much brotherly love. As a battler against the jealousies and rigid social barriers of the Main Line, Paul Newman personifies most of the challenge in an all-too-frequently pallid drama.

Mr. Newman, it appears, is talked out of a quick marriage to a social young lady by her suave lawyer-father. In calculated reprisal, he sets his sights on success in the silken Machiavellian style of the Philadelphia upper crust. Although he is well on his way as a tax expert in a flossy law firm, the fruits of achievements are tasteless until he is forced into defending his friend. The friend, now turned into a wastrel and alcoholic through the machinations of his rich relatives, is charged with the murder of his uncle.
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At this point, our harried hero, discreetly threatened by a whole slew of Main Liners, learns that his fine good name only masks his illegitimacy. Undaunted, however, he proceeds to do the honorable thing and, strangely enough, brotherly love finally does reign supreme.

But these are only the bare bones of an over-lengthy story bristling with some digressive sub-plots, only a few of which have much impact. Paul Newman as well as most of the principals add little that is unusual or especially forceful to these proceedings, which could have been given special emphasis but instead appear overly familiar.

While a viewer can appreciate Mr. Newman’s willingness to endanger his position and that of his mother in a climactic resolve to see justice done, he rarely enlivens the role with the animation of a man moved by a momentous decision. Although he is effective on occasion, he seems to be carrying restraint a mite too far. As the pretty and sensible girl he first loses and eventually wins, Barabra Rush has one good love scene and contributes a proper air of frustration. Robert Vaughn, as Newman’s sick and illused friend, adds a striking bit in incoherently explaining his dire predicament. Billie Burke, as a slightly addlepated multimillionaire, lends a cute touch to the somber goings-on, and Alexis Smith is momentarily effective in a brief role as lovelorn wife of an aging lawyer.

Diane Brewster, as Mr. Newman’s mother, and Brian Keith, as the self-made Irish contractor who sired him, make the most of overdrawn characters. They, as well as John Williams, Otto Kruger, Frank Conroy and Robert Douglas, representing other wealthy Main Liners, are adequate in support of the principals. In “The Young Philadelphians” they prove that the trials and tribulations of the rich, like those of the poor, can be undramatic.
THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS; screen play by James Gunn; from the novel “The Philadelphian” by Richard Powell; directed by Vincent Sherman and produced by Warner Brothers. At the Criterion. Broadway and Forty-fifth Street. Running time: 136 minutes.
Tony Lawrence . . . . . Paul Newman
Joan Dickinson . . . . . Barbara Rush
Kate Judson Lawrence . . . . . Diane Brewster
Mike Flannigan . . . . . Brian Keith
Carol Wharton . . . . . Alexis Smith
John M. Wharton . . . . . Otto Kruger
Chet Gwyn . . . . . Robert Vaughn
Louis Donetti . . . . . Paul Picerni
Mrs. J. A. Allen . . . . . Billie Burke
Gilbert Dickinson . . . . . John Williams
Dr. Shippen Stearnes . . . . . Frank Conroy
Morton Stearnes . . . . . Robert Douglas
Carter Henry . . . . . Fred Eisley
George Archibald . . . . . Richard Deacon
William Lawrence . . . . . Adam West
Mrs. Lawrence . . . . . Isobel Elsom

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