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Hot Spell
movies, Drama, Favorite

1958 | 4:3 | Black & White | Quality: Good - rare film with an aged print that shows wear but very watchable

Shirley Booth

Anthony Quinn

Shirly MacLaine


John Duval (Anthony Quinn) is a successful, self-made businessman who spends all his time working - or so he tells his homely wife Alma (Shirly Booth). Actually, he is having an affair with a woman half his age (Jody Lawrance, wow!). Their three unhappy children (Shirley MacLaine, Earl Holliman, Clint Kimbrough) wrestle with the dilemma of whether to clue mom in or protect her feelings. Alma herself is very aware her marriage is in trouble, but is in deep denial and clings to some truly sad and delusional thinking. She puts together a surprise birthday party for John, but the whole thing turns into a non-event when he brushes it off to go on a date with his mistress. Alma's layers of denial come crashing down in a series of scenes which center around the uneaten birthday cake she worked so hard on (nice symbolism), and then things get really bad in a hurry. Director Daniel Mann pulls no punches in his depiction of a failing marriage and dysfunctional family, giving us a surprisingly frank & realistic examination for the 1950s. Anyone who has been in or around a dysfunctional marriage will recognize the brutally realistic portrayal here.

Have your handkerchiefs ready for this one. Shirley Booth was one of those few very special performers that could break your heart with a glance over the shoulder, a flutter of the hand, or a stumbling voice. You'll get all of that and more here as she plays Alma Duval - the kind-hearted matriarch of a family which is on the verge of tearing itself apart. One of my personal all-time favorite films, Hot Spell today has been almost totally forgotten, and that is truly a shame because Booth puts on an acting masterclass here from start to finish. She takes a character that could easily have been forgettable and sculpts it into a multi-dimensioned portrayal that adds new layers to the story. For example, one would expect to sympathize completely with her character, Alma, and have nothing but disgust for the cheating husband. At first, that is exactly how we feel. However, Booth plays her character in such a masterful way that through her mannerisms and body language alone we get an idea of why her husband is unhappy. Though she is sweet and good-natured, she's so awkward and unsure of herself that she comes off as difficult to be around for any length of time. You want someone to love her (she deserves it) but you wouldn't want the job yourself - and we realize this is the dilemma her husband is in. Every little quirk his wife has just drives him up the wall and he's had enough. Though Anthony Quinn does portray the unhappy husband well, even if his character did not have a single scene in this film we could get a fair idea of his motivations from Booth's portrayal alone. As such, Booth infuses the film with some rather stunning insight that confronts us with difficult questions about how we judge and choose our romantic partners. Anthony Quinn does a good job portraying the conflicted husband who you might think at first is only having a mid-life crisis, but is revealed as much more when he and Booth confront each other. The three children caught up in it all add further heartache to what is already a tearjerker. Shirley MacLaine is quite young here and is convincing as the emotional teenager/floozy-in-training. Earl Holliman stands out as the hardened elder son who sees his father all too clearly and hates him with a passion, yet fails to realize that he's a shadowy reflection of the man he hates. Clint Kimbrough's performance is definitely the weakest of the film as the youngest son who is confused, sad, and angry at what he sees, but he does give the other actors some nice emotion to play off of.

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