Very early in the life of this blog, in March 2012, I reviewed a Susan Hayward film called I’ll Cry Tomorrow, which is a biopic of Lillian Roth.
The story of I’ll Cry Tomorrow follows an up-and-coming starlet who, throughout her career, struggles with alcoholism. Her reliance on alcohol threatens both her career and her personal life. Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman, also starring Hayward but released about eight years earlier, tells a similar tale.
Hayward stars as Angie Evans, a nightclub singer. Angie is a talented performer, but she has stage fright and isn’t very confident. She finds herself turning to alcohol to calm her nerves.
Angie is in love with Ken Conway (Lee Bowman), a composer/singer who hasn’t had quite as much success as Angie. But that will soon change. Angie gives up her career to marry Ken, and enlists her agent (Charles D. Brown) to help Ken and his writing partner (Eddie Albert) find fame.
As Ken skyrockets to success, Angie finds herself feeling trapped in her life as a homemaker/society woman, and her confidence is lower than ever thanks to her husband’s newly-minted star status. She finds herself turning to alcohol once again.
Stuart Heisler directs 1947’s Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman. The script was written by John Howard Lawson from an original story by Dorothy Parker and Frank Cavett. Susan Hayward earned an Academy Award nomination for her performance in this film.
Susan Hayward’s performance as Angie is very good. Was it worthy of an Oscar nomination? I’d say so. Her competitors in the Best Actress race that year were Dorothy McGuire (Gentleman’s Agreement), Joan Crawford (Possessed), Loretta Young (winner – The Farmer’s Daughter), and Rosalind Russell (Mourning Becomes Electra) — a pretty strong year for the category. Of the film’s I’ve seen from 1947, though there are many I love, I can’t think of any very obvious snubs. Hayward’s performance is one of the best of the year.
She does a great job of making clear just what drives her character to drink, without spelling it out through dialogue. It isn’t simple jealousy directed toward her husband’s careeer, or toward the people he works with, with whom he spends all of his time. There’s a high level of anxiety to the performance, and a sadness. Though melodramatic at times (as is also the case in I’ll Cry Tomorrow), Hayward’s performance is certainly effective and convincing.
A very nice supporting performance is given by Eddie Albert as Ken’s songwriting partner, who seems much more aware of the gravity of Angie’s situation than her own husband. Marsha Hunt is also great as Ken’s secretary, who Angie suspects feels more than just a devotion to Ken’s career.
Smash-Up is not as realistic or heartbreaking as, say, Days of Wine and Roses. It’s not a hopeful or inspiring take on the battle against alcoholism, either. Though there are a few over-the-top moments, most of the film’s run-time does have a very serious tone. It’s a gripping watch, and highly emotional at times as we follow the ups and downs of Angie’s life, which occur on top of her ongoing battle with alcohol.
There are a few problems. The pace is somewhat inconsistent, with periods of slowness. Lee Bowman’s performance isn’t at all memorable, though his character is very important to the story. Still, Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman is a good watch. It’s worth tuning in, at the very least, for a strong lead performance by Susan Hayward. The score: 3.5/5