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Long Day's Journey Into Night

Long Day's Journey into Night (1962)
The often lyrical writing of Pulitzer and Nobel prize winning playwright Eugene O'Neill and the powerhouse performance of the legendary Katharine Hepburn are the primary selling points of the 1962 film version of O'Neill's most famous work Long Day's Journey Into Night, a talky and tragic cinematic rendering of a story that was really meant to remain onstage, following one family's tale of addiction and dysfunction that loses focus at times, but remains watchable due to the deeply personal feel of O'Neill's writing and a splendid ensemble cast committed to O'Neill's tragic vision.

It's the summer of 1912 when the audience is brought to the summer coastal home of the Tyrone family. James (Ralph Richardson) is a retired actor, heavy drinker, and renowned tightwad married to Mary (Hepburn), a morphine addict. James and Mary have two sons: Jamie (Jason Robards) is a former actor who destroyed his career with alcohol and younger son, Edmund (Dean Stockwell) is the pampered family pet who is dying of a lung disease called consumption.

O'Neill's play premiered on Broadway in 1957 and ran for over a year, with Robards being the only cast member being allowed to reprise his role in this movie. It's important to know that this story originated onstage because O'Neill always wrote for the sage and this piece is no exception and as powerful as this film version is, I can imagine that it pales next to seeing it onstage. I've mentioned in a lot of reviews how pieces that began onstage never lose their stage origins when being transferred to film and this is a prime example, but it works in this case for the most part.

The story of the Tyrone family is one of the most delicately-crafted looks at addiction I have seen. The panic in the men's eyes whenever they learn Mary has gone upstairs by herself. It doesn't take long for the viewer to figure out what's going on with Mary, especially due to the way the story also nails another aspect of addiction called enabling. As panicked and terrified of what is happening to Mary, Mary is rarely directly confronted about what's happening to her, is in complete denial about it, and the family seems to to have settled into complete powerlessness.

The screenplay could have been trimmed a bit because I think the film is a longer than it need be. Around the halfway point, the characters begin doing a lot of pontificating about the past that seemed more like exposition that should have come at the beginning of the film. Research revealed that O'Neill fought having the play published for a long time and I have a feeling this was because of the Mary Tyrone character, whom I suspect is based on O'Neill's own mother, the only viable explanation for the overwhelming protection the character is provided. I was unable to confirm that O'Neill actually adapted the play for the screen, which I found baffling.

Hepburn gives, arguably the finest performance of her career as the drug-addicted Mary Tyrone, earning Hepburn her 9th Best Actress nomination, the only nomination the film received. Director Sidney Lumet also pulled a strong performance from Jason Robards as Jamie and the performance of his career as Edmund from Dean Stockwell. Exquisite black and white photography and a gorgeous but minimal piano score are the finishing touches of this loving adaption of a stage classic, that has been remade several times, but I seriously doubt if they touch this one.