The Bachelor Party (1957)
Directed by Delbert Mann
Starring: Don Murray, Patricia Smith, Jack Warden, E. G. Marshall, Philip Abbott, Carolyn Jones, Nancy Marchand, Larry Blyden
Don Murray isn't strong enough to carry the film's issues on his own, which is a shame because overall the ensemble is very canny. The women of the film, in slim supporting roles, represent the attempts to balance out the dominant sense of failure in the male. These take the form of Charlie's suffering wife Helen, his sister Nancy, and a lonely party girl nicknamed "The Existentialist".
Patricia Smith as Helen Samson
Smith, a prolific TV Actress, is someone I hadn't previously come across. As Charlie's wife Helen she doesn't have to delve fathoms to extricate sympathy for her pregnant character, continually given very little affection or information by her miserable husband. Still, Smith remains consistently wary, eager to please but completely sure that she wants the life that Charlie is doubting. She gives us an early sense that Helen is a limpet, dependent upon the corporate stakes of her spouse, but reveals more about her character through bursts of silent rage and dubious glances to demonstrate the woman that Charlie fell in love with. These emerge when talking to Julie, whose willingness to let go the misdemeanours of her own husband rile Helen to a surprising degree. There are more inklings of romantic history in her performance than in any other singular force in the film.
Nancy Marchand as Julie Samson
The intriguing moniker that the film gives her is akin to her role in the film, but reads as misleading given the depths of character Jones is able to impart from such a short amount of screentime, and limited room to breathe. She's given a lengthy monologue to spout which essentially amounts to piffle, and all but acts to distance her possibility as a romantic option for Charlie. Jones pretty much nails the inflection of her sporadic account, working so hard to achieve it that she's unable to give it the meaning it doesn't have, but when her and Charlie embrace she turns into an altogether different commodity. She alters perceptions of her character as a bit of an easy broad when she insists on Charlie telling her that he loves her, doing so with the right amalgamation of shame and hope, so as to lull him into a false sense of security. Is this woman worth it because she wants love, or is she more trouble?
"The Bachelor Party" frequently over-simplifies the male predicament, to the extent where the actions of the group of men become arduous and rather repetitive. Every man gets their turn at stating his insecurities, flailing Scotch glasses around and sweating like pigs, their concerns plainly evident, over-addressed, lacking real emotional intelligence. But there are little touches to their rapport that generate curiosity, and Charlie's relationship with Helen is an honest, worthwhile element, when it could have effectively acted as a token demonstration of misery. They say 'behind every good man is a good woman', and on this evidence, Delbert Mann's "The Bachelor Party" purports to this theory, succeeding in its depiction of interdependence more than it ever should.