THE BRAMBLE BUSH did fairly well at the boxoffice in 1960, placing 35th with a gross of $8,600,000, finding more favor with audiences than reviewers. Daniel Petrie directed (his first feature) a script that Milton Sperling and Philip Yordan adapted Charles Mergandahl’s novel. It packs a hefty amount of Peyton Place-type plot into 105 minutes (the book took 312 pages to lay it out); unwieldy with subplots that are thinly sketched, but the melodrama is readily watchable thanks to the cast. The ad campaign laid it on with the ripe dare “Don’t try and compare it with anything you’ve ever seen before!” A good line to have on hand should fate decide to cut you some slack. *
Peyton Place has nothing on the Massachusetts coastal burg of ‘East Norton’ (standing in for Falmouth) in this meller, which puts ‘Dr. Guy Montford’ (Richard Burton) back into his unhappy home town to attend to best friend ‘Larry McFie’ (Tom Drake), dying of Hodgkin’s disease. Larry not only wants Guy to put him out of his misery, he urges him to “see to” his wife ‘Margreth’ (Barbara Rush). She loves Larry, but Guy, well, he’s “a Guy”, and passion does what it does best: mess things up. No little help in making mischief is provided by ambitious lawyer/horndog ‘Bert Mosley’ (Jack Carson), who sees an angle in everything, including the need-curved lines of nurse ‘Fran’ —no last name, just ‘Fran’, nurse (Angie Dickinson), who desires Guy. Assorted petty characters connive around the fringes. Then there’s a trial, and everyone will know everything about everybody…
Burton’s in morose mode, but he delivers the “handsome while brooding” business with ease. Rush was sort of a second-tier Joan Crawford when it came to enacting “long suffering” wives (she did it better that same year in Strangers When We Meet), and Dickinson was getting visibility mileage out of being sexy with sincerity (sincerely sexy? just go with it/her). The redoubtable Carson could do a genial heel with such style that you could like him even when he was playing a jerk. Drake has one of his best roles as the agonized buddy whose illness sets the pot stirring. A nice plus is Leonard Rosenman’s music score, prowling with jazzy innuendo.
With James Dunn (up dipso creek), Henry Jones (a slimy reporter), Carl Benton Reid (in angry bluster mode), Frank Conroy, Grandon Rhodes, Russ Conway, Nestor Paiva.
* One of the year’s biggest pop hits was Chubby Checker’s “The Twist”. A movie version could have been ‘The Tryst’, given all the sin on screens. With a handsome war hero/playboy running for President of a “New Frontier”, S-E-X was on simmer & steam in ’60. Hedonism from abroad (La Dolce Vita, Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, La Vérité) vied with visits to The Oldest Profession (BUtterfield 8, The World Of Suzie Wong, Elmer Gantry, Never On Sunday). The line-crossers of The Bramble Bush joined a bulging adultery wing that gave grownup playtime to The Apartment, Strangers When We Meet, From The Terrace, The Dark At The Top Of The Stairs, Desire In The Dust, The Facts Of Life and The Grass Is Greener. The last two were comedies, because nothing says “the joke’s on you” like breaking pesky vows (The Facts of Life was pretty funny).