Desire Under the Elms (1958) is what happens when one of the most overrated of all 1950s directors, Delbert Mann, teams up with former Paramount comedy writer Don Hartman. The duo turned Sophia Loren, Anthony Perkins and Burl Ives loose on Eugene O’Neill, that grimmest and most pretentious of all American playwrights. That probably sounds glib, but it’s true—though not in a necessarily bad way. The film definitely strains at the seams to be Important with a capital “I,” and it sometimes it almost breaks through. The story is the sort of thing you expect from O’Neill—it involves a disagreeable old religious tyrant (Ives), his pretty, young wife (Loren) and sensitive, somewhat ineffectual son (Perkins), and all the problems that promises. Very little can be said to be surprising here, except the overblown tone of the film. Its Elmer Bernstein score, and its deliberately false soundstage look actually seems just about right for O’Neill.
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