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With the Oscar®-winning smash success of Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend (1945), the subject of alcoholism was suddenly very hot in Hollywood. One of the first follow-up films to deal with the issue was Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947). On the surface, this is simply a female version of The Lost Weekend, but the film also throws in elements of A Star is Born and is as much a study of broken marriage as a depiction of alcoholism. Susan Hayward stars as a successful nightclub singer who sacrifices her career for marriage. As her husband finds his own success as singer and songwriter, she grows jealous and turns to alcohol, which begins to destroy her life.
This was Hayward's first major role, and it immediately established the actress in her hallmark character, that of the downtrodden woman struggling to make a comeback. Hayward burst forth in post-WWII Hollywood with a series of strong, vivid performances that some considered overbearing and histrionic, but which helped establish her suffering but resilient screen persona. She played an alcoholic twice more in My Foolish Heart (1949) and I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955), was crippled in With a Song in My Heart (1952), and was sent to the electric chair in I Want to Live! (1958). She was Oscar®-nominated every time, finally winning for I Want to Live!.
Smash-Up may not be quite as seamless as The Lost Weekend, but it's still an effective portrait of alcoholism powered by Hayward's strong performance. In fairness, the two movies differed in several regards. As film historian Charles Higham later wrote, Smash-Up "has a soft sheen, a feeling of luxury and almost claustrophobic sumptuousness, in marked contrast to Wilder's relatively faithful realism." It also attempted to give the audience a different kind of experience, starting with its overall look. The movie was shot by one of the great cinematographers of the era, Stanley Cortez, and his work here is superb.
Cortez later recalled an example of his innovative work on this picture: "We had a scene in which the heroine is lying in bed and mumbling. She's having a nightmare, and I went to my doctor to ask him what happens in a person's mind when he is drunk. He told me about the flashing of lights across the brain, and I had lights actually inside the lens. I conducted a kind of symphony of light over her. As she reached a pitch of distress I raised the lights to the highest pitch possible. Susan Hayward helped by actually getting drunk to play the part! I didn't want to do the cliche thing and show her distorted impressions, but rather convey her thoughts with abstract play of lights alone. It was fantastic."
In addition to Hayward's Oscar® nomination, Smash-Up was nominated for Best Original Story (Dorothy Parker and Frank Cavett).
Producer: Walter Wanger
Director: Stuart Heisler
Screenplay: Dorothy Parker (story), Frank Cavett (story), John Howard Lawson, Lionel Wiggam
Cinematography: Stanley Cortez
Film Editing: Milton Carruth
Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen
Music: Jack Brooks, Edgar Fairchild, Jimmy McHugh, Frank Skinner
Cast: Susan Hayward (Angelica Evans Conway), Lee Bowman (Ken Conway), Marsha Hunt (Martha Gray), Eddie Albert (Steve Nelson), Carl Esmond (Dr. Lorenz), Carleton Young (Fred Elliott).
BW-104m. Closed captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold