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The Cobweb


'Mad Men' in a madhouse, 50 years ago

Rod Lott January 27th, 2011

With all its drama surrounding drinking, dalliances and draperies, Vincente Minnelli's "The Cobweb" is one seriously sudsy soap.

thecobweb

Reminiscent of many an Arthur Hailey adaptation, the 1955 film concerns the goings-on of the mental cases who reside in the psychiatric facility known as The Castle, as well as the people who work there — primarily one Dr. Stewart McIver, which you'll hear as "MacGyver" each and every time it's spoken.

Stewart (Richard Widmark) is a workaholic, which irks his hot, socially inclined, did-I-mention-hot wife (Gloria Grahame). Their marriage is in heavy disrepair, leading to big self-esteem problems for her, although everyone finds her desirable. The problem is, she doesn't feel that from her husband, and besides, he talks down to her like he's some big-shot know-it-all: "What were you drinking for? You know alcohol dilates the capillaries."

Plus, he's a little distracted falling into the arms of Lauren Bacall. Among the patients, love is in the air for the artistically gifted but quite angry Steven (John Kerr), who gets the hots for an agoraphobe (Susan Strasberg), making dating rather difficult.

And then there's this whole ridiculous subplot of a power war over getting to choose the right curtains for the place. I don't know if it was supposed to be funny — I'm guessing not — but it sure comes off that way a quarter-century later.

With pretty good performances from the leads, "The Cobweb" struck me as a mid-century "Mad Men," only in the head-shrinking industry instead of the advertising one. The sharp-dressed, head-in-his-ass Dr. McIver certainly has more than a little Don Draper in him, from his dealings with women who work for him ("If you do, I'll pull your dress over your head and beat some manners into you") to inspirational speeches that rally the troops (marking the film's climax).

Saturated with color, the remastered Warner Archive manufactured-on-demand release certainly looks splendid, drapes or no drapes. —Rod Lott


 
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