Autumn Leaves (1956)

“A story about man’s most desperate need … and woman’s!” A well-acted, engaging melodrama directed by Robert Aldrich (Kiss Me Deadly), Autumn Leaves stars Joan Crawford as a lonely freelance manuscript typist named “Millie Wetherby” who’s on the verge of “old maid” status until she meets a much younger man named “Burt Hanson” (Cliff Robertson) one night in a diner. After a whirlwind courtship, the two get married. There’s just one catch that Millie finds out about a week into their seemingly idyllic marriage – Burt’s mentally ill, we’re talking batshit crazy here. Oh yeah, and he’s also a pathological liar who conveniently forgot to tell Millie that he’s already married! All hell breaks loose when Burt’s now ex-wife “Virginia” (Vera Miles) arrives in town with his sleazy father “Mr. Hanson” (Lorne Greene at his creepiest). Apparently Burt’s latest mental breakdown occurred when he caught Virginia and the elder Mr. Hanson in bed together. In other words, Millie has just unwittingly entered her worst nightmare. One of my favorite scenes is when Millie tells off the couple for trying to take advantage of Burt (they basically want him committed so they can take control of his inheritance): “You, his loving, doting fraud of a father! And you, you slut! You’re both so consumed with evil, so rotten! Your filthy souls are too evil for hell itself!” Originally titled The Way We Are, the film was renamed to take advantage of the popularity of Nat King Cole’s version of “Autumn Leaves,” which can be heard during the title sequence. Crawford later remarked, “Everything clicked on Autumn Leaves. The cast was perfect, the script was good and I think Bob [Aldrich] handled everything well.” Crawford reportedly wanted Marlon Brando for the role of “Burt Hanson.”

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