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Long Day's Journey into Night Movie Review

neill tyrone edmund katharine

1962 – Sidney Lumet –

It is sometimes said that in tragedy something of value dies (usually a physical something) and something of value gets born (usually an intangible something). This work by America's greatest playwright focuses on the difficulty of that birth process. On July 22, 1941, Eugene O'Neill presented his wife Carlotta with the manuscript of this play for their twelfth wedding anniversary. It had the longest gestation of any of his plays and is a work of seeming simplicity but filled with emotional and structural complexity. From 8:30 in the morning until midnight on a day in August 1912, at their Connecticut summer home, the four Tyrones talk about themselves and their past. The complexity partly comes from O'Neill's subtlety in assigning each character alternating voices of anger and apology, the two feelings that fight for dominance over this long, fog-shrouded day. He has also skillfully arranged the many conversational duets, trios, and quartets into something of a spoken opera. These seemingly random exchanges start and end in ways that eventually expose the souls of each family member.

The overall pattern is one of attack and forgive. The power of the play, captured well in this film, comes from O'Neill's ultimately benevolent attitude toward these characters based on himself, his brother, and their parents. The characters all reach moments toward the end when they are able to do that most difficult thing of looking at themselves with honesty. The actor father (Ralph Richardson), for example, has been haunted his whole life by his decision to tour in one popular role rather than to develop himself in less lucrative but more artistically challenging parts. He admits to Edmund (Dean Stockwell) for the first time that he was ruined by the “promise of an easy fortune.” Suffering from tuberculosis, Edmund, the younger son (the character based on the author), is inspired by his father's confession and describes his own transcendent joy when he was at sea and laments his small poetic gift for expressing these pent-up feelings: “Stammering is the native eloquence of us fog people.” Later, older brother Jamie (Jason Robards, Jr., repeating his stage role), in a scene of remarkable candor and self-scrutiny, reveals the motives for his alcoholism and the depth of his self-disgust when he admits how the part of him “that's been dead so long” never wanted Edmund to succeed “and make me look worse by comparison.” And the mother Mary (Katharine Hepburn), who became addicted to morphine years before when treated by an incompetent doctor Tyrone, Sr. called in to save money, voices her longing for a fuller sense of family and her deep hunger for spiritual redemption.

O'Neill takes a tolerant attitude toward the life lies and illusions his characters require to cope with their difficult existences. He seems to feel that deep down people still need to see the truth about themselves and that, given the chance, they will choose to embrace it in all its pain. The richness of that honesty and the mutual acceptance it implies is the something of value that gets born in Long Day's Journey. Perhaps O'Neill realized this when he inscribed his dedication of the script to his wife with thanks for enabling him to “face my dead and write this play—write it with deep pity and understanding and forgiveness for all the four haunted Tyrones.”

Cast: Katharine Hepburn (Mary Tyrone), Ralph Richardson (James Tyrone, Sr.), Jason Robards, Jr. (Jamie Tyrone), Dean Stockwell (Edmund Tyrone), Jeanne Barr (Cathleen) Screenwriter: Eugene O'Neill (based on his play) Cinematographer: Boris Kaufman Composer: Andre Previn Producer: Jack J. Dreyfus, Jr., Ely Landau, and Joseph E. Levine for Embassy Running Time: 174 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Cannes Film Festival 1962: Actress (Katharine Hepburn); National Board of Review Awards 1962: 10 Best Films of the Year, Supporting Actor (Jason Robards, Jr.); Academy Awards 1962: Nominations: Actress (Katharine Hepburn) Budget: $435,000.

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