Saturday, August 13, 2011

Top Secret Affair (1957)

“It’s against my religion. I’m a devout coward.”

            Dorothy “Dottie” Peal (Susan Hayward) is head of Peale Enterprises which include TV, radio, and magazine publishing. She’s a tough, determined lady who does not back down when she wants something. Her magazine has been campaigning for a friend of her father’s as chair for the Joint Atomic International Committee but unfortunately the family friend does not get the job. Eisenhower himself has chosen a military comrade Major General Melville Goodwin (Kirk Douglas). Dottie is out for revenge. She cannot believe that someone she sees as chauvinistic and bullheaded as Goodwin got the job. Dottie immediately plans to smear Goodwin’s name by trying to find dirt on him. She invites the general to her house for the weekend for an interview. Her staffs set up a recorder in the living room and even hang up a portrait of the general to make it seem they have supported him for a long time.

            The weekend starts off well but when Dottie and her staff cannot get any kind of dirt on the general they start to panic and begin thinking of things he said to twist. Goodwin is onto Dottie he knows there is some hidden agenda to what she is doing, he is determined to not give in. Dottie decides to make Goodwin loosen up by taking him out for drinks thinking she can get him drunk. Instead it is she who is getting drunk while the general is nice and sober. She then takes him to a restaurant and makes him sing to humiliate him. He does get humiliated but he does not show it and that night back at the house he packs his things. As he packs a drunken Dottie is out his window calling for him and throws a rock through the window. They have more drinks and Dottie becomes more intoxicated.
            When she sobers up Dottie realizes that Goodwin is a very sensitive and caring man. The two spend some nice together alone in the pool house. The next morning Dottie is already to drop her smear campaign and write a nice article promoting Goodwin. But Goodwin says that he is not the marrying kind and blabs about how he had loved someone when he was overseas but she was a spy and had to be killed for what she knew. Dottie is furious over his leaving her. She has Goodwin’s story about the spy printed getting herself and the general into some major trouble.
            Alright, so Top Secret Affair started off well but once Dottie stopped being the shrewd business woman to a woman in love letting her emotions get the best of her the film just tanked. This film is just one of the reasons why I cannot stand many films during the late 1940s and 1950s. America was so wrapped up in Communism and being patriotic it is almost sickening. Now let me back myself up and say that I consider myself a patriotic American but sometimes patriotism can go too far and get out of hand. I see the whole McCarthy era as one gigantic embarrassment in American history and because I find the whole thing ridiculous it bothers me to sit through anything that has to do with the senator and his hearings. Once I saw the film was about an American general I knew I was heading into a little bit of trouble. At the beginning the film was fun and sexy and really enjoyable then once the whole trial with Goodwin being accused as a traitor gets going I found myself mad and bored and really did not pay too much attention. I think really what it comes down to for me when I watch a film I really do not want to see modern issues thrown into the fold… “Art for art’s sake” I guess could be my motto on films. I just do not really see good stories in political themed films or thrillers.
            Susan Hayward and Kirk Douglas were so good together. I do not believe I have ever sat through a Kirk Douglas film before, I did not know what to expect from him but I found myself liking him he was perfect as a bull headed American general. Susan Hayward was fabulous. She always brought a tough side to her characters whether intentional or not and that toughness was perfect for this role.
            My favorite scene was when Dottie was drunk and she was standing on the high diving board above her pool. She is ranting and raving about something and he is totally not listening. He knows she is going to fall in the pool so as she is raving on and on he starts to take off his jacket, shoes, and socks to go get her when she does fall in. Of course she falls in and he gets up from his chair and waits a bit besides the pool before jumping in. Later in the pool house as Dottie sobers up she realizes she is in a bathing suit so she asks Goodwin how she got in it. He tells her she put it on but she had to put it on twice because the first time it was backwards. He also lets her know that they played a game called “Navy” she made up where he was the battleship and she was the torpedo. Those two scenes are the best part of the whole film.
            Top Secret Affair was originally intended to star Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart and followed the book more closely. By the time filming was to start Bogart was already dying from esophageal cancer and could barely speak so he backed out as well as Bacall who had to take care of him. When Susan Hayward and Kirk Douglas were cast the script was rewritten to better suit the two actors. I can kind of see Bogart and Bacall playing the characters but then you have to think their version of the story was much different.
            Top Secret Affair starts off well but does not end well which is a big letdown especially because Susan Hayward and Kirk Douglas were so great together and were doing wonderfully with the comedy. I wish Hayward and Douglas could have made another film together and one that did not have a weak ending. I will still give it a recommendation as a film to see since it does have its good points.
Top Secret Affair