Bad for Each Other, 1953, 83 mins
This was really pretty bland, a depressingly by-the-numbers medical melodrama that is lazily predictable throughout… except that it actually fails to deliver even on those expectations. I think the lack of ambition in the film is most surprising; clearly a vehicle for Columbia’s new ‘star’ Heston (who had his first real starring role only three years prior with Dark City), the film has no aspiration behind it at all. Possibly frustrated by this, Heston seems to compensate by deciding to overact throughout, physically moving through scenes in such an exaggerated manner it becomes curiously amusing (in one scene he sweeps through a party like a bowling-ball scattering the partygoers either side of him).
So what of this soap-opera plot that seems more ideally suited to some TV drama? Tom Owen (Charlton Heston) returns from the Korean War to the Pennsylvanian coal town where he grew up, to visit his mother whilst on leave. There is a subplot about his brother who recently died in the mine- the townsfolk have accusations of corruption and safety failures against this brother and one naturally expects Tom to stay in town and clear his brothers name, but instead he allows himself to be seduced by rich society girl Helen Curtis (Lizabeth Scott) and becomes a society doctor getting rich on the bored elite wives of the city. I was mystified by the entire subplot of Tom’s brother being quickly discarded when I’d expected it to be the central thrust of the film: its a funny thing, watching a film and wondering where the hell its going, always expecting it to get back on track but it doesn’t. Its really insipid stuff and so far from being Heston’s finest hour its possibly the worst film I’ve yet seen him in.
How ironic that a film about a society doctor is so desperately in need of a script doctor- this film is really quite D.O.A. Perhaps it originated as a simple b-movie idea that was seized upon by the studio thinking it a suitable vehicle for Heston, but it didn’t get the additional work its script really needed. As regards poor Lizabeth Scott, I’ve had my issues with her in the past (I seem to have seen SO many films starring her over the past several months) but I’ve every sympathy for her here in a pretty thankless part – failing to convince as a society girl, in her defence the character is underwritten, just vacuous and lightweight when, if the film’s title really had any reflection on the script, one would have expected Helen to have been more of a sultry, scheming temptress. If anything, one is sympathetic to her as its Tom who proves so unlikable – he makes bad choices throughout and while we’re supposed to think she’s taking advantage of him its actually the other way around, Tom using her society contacts to get his money-spinning career off the ground and more fresh customers to waste their money on frivolous treatments- repeatedly Tom assures us he’s just in it for the money. The lack of chemistry between them doesn’t help, either.
I have to say, as this is a Columbia flick and its title suggests a certain kind of movie, I’m really very thankful that Indicator didn’t choose to put this film in one of its Columbia Noir sets. I’d have been rather annoyed at the cheek of any suggestion that this film qualifies as a noir other than its title: its not as if there’s anything remotely interesting in the mundane cinematography and flat set-ups to suggest any dark undercurrent.
Bad for each other? Its pretty bad for the audience, for sure.