An American Dream-1966
Starring-Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Eleanor Parker
Scott’s Review #879
Reviewed March 19, 2019
An American Dream (1966) is a film version of the Norman Mailer novel of the same name. Directed by Robert Gist its cast includes Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, and Eleanor Parker, who do what they can with a mediocre writing, uneven pacing, and an unsatisfying ending. Roles suffer from miscasts and misfires and the film plays out as more of an episodic television detective show or a darker version of a television movie than a compelling feature. Except for one terrific high-rise scene the film is largely a waste of time.
Stephen Rojack (Whitman) is a decorated war hero who returns to Los Angeles to embark on a career as a journalist. He publicly criticizes the police for failing to accost a known crime lord named Ganucci (Joe De Santis), which angers the mobster. Simultaneously, Rojack’s alcoholic wife, Deborah (Parker), flies into a drunken rage when he asks her for a divorce resulting in her toppling from a swanky high-rise to her death. Riddled with guilt, Rojack resumes a relationship with former girlfriend and Ganucci’s ex, Cherry (Leigh).
The best scene of the film is the intense confrontation between Rojack and Deborah. The sweeping, expansive balcony and the open- air locale overlooking dazzling Los Angeles should be a major clue that something dire will transpire, especially as Deborah is drunk beyond belief and filled with fury. Her lavish apartment is decorated adequately in the latest 1960’s style giving the scene a plush sophistication. The vicious death scene is wonderfully done as the women not only falls to her death but is subsequently run over by a car adding insult to injury. The scene is also the crux to the entire film.
Harboring the thrill of the climactic scene however is Parker’s jarring overacting performance making Deborah appear crazed and animal-like. The display is understood at making the character unlikable and unbalanced- the hunky gigolo in her bed also makes her unsympathetic-but the cartoon acting seems amateurish and beneath the fabulous actress. Remember, this is the same woman who made the character of “the Baroness” in The Sound of Music (1965) sophisticated and memorable.
The premise of the film is illogical and unbalanced as, to my eyes anyway, it appears Deborah falls to her death accidentally, but the reasoning of the film portrays Rojack as riddled with guilt at causing her death. He even admits his guilt to her father in one scene. His claim to the police that Deborah committed suicide is of course untrue, but the unnecessary guilt seems implausible and too much a stretch at creating a main plot point.
The biggest negative to An American Dream is the casting of Janet Leigh in the role of Cherry. Wearing an unappealing and silly wig the Hollywood star seems unbelievable and just wrong as a mob girlfriend. Her soft features and petite frame do not fit the part and her lip syncing of the Oscar nominated theme song “A Time for Love” does nothing to elicit credibility from either the character or the actress.
When An American Dream bombed at the box office, the desperate distributors re-titled the film See You in Hell, Darling, but to little avail. Reduced to weekday airings on television did nothing to change the image of a low budget made-for-television style look or the episodic detective tint. The intended perception of a horror film is a strike out as the film plays more like a tepid thriller.
For fans of Janet Leigh An American Dream (1966) is not recommended. The preferred suggestion is to skip this one and delve into other gems like the legendary Psycho (1960) or Touch of Evil (1958). An American Dream caters not to the legendary actresses’ talents but rather delivers a forgettable film best left situated in the bargain bin.