Come Back, Little Sheba
Film Length: 95 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Standard (4:3)
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Retail Price: $14.95
Doc (Burt Lancaster) and Lola (Shirley Booth) Delaney are an older couple who have been married for a little over twenty years. They met when they were young and when the wife became pregnant Doc was forced into marrying her. Not only that but this young lust caused Doc to drop out of medical school and after the baby died, the two went on with their lives but for all those years Doc felt as if something wasn’t right. Doc, a recovering alcoholic, has been sober for a year but the pressure of getting old and missed chances in life are starting to haunt him. Lola, on the other hand is being haunted by the fact her little dog Sheba ran away from home a few weeks early leaving her feeling alone.
When Doc was drinking he was a very violent man, which cost the couple all of their friends. Since the house is quiet with no one around Lola decides to rent a room to a local college student, Marie (Terry Moore). At first this doesn’t sit too well with Doc but once he meets the young girl he begins to fall for her. When Doc sees the young girl with her whole life in front of her he can’t help but think back on his own life and how at one time he was as joyful as her. Soon Doc and Lola become parent figures for the girl but all this time things start eating at Doc because he’s worried Marie is going to go down the same road he did. When the pressure of the past and Marie start to bubble up Doc fears that he could head towards the bottle again.
Come Back, Little Sheba is based on the play by William Inge and was quite a controversial film when first released. Even with some of the controversial material the film was able to earn Shirley Booth an Academy Award for Best Actress and the film got top honors at the Cannes Film Festival. Throughout the 1930’s and into the 40’s, American films looked at drinking as some sort of coolness so when films like The Lost Weekend and this one came along it opened the eyes to many who might not have seen the downfalls of alcoholism. Come Back, Little Sheba is now over fifty years old but its subject matter and heart are all still very timely.
The film works wonders in the fact that there isn’t a false moment to be found anywhere. Even outside the issue with alcoholism, the film takes a strong look at getting old and looking back on your life and wishing you had taken a different direction. The film is downright depression and gets more depressing with each passing second and I’m sure many would be turned off by this but hopefully viewers will stick in there because they’ll witness some truly heartbreaking scenes as well as some very frightening ones. Director Daniel Mann does a wonderful job mixing all these elements and the way the film compares the older couple with their young housemate is very well done and makes for an interesting comparison.
Over the years the most talked about aspect of this film was the performance by Shirley Booth, which while quite good, also hurts the film in some ways. The only downside I find to the film is that she is the least interesting character and she has to carry the film all the way. There are several moments where the film drags when her husband or the young girl aren’t there with her. The one scene that really sticks out is one where she invites the milkman into the house and tries to strike up a conversation. Even though I feel she isn’t strong enough to carry the film, Booth is still quite good throughout.
To me Burt Lancaster is one of the greatest actors to ever grace the screen and his performance here is nothing short of a masterpiece. Lancaster was already a well-known star by 1952 but he really hadn’t had the chance to show what a wonderful dramatic actor he was. Previous films like The Killers, Jim Thorpe—All American and The Crimson Pirate showed Lancaster the athlete but with Come Back, Little Sheba he really took a darker turn and it’s a wonder what his fans thought at the time. Lancaster was always brilliant at using his eyes and smile to show feelings without having to say a word. We could just look into his eyes and know exactly what he was thinking and feeling.
That aspect of Lancaster really comes through here in a couple very memorable scenes. The first one happens early on when he first meets the young girl who wants to rent the room. Lancaster doesn’t say a word, yet by the way he looks at her, we know he’s missing what it’s like being young. The gentleness in this scene is due to a great actor not having to say anything yet we can tell everything going through his mind. The other moment occurs after he falls off the wagon and goes on a rampage after his wife. In this scene he says a lot of bad things but the look in his eyes are of pure hate and the way this comes off is a lot more frightening than anything he says.
The final twenty minutes of the film are without a doubt very shocking and frightening at the same time. I’m sure it was a lot more frightening back in 1952 but it still hasn’t lost its punch in 2004. After Lancaster falls off the wagon he returns home where his depression and anger over his past catches up with him and the only thing he can do is take it out on his wife. Throughout the film, Lancaster the gentleman was someone we really cared for, much like the way his wife cared for him. Then, when the alcohol comes out we are terrified of him just as his wife is. With this scene the movie pushes what alcoholism can do to a person and the film shows us without having to resort to any kind of speeches or preaching.
Throughout the years many films have dealt with alcoholism but Come Back, Little Sheba could perhaps be the very best at showing two sides of a person. This is a very depressing and sometimes very ugly film but it remains truthful and to me, that’s all you can really hope for.
VIDEO---The movie is shown in its Standard (4:3) ratio, which is correct. I’ve always been a strong supporter of Paramount and the work put into their transfers but I must say I’m a bit disappointed in the transfer here. For starters, this is certainly the best I’ve seen the film look but there are still many problems that weren’t fixed. The movie aired on TCM a couple nights ago and there’s certainly a big difference but it appears Paramount didn’t go all out with this one. Don’t get me wrong, the transfer is still very good but don’t expect anything like Sunset Boulevard or Hud.
The best part of the transfer is that all the dirt has thankfully been removed making the image look very clear and sharp throughout. The one scene that really caught my eyes was the one outside the house just after Lola showed the room to Marie. For once you can actually tell that the paint on the house is white since the dirt has been removed. The whites actually look white and not the dirty gray colors we’re used to seeing. Black levels were also very strong for the most part and this certainly helped in the darker scenes including the ending. Again, I’ve never seen the film look this clean but there are a few problems. The biggest problem was the amount of speckles that appear throughout the print. I compared what was on TCM to this and it appears to be the same (although the TCM print still had a lot of dirt). Another noticeable problem were several lines that were on the print and there are a two scenes that look a bit out of focus.
For the most part I was very happy with the transfer, although it seems the print was just cleaned up and none of the damage was fixed. Again, this isn’t a bad transfer but it’s not one of the strongest I’ve seen from the company.
AUDIO---We get the original Dolby Digital Mono mix, which has been restored and sounds wonderful. People often call me crazy when I tell them that Mono tracks can sound just as good as the best 5.1 and I think this is a good example. Again, compared to my previous viewings of this film, gone is all the hiss that certainly effected the VHS and also gone is some crackling. The dialogue is remarkably fresh and crisp without any sorts of problems. The track has been cleaned up so well that I noticed several cues in the music score that I hadn’t noticed before. Another good example is at the beginning of the film when Lola is showing off the room and has to close a door because kids are outside playing. For the first time (to me anyways) this sounded remarkably clear with the kids playing and Lola still speaking throughout.
EXTRAS---No extras are included.
OVERALL---Many films have dealt with alcoholism and this is certainly one of the best. This is a very depressing and sad film but it well worth the journey. Lancaster’s performance makes the film a must see so I highly recommend it on that alone. I wish the transfer had been cleaned up a bit more but the audio sounds remarkably good. Considering you can get this for under $10 it should really be in the collection of any classic film fan.
Release Date: August 31th, 2004