William Gibson's point in his original bestseller of having all the plot shenanigans set in motion by a squabble over selecting curtains for a private sanitarium was probably that the most elaborate workplace feuds are often over trivial matters. You'd never know that, however, from this all-star MGM adaptation, because at no point does anyone state how silly a matter these curtains (invariably referred to here as "the drapes") really are. The drapes are everything; and after a while I found myself beginning to care deeply about them too. The hospital administrator Lillian Gish (dour and pinched) wants to install cheap drapes to save money, while the chief doctor's petulant and interfering wife (Gloria Grahame) wants to install more artistic and aesthetic ones. She, in turn, does not realize her husband (Richard Widmark) has worked out an arrangement with the occupational therapist (Lauren Bacall) to have the patients create their own drapes silkscreened from the designs of talented, suicidal John Kerr. While watching this movie, I began to form my own strong opinion of which drapes they should use based on the descriptions: when Kerr's designs are revealed to be Dufy-like portraits of the hospital staff and patients I began to get depressed, and I desperately hoped that when Grahame's drapes finally arrived they'd be worthy of her descriptions. Fortunately, they're absolutely spectacular (but they unleash more kind of chaos than could be imagined).
All this seems very fitting in a film where director Vincente Minnelli (as usual) gives as much loving attention to the color schemes of his interiors as he does to his stars' performances. Each room in the hospital and Widmark's home is designed in stunning coordinating neutrals, from the puces of Richard Widmark's office to the lavenders of his boudoir and the violets of his living room. The characters try to live up to the scale of the color schemes, which is just about impossible; only Grahame--wearing some of the most beautiful gowns in Fifties films--manages even to come close. Kerr, in his movie debut, is surprisingly intense in the kind of role Anthony Perkins usually played; while in the kind of role Agnes Moorhead usually played, Gish, cast against type, works hard in a thankless (and underwritten) role. For no clear reason, Charles Boyer is also in the film as a genial lecherous drunk on the doctors' staff. The film is fairly much a mess, but it's pretty and enjoyably entertaining (in all its silliness) just the same.