(director: Sidney Lumet; screenwriter: from the play by Eugene O’Neill/; cinematographer: Boris Kaufman; editor: Ralph Rosenblum; music: Andre Previn; cast: Katharine Hepburn (Mary Tyrone), Ralph Richardson (James Tyrone, Sr.), Jason Robards, Jr. (James Tyrone, Jr.), Dean Stockwell (Edmund Tyrone), Jeanne Barr (Kathleen, the maid); Runtime: 174; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ely Landau; Lion’s Gate; 1962)
Faithful to the award winning play.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Sidney Lumet (“Just Tell Me What You Want”/”The Deadly Affair”/”A View From The Bridge”) keeps this noncommercial, low-budget venture faithful to the award winning play.It’s based onEugene O’Neill’s 1941 autobiographical play about a divided and disintegrating family tearing itself to pieces by continuous quarrels. Its Irish-American family is modeled on the author’s clan, and the author said it was written in ‘tears and blood.’

Set in Connecticut, 1912. It takes place in the summer home of miserly, pompous and embittered aging actor James Tyrone (Ralph Richardson) and his family–his outspoken morphine-addicted wife (Kathleen Hepburn), his disappointing failed actor 34-year-old alcoholic wastrel son Jamie (Jason Robards, Jr.) and his sea wanderer TB diagnosed aspiring writer younger son Edmund (Dean Stockwell).Edmund shows talent as a writer (the Eugene O’Neill counterpart) and the talentless tortured soul Jamie is secretly envious of him, as he works as a second-rate theater actor–getting jobs through his dad’s contacts. Dad has given up thoughts of being a great actor, and now takes the same unchallenging roles on the Broadway stage for every season.

The family is together in their summer home, as Edmund has returned from his latest sea adventure with a terrible cough and is waiting the local doctor’s diagnosis.Every family conversation either begins or ends in a spat. We learn that mom became addicted after giving birth to Edmund, as hubby had her treated by a quack because he was cheaper than the other doctors. It concludes with the three suffering Tyrone men getting drunk one night and Jamie going on a harangue to warn his brother not to trust him because he wants to see him also fail. Later Mary gets up from her sleep and joins her men to ramble on while seemingly not in her right mind, as she hallucinates about her happier childhood days when she took piano lessons and wanted to be a nun.

Lumet directs as if the adaptation should not tamper with success, fearing such tinkering with the master author’s words would only mess things up. He reverentially keeps it straightforward (which is not a bad thing) and allows his talented ensemble cast to carry the day, and through all the misery unleashed (this is not a pleasant watch) they ably dig out the deep insights into their haunted richly created characters. Robards shines as the actor best suited for an O’Neill vehicle, the one actor of the ensemble who is most at home with such an unnerving emotional psychodrama.