The Starr family – Hazel (Kate Reid) and her daughters Willie (Mary Badham) and Alva (Natalie Wood) – operate the Starr Boarding House in the small town of Dodson, Mississippi. The boarding house caters to railroad men, including the wealthy Mr. Johnson (John Harding), an older man with eyes for Alva who hopes to buy her affection.
Owen Legate (Robert Redford) shows up in Dodson one day, looking for a place to stay. A loud party is going on at the boarding house, but the town’s lodging options are few and far between, so Owen rents a room for the week.
No one knows why Owen is in town, but his presence in Dodson will change the lives of the Starrs forever, as well as changing the whole town.
Sydney Pollack directs 1966’s This Property Is Condemned.
This is a film that immediately grips the viewer, opening with Willie alone on the tracks, living in a condemned building, telling her family’s story to a young boy she meets. This framing of the story makes the viewer eager to know more about the family, and how Willie ended up alone.
It’s a tragic tale, in many ways. Mrs. Starr is an opportunistic mother who takes advantage of Alva’s attractiveness and charm. (On a related side note, there are a lot of deplorable, pervy characters in this film.)
The cast of the film is very good. Natalie Wood gives another stunning performance. She has become one of my favorite actresses. Robert Redford also gives a strong performance, and the two stars make a nice pair, with lots of tensions and chemistry between them. Some of the film’s best scenes are their conversations and arguments.
Kate Reid is perfectly cast as Mrs. Starr. She looks vaguely similar to Natalie Wood and isn’t afraid to show the worst of her character, making Hazel completely hate-worthy.
Though a bit melodramatic at times (for instance, JJ’s big fist fight with Owen), This Property is Condemned is overall a very emotionally-effective film. The ending is completely depressing, and one of the most unsatisfying endings I’ve ever watched. “Unsatisfying” is not synonymous with “bad,” though. I appreciate the fact that the script doesn’t go for an unrealistically happy ending, no matter how much the film broke my heart.
In many ways, This Property is Condemned reminds me of another great Natalie Wood film, Splendor in the Grass. If you enjoy this type of tragic, Southern romantic melodrama, This Property is Condemned will be just your cup of tea — just be sure to grab a box of tissues and mentally prepare yourself for the ending before you settle in to watch it! The score: 4.5/5