Apart from Paul Newman – who gives one of the best performances of his very distinguished movie career – this film contains three of the best supporting roles by three of the best supporting actors in Hollywood at the time – Geraldine Page (who plays the drink-sodden, disillusioned ex-movie star), Ed Begley (who won an Academy Award for his hate-filled portrayal as the local politician) and Shirley Knight.
Add to this a beautifully adapted script from Tennessee Williams’s stage hit and the continuously fascinating microcosm of small-town America, and you’ve got a film of the most memorable and thought-provoking power.
Handsome Southern drifter Chance Wayne (Newman) returns to his hometown after many years of trying to make it in the movies.
Accompanying him is once-famous but faded and ageing film star Alexandra Del Lago (Page), who uses Chance as her nurse, chauffeur and lover.
His former girlfriend, Heavenly (Knight), is the gentle daughter of local unscrupulous politician Tom ‘Boss’ Finley (Begley), who more or less forced Chance to leave the town many years ago after he put Heavenly in the family way. Now Chance is back to take her away from her possessive father, who – in turn – is prepared to destroy Chance.
The quietly persuasive Aunt Nonnie (Mildred Dunnock) is the only one who knows the real Chance.
Within a brief 24-hour period, the passions and seething hatreds of the small Southern town are exposed and ripped apart, leaving a handful of barren, empty people.
Filmed in colour and CinemaScope, Sweet Bird of Youth plays out against settings from the Florida coastline to a small Southern town.
One of the film’s highlight scenes involves a political rally in the town square ending in a terrorising riot.
One of the film’s most unusual locales is a lighthouse which is the setting for a heartbreakingly moving love scene between Chance and Heavenly Finley.
Sweet Bird of Youth has a very complex plot and is one of the most fascinating and powerful dramas ever brought to the screen.
Alexandra Del Lago
Tom “Boss” Finley
Tom J. Finley, Jr.
Dr George Scudder
Mrs Maribelle Norris
Professor Brutus Haven Smith