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Ethel Waters and Julie Harris in ‘The Member of the Wedding' from 1951.

Mr. Movie: Carson McCullers

Carson McCullers was born in Columbus, Georgia, and died when she was only 50. Some of her novels have been made in to heartbreakingly wonderful movies that will always be around. 


I’ll start with her first, and one that is permanently situated in my all-time top 10.


The Member of the Wedding (1952) is just so good. Twelve-year-old Frankie (Julie Harris) is a moody tomboy who is jealous and distraught over her older brother’s impending marriage. She can’t believe the couple isn’t taking her along on their honeymoon! Her caretaker is Berenice (Ethel Waters) and her best friend is little John Henry (Brandon DeWilde) who lives next door. She runs away, is nearly assaulted, and finally comes to a shaky understanding with the help of Berenice. Harris was nominated for Oscar but lost to Shirley Booth for Come Back Little Sheba. I notice that others (a 6 on Rotten Tomatoes!) do not share my affection for this film. I don’t care.


Reflections in a Golden Eye (1957) is pure Southern Gothic. Major Weldon Pendleton (Marlon Brando) and his beautiful spoiled wife Leonora (Elizabeth Taylor) have more problems than the Middle East. There’s also a thing with horses and something about latent homosexuality. Brian Keith and Julie Harris play another dysfunctional couple. The first sentence of the novel sets the tone for this rather frantic jumble: “There is a fort in the South where a few years ago a murder was committed.”


Alan Arkin knocks it out of the park as deaf mute John Singer in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1968). Singer just tries to help people and is successful more often than not. Sondra Locke is quite good as teenage Mick, one of Singer’s friends. Singer rents a room in a small Southern town to be near his friend Spiros, who is also deaf. The ending is hard to take — be warned. But this is a good one.


So if you were casting a Southern woman who is a bootlegger, would you select British acting royalty? Well, Vanessa Redgrave was the choice to play Amelia, and it maybe works. Her cousin convinces her to open a café, and it is the featured place in The Ballad of the Sad Café (1991). Keith Carradine is on hand to play her divorced husband, recently discharged from prison. Her perhaps cousin Lyman (unknown Cork Huppert) is allowed to move in with her and help run things.


The last (?) film from a McCullers work is A Tree A Rock A Cloud (2017) a short film based on a short story featuring largely unknown actors. A young boy’s chance encounter with an old man leads to the getting of wisdom from an original source.


That’s maybe not all, folks. The excellent McCullers novel Clock Without Hands is, as far as I know, available for filming. Somebody should grab it. Stay tuned.


All of the movies in this article are for adults.