Lana Turner will be perhaps always best remembered as one of Hollywood's most glamourous personalities during her hey day in the 1940's at MGM when she was known as the sweater girl and starred in such unforgettable films as "The Postman Always Rings twice". However I personally find her just as interesting in her later efforts when she formed a highly successful collaboration with Producer Ross Hunter. Hunter was responsible for giving Lana Turner a fresh new screen persona and revived her career in a number of very successful high glamour melodramas such as "Imitation of life", "Portrait in Black" and Madame X", which kept her in prominence in Hollywood for most of the 1960's. "By Love Possessed", while a lesser effort than the above mentioned films was made straight after her first two Ross Hunter outings and is definately out of the same mould piling on the glamour and dramatic situations in a beautiful production which perhaps only lacks the masterful hand of Ross Hunter to have made it a truly memorable entry in the series of glossy melodramas that Lana Turner specialised in through the early sixties.
Based on the 1957 Pulitizer Prize winning novel of the same name by James Gould Cozzen, "By Love Possessed", set in a properous New England town tells the stories of the intermingled lives of three upright blue blooded families, the Penroses, the Winners and the Tuttles. All three families are from the gilded world of "old money", and run the local law firm which is by tradition passed down to each succeeding generation of males when they graduate from Harvard. The seemingly perfectly ordered lives of this priviledged group however betrays many problems that are glossed over for the sake of public appearances and their standing in th elocal community. Recent Harvard graduate Warren Winner (George Hamilton), is continually in direct conflict with his repressed father Arthur (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) who himself is locked in a marriage with the daughter (Barbara Bel Geddes),of senior partner Noah Tuttle (Thomas Mitchell) which was basically expected of him despite the lack of any real love between the pair. Meanwhile alcoholic and love deprived Marjorie Penrose (Lana Turner) is on the point of divorcing her unloving semi invalid husband Julius Penrose (Jason Robards), and indulges in a brief afair with former love Arthur as a way of filling th eempty void in her affluent but empty life. While Warren is pursued by the lonely Helen Detweiler(Susan Kohner), who is a ward of his grandfather and who he is expected to eventually marry, he instead finds his pleasure in the arms of less lofty company in particular those of waitress Veronica Kovacs (Yvonne Craig), who when rejected by Warren lays charges of rape against him. In the rapidly crumbling order of things in their neat lives an avalanche of long hidden emotions and family conflict surfaces and while some of it results in tragedy such as the suicide of Helen, other elements work towards a new beginning with a new honesty among many of the members of these formrly upright and seemingly perfect blue blooded clans. Marjorie puts off her plans to leave the cold Julius and both commit to work towards trying to save their marriage while Arthur after many years of not being able to reveal his feelings for his son joins together with him and with the support of his wife Clarissa prepares to tackle the charges brought against Warren in court.
"By Love possessed", had the perfect literary source and it was inevitable that it would make it to the screen with a glamourous figure like Lana Turner taking the lead. Despite being a Pulitizer Prize winner the story of course is pure soap but of th emost enjoyable kind. Although this was not a Ross Hunter production it has all the hallmarks of his efforts from around this time with beautiful colour photography, lavish sets and many stunning outfits for its glamourously photographed leading lady. Strangely "By Love Possessed", didn't provide Lana Turner with as lengthy or meaty role as such vehicles as "Imitation of Life". Much of the action does take place at the law firm among its partners with Lana Turner off screen however she does make the most of her scenes and she displays an easy chemistry with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and especially George Hamilton who would join her again at th eend of the 1960's decade in the infamous "Survivors" television series. Turner is still very much the star here however despite her smaller screen time and she was that unique commodity in the early 1960's where she was a by then mature actress who was still being showcased in glossy goodlooking vehicles without having to yet go down the "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?", path way. The supporting cast of "By Love Possessed is uniformly fine and a wonderful illustration of the great talent that was still available for character parts just as Hollywood's studio system was ending. Jason Robards, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (who was soon to find everlasting fame as part of the hit television series "The F.B.I"), Barbara Bel Geddes (long before stardom on "Dallas",) and veteran performer Thomas Mitchell in his second last film appearance all add their considerable acting credentials to the proceedings and make this soapish story more creditable than it probably deserves to be. The "younger ", generation are represented by George Hamilton well into his bland leading man stage and long before he revealed his fine comic talents in films such as "Love at First Bite", and by an interesting performance by Susan Kohner as the tragic Helen. Kohner had previously worked to great effect with Lana Turner in "Imitation of Life" in 1959 but sadly here has few scenes with her. The rich New England atmosphere is a great asset to this story with much of the story taking place in the fall/Autumn to further emphasize the rich outer appearance of much of the lives of these intermingled families. John Sturges still best remembered for his sterling direction on "The Magnificent Seven", here steers a very different acting ship but manages to take a fairly unexciting story and give it the pace and emphasis to overcome some of its weaknesses.
Vintage soap perhaps but "By Love Possessed",overcomes many of its weaknesses in story and content with its fine cast of seasoned professionals and by a beautifully mounted presentation the like of which became a real rarity as the next decade wore on and harsh realism in story telling took over. Certainly it isn't in the same caliber as some of Lana Turner's other similiar efforts from this time like "Peyton Place, "Imitation of Life", or "Madame X", but it is a respectable effort in its own right and required viewing for those that enjoy well mounted, star filled romantic stories. Enjoy!