A RAGE TO LIVE is tame teasing as tawdry, circa 1965, in a critically and financially unsuccessful adaptation of John O’Hara’s 1949 bestseller. The book—752 pages worth— was set in the pre-WW1 era, but John T. Kelly’s bland, frequently laughable script updates it five decades, with undistinguished direction by Walter Grauman. Suzanne Pleshette does what she can with the lead role: caring but cursed ‘Grace Caldwell’, raging to live with an unbridled sex drive.
“Charles, tell your father what Grace Caldwell was doing here, that sweet, refined, little slut!”
The Caldwell’s of small town Pennsylvania are blessed with money, but the “urges” of daughter Grace bring nothing but shame and misfortune. Her assorted scandalous couplings briefly abate when she marries gentleman farmer ‘Sidney Tate’ (Bradford Dillman), settles down and has a child. Then lust-exuding contractor ‘Roger Bannon’ (Ben Gazzara) shows up, and Her Needs are outsourced. Further confounding her sincere attempts at function-control are the attentions of newspaper editor ‘Jack Hollister’ (Peter Graves), whose alcohol-laced wife is jealous to the point of pistol-packing.
“And all that time, I’ve been wanting you. And I guess I’ll probably go on wanting you until they shovel me into the ground. Here’s your keys.”
At 27, Pleshette doesn’t convince as the teenage Grace, but as the character ages she fills the bill with considerable allure, and Charles Lawton’s handsome black & white cinematography complements those challenging Pleshette eyes and knowing expressions. She’s fine—and effortlessly sexy as required for the role, and because she’s, well, Suzanne Pleshette—but the campy screenplay and lame supporting cast are too much un-saucy baggage to carry.
“I don’t care how it sounds. When I feel that way, I can’t think of anything else. Doesn’t matter who I am or what I’m supposed to be. Nothing matters. I can’t help it.” At this point, with Suzanne Pleshette telling you she’s a nymphomaniac, most men in the audience would feel compelled to summon a measure of understanding.
Bradford Dillman as a farmer? He does get to sock supporting horndog Mark Goddard (about to begin his tenure on Lost In Space) at a country club dance: how would you like to play a guy who gets clobbered…by Bradford Dillman? Meanwhile, sweaty and sneering Gazzara is about as subtle as an oil tanker. Bethel Leslie has some good moments as Graves stewing wife.
With a little more care the tragic aspects of the story (Grace is kind and considerate, just more carnal than society condones) could have packed more punch. Fans of the much-missed leading lady will enjoy seeing her, even if the movie she adorns isn’t much of a credit.
The Costume Design was Oscar-nominated. With Linden Chiles, James Gregory, Ruth White, Sarah Marshall, George Furth, Virginia Christine, Frank Maxwell, Brett Somers. 101 minutes.