August 15, 2010
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      The other day I was watching “This Property Is Condemned”, circa 1966, one of my favorite Robert Redford movies.   It is also one of my favorite Natalie Wood movies.   Also one of my favorite Sydney Pollack movies.

      Yes that’s right; “This Property Is Condemned” stars Robert Redford and Natalie Wood, and is directed by the great and underrated Sydney Pollack.   Good people.

      And there are more good people.   Charles Bronson and Robert Blake, a couple of fine actors with big names, lend excellent support to the two stars.   The lesser-known Kate Reid is brilliant and easy to hate as Wood’s selfish, conniving mother.   Speaking of family strife, this movie is based on a Tennessee Williams play, and Williams, of course, is the master of the dysfunctional family (i.e. “The Glass Menagerie” and “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”).   You even get the benefit of an Oscar-winning screenwriter in Francis Ford Coppola, though he is obviously far more famous as the director of the three Godfather films.   This is a wonderful assemblage of talent.   This is a fine motion picture.image0014

      Except, some would say, for one nagging little thing: This movie always always always gets a bad review.

     And I don’t get it.   Set in Mississippi during the Great Depression, “This Property Is Condemned” is a thoroughly watchable little tale about a small-time railroad functionary (Redford) sent to a small Mississippi town to lay off a bunch of railroad workers.   Redford soon falls for the most beautiful and sexy girl in town (Wood) while staying at her mother’s boarding house.   The script is taut, realistic, and earthy, the stars give fine performances, and perhaps the biggest star of all in this sad and steamy story is the era itself, with the heavy pall the Depression casts over the entire movie a stark reminder that the want of money makes people do things they otherwise would probably just not do (like Wood selling herself to men she loathes, with her own mother acting as pimp), the same desperation making people believe they are luckier in love than they have any right to believe they are (in this case both Redford and the ill-fated Wood).   Trust me, the story works and the film works, period.   And Redford and Wood, both in their late 20s at the time, are in the prime of their luminescence.   They fairly glow with good looks.   It’s hard to believe she’s dead and he’s deep into his 70s….

      Yet the reviews are always bad.   No less an authority than the famous movie reviewer Leonard Maltin (I bet you have his Movie & Video Guide on your coffee table right now) calls “This Property Is Condemned”—and these are his words—“absurd” and “trash”.   Wow.   Maybe Pollack refused to grant him an interview once or something.

      It just proves that you should never listen to a movie reviewer.   Except yours truly, of course.

      Two other noteworthy items about this unfairly maligned little gem deserve a mention.   The final half hour of the movie is shot on location in New Orleans’ fabled French Quarter, where my girlfriend Roxanne and I vacationed just last month.   In fact, when you see Wood standing in the rain under a street sign clearly marked Bourbon St. & Dumaine, that’s less than two blocks from where our hotel was.   So for me, starting now, a movie I already loved is forever invested with a personal, special significance.   When they show Wood and Redford lying in bed in their New Orleans hotel room, Natalie the picture of contentment folded up in Bob’s arms, I can easily imagine the equally beautiful Roxanne lying contentedly in my own less-famous arms right down the street, and, uh….well, you get the idea.

      Anyway, the 2nd other noteworthy thing about “This Property Is Condemned” that is it my very job to reveal to you is the unique personal relationship between the two stars.   You might not believe this, but Redford and Wood actually went to high school together.   That’s right.   They both went to high school right here in L.A. County, at Van Nuys High.   They didn’t really know each other; Redford was two years older.   They did meet once or twice and that was about it.   Ironically, at the time of “This Property Is Condemned” Wood was the far bigger star.   She had already been an established child star (“Miracle On 34th Street”, “No Sad Songs For Me”) and a teen star (“Rebel Without A Cause”), and was already a big-time major movie star (“Splendor In The Grass”, “West Side Story”).   Redford was still virtually an unknown.   That’s why her name was listed above the title, while his was listed as merely “co-starring”.  

      But beginning right around the time of this film, their careers would shoot off in opposite directions.   Wood’s career would decline sharply, and she would make very few films during the final 15 years of her life, while Redford would go on to become one of the biggest Hollywood film stars of all time (starring in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “The Way We Were”—also directed by Pollack—and “The Sting”), a bigger star by far than even Wood was in her prime.   But in the mid-50s, for just a year, movie star Wood and nobody Redford trod the same high school campus, unaware of the future intersection of their joint, and individual, fates.

      I mean what are the odds?   What are the odds that a decade later they would star in a couple of moves together (“Inside Daisy Clover” and “This Property Is Condemned”), playing lovers both times, and both become all-time-great movie stars?   Try it yourself: if you are a man, close your eyes and picture the hottest, most Nataliesque chick at your high school, and then imagine actually acting in a movie with her 10 years later.   If you’re a woman, close your eyes and picture the hunkiest, most Redfordian guy at your high school, and imagine him a decade later as your on-screen lover.   Weird, huh?   Anyway, I love stuff like that.

      So go ahead and go online, go and pick up a VHS or DVD of “This Property Is Condemned”, then watch it with an open mind.   Don’t condemn it the way Maltin and others did and do.   I can almost guarantee you’ll like it.   But don’t worry; if you don’t like it, well, that probably just means that all you need is an appointment with your doctor.   That’s fine.   That’s why I’m here.   My email office is always open.



Brad Eastland, our “Dr. of Ancient Filmology”, is a movie buff and film historian, as long as the film was made before 1985 or so.  (If you want to hear about new-release films, ask somebody else!).   Special effects and gratuitous anything have no place in his celluloid world.   Primarily a fiction writer, Brad has written four novels and over 20 short-stories.  Here are some samples of his best work:

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