Toys in the Attic (1963): George Roy Hill’s Poorly Executed Melodrama, based on Lillian Hellman’s Play, Starring Dean Martin, Geraldine Page and Wendy Hiller

Lillian Hellman’s mediocre stage play, Toys in the Attic, is turned into a hysterical and over-the-top melodrama in this screen version, boasting a stellar cast of women, though each one of them acts in a different style.

Dean Martin plays Julian Berniers, a no-good con man who return from Illinois with his young bride Lily (Yvette Mimieux) to his family in New Orleans.

At first, his spinsterish sisters Carrie (Geraldine Page) and Anne (Wendy Hiller) are happy to see the couple, immediately expressing amazement at the expensive gifts that Julian had bought for them.

The sisters hope that their brother would help them cover the house’s growing expenses. Indeed, Julian reassures them that, while his profitable factory went out of business, he did manage to put some money aside. However, it turns out Julian had pulled out of a real estate scam and stole the money.

Showing obsessive infatuation (perhaps even incestuous affection), the manipulative Carrie wishes to fully welcome her brother. But Carrie’s jealousy of Lily motivates her to dig in and discover the shady land deal.

The child-bride Lily then runs back to her mother, Albertine (Gene Tierney, in poor form), only to be horrified by Albertine’s affair with their black chauffeur, Henry (Frank Silvera).

In her lurid ideas, twisted characters, and cultural stereotypes, Lillian Hellman follows in the footsteps of such gay writers as Tennessee Williams and William Inge, known for their perverse characters and psychological melodramas set in the Deep South or the Mid-West. For instance, Mimieux’s character of the child-bride echoes a similar creation in Kazan’s controversial, Oscar-nominated “Baby Doll,” the 1956 film version of Tennessee Williams’ one-act play.

As the charming outsider, Martin, better known for his comedies with Jerry Lewis, struggles with his demanding part. And while British actress Wendy Hiller underacts, Geraldine Page (who had embodied many of Tennessee Williams’ great heroines) overacts. Having lost her pretty looks, Gene Tierney seems to be lost in the maze.

The movie is further marred by the plodding direction of the young George Roy Hill, before he became popular with a series of Hollywood blockbusters, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” in 1969, and the Oscar-winning “The Sting,” ïn 1973, both co-starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Costume Design (b/w): Bill Thomas

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Costume Design Oscar was Piero Gherardi for Fellini’s “81/2,” which also won the Best Foreign Language Oscar

Running time: 88 Minutes.
Directed by by George Roy Hill
Written by James Poe