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The Original Angry Young Man,
This review is from: Look Back in Anger [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
I watched Look Back in Anger last night for the first time in many years. It is a brilliant play but rather difficult to watch due to the uncomfortable scenes of verbal abuse involving Richard Burton's character and his down-trodden, upper-middle-class wife who seems to spend all her time ironing and looking beautiful but down-trodden. Apparently John Osborne wrote this play based on his own unhappy marriage to Pamela Lane and their life in a dingy flat in Derby during the fifties.
It takes a lot of effort to see beyond the contemptuous, bullying veneer of Burton's portrayal of Jimmy and it would be easy to dismiss him as nothing more than a villain. But glimpses beneath his odious exterior include his obvious devotion to his old landlady and his support of an Indian market-stall owner who is ostracised for being a foreigner. By the end of the film it becomes obvious that Jimmy is severely `damaged' psychologically but we, the viewers, are left to draw our own conclusions as to why he is selling sweets on a market stall and living in such squalid conditions when he is university educated.
To my mind Claire Bloom's character, Helena, is the real villain of the play. The scene where Jimmy launches a vitriolic tirade against Helena, calling her an `evil-minded little virgin' she slaps him and there is a suspended moment of emotion as Jimmy clutches his stinging cheek. It is probably the most obvious point in the film and made me cringe a little but somehow they manage to get away with it.
The film was made in 1959 and the play opened in 1956 so it is now well over fifty years old. In today's age of psychotherapy and anti-depressants would Jimmy be a better person (a happier person) or was he better-off being angry and frustrated i.e. himself? It certainly wouldn't have made such a marvelous play. In many respects this play has similarities to A Streetcar Named Desire where the character of Stanley Kowalski could almost be interchangeable with that of Burton's Jimmy. Both are powerful plays/films and make for disturbing, thought-provoking viewing but they are far from uplifting: Testament to an era when abortion was illegal, two double Scotches cost ten bob and Angry Young Men could sell Jelly Babies by day and play the trumpet in a jazz club at night.
Location: Washington, DC
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