Iris (Lola Albright) is a thirty-something and an ex-burlesque dancer who has been asked by her husband if she’ll return to the stage in an upcoming New Jersey show. She isn’t interested. She prefers to perform farther from her home base of New York City, so she can maintain a sense of privacy there.
Her husband is so desperate to find performers, though, that she begins to feel sorry for him and eventually agrees — a decision sweetened by the fact that he offers to finally divorce her if she’ll perform. (They’ve been living apart for some time, and there is no love between them.)
Before her run in the show begins, Iris starts up an affair with Vito (Scott Marlowe), the 17-year-old son of her apartment’s superintendent.
Though she initially intended her relationship with Vito to be a short-lived fling, things get complicated when she becomes emotionally attached to him and he asks her to “go steady”… and things get even more complicated as Vito’s immature jealousy and anger begin to show themselves.
Alexander Singer directs the 1961 independent, romantic drama A Cold Wind in August. The film is based on a novel by Burton Wohl, who also wrote the screenplay with assistance from John Hayes.
A Cold Wind in August hooked me right from its opening titles, which feature artsy black and white graphics and dramatic music. It’s a film that has no trouble holding the viewer’s attention for its entire running time. Though the plot synopsis may make it sound like your average ’60s exploitation flick, it’s actually a very solid drama.
Critics and audiences were divided by the film upon its release, with some dismissing it as a regular ol’ saucy melodrama and others seeing its value as an exploration of a taboo relationship.
For their part, star Lola Albright and director Alexander Singer were incredibly proud of the film. An April 17, 1960 Los Angeles Times article dealing with censorship and the controversy surrounding independent films has Albright calling her role “the best part I’ve ever had” and “the kind of part that an actress waits all her life for.” In the same article, Singer and Albright both insist that though some independent romances do push the boundaries of what’s appropriate, their film portrays the romance in a more tasteful manner.
I’m inclined to agree with Singer and Albright. This is not simply a saucer masquerading itself as a low-budget, artistic venture. It’s got a bit of the sauce, but it also offers one of the better explorations of a May-December romance I’ve seen in film of any era. The cracks in the relationship caused by the age difference are portrayed with honesty, and the film explores society’s reaction to the relationship as well. (In one scene, an older couple in the park gives major stink-eye to Vito and Iris, for example.)
I can certainly see, as well, why Lola Albright was so proud of this role. She gets two explore two taboo subjects — age gaps and burlesque shows — and her character is fascinating. Iris desperately craves true love to the point of delusion, never realizing that Vito may not actually be in love with her, or that their relationship may not end well. She also has a complicated attitude toward male affection, sometimes readily accepting it but at other times fervently resisting it, which seems to tie into both her craving for true love and her past as a dancer, a career which she is fully aware is not seen as respectable by most people.
Lola Albright’s strong performance and a consistently gripping story make A Cold Wind in August a pretty great watch. I would certainly recommend it for fans of romantic dramas, and fans of mid-century films that tackle controversial subjects.
The score: 4/5