Always on the lookout for a deeply moving, 5-star film I've never seen before, I recently hit the jackpot with my viewing of Ten North Frederick. A little-heard-of Gary Cooper romantic drama from 1958, this movie also stars Suzy Parker, Diane Varsi, and Geraldine Fitzgerald. Much like the beautiful Fredric March/Kim Novak film, Middle of the Night (reviewed HERE), Ten North Frederick explores the romantic relationship between a 50-ish man and a woman half his age.
With this one movie, two films have been toppled from their positions on my lists. For quite some time, Madame X has been the tearjerker of all tearjerkers for me. I totally love that movie and generally sob to the point of being unable to breathe. While that is still the case, Ten North Frederick brings an equal amount of sobs. Additionally, when it comes to my beloved Gary Cooper, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town has long been my favorite of his films. While I still totally love that movie, I love this one even more. After only one viewing, Ten North Frederick is on my 20 favorite films list.
The fabulous Coop is Joseph B. Chapin...successful lawyer, faithful husband, loving father. The story, which is told in flashback, begins at number Ten North Frederick Street, immediately following Joe's funeral. Through the eyes of Joe's 20-something daughter Ann, we see that while the Chapin family looks good on the outside, inside there is scandal and unhappiness. Although Joe has always been faithful to his wife, Edith (Geraldine Fitzgerald), there is no love or warmth between them; in fact, while Joe's children have a bond with him, it is clear that they, too, have no love for their cold, ambitious, social-climbing mother.
Edith manipulates her husband and children in order to satisfy her own drive for power and status. Since Edith wants a political future for Joe, he throws his hat in the ring for lieutenant governor, despite not having political aspirations himself. Son Joby's desire to be a musician and to attend Juilliard is put down, and he is sent off to Yale instead. And when daughter Ann marries someone deemed "unacceptable" to her father's candidacy prospects, the man is bought off and the marriage annulled.
When Joe can no longer live with the ugliness of the political campaign, he withdraws from the race...something which infuriates Edith. Telling him that he is a failure and that she has wasted her life on him, she proceeds to inform him that she had been unfaithful to him fifteen years earlier. Edith's words have an affect on Joe...he tells her that his real failure was in not being a better father, in allowing Edith's ambitions to cause him to hurt the ones he loved most. Feeling that he needs to apologize to Ann for buying off her husband, Joe heads to New York City, where Ann is now living.
Unaware that her father was coming for a visit, Ann is not at home when Joe arrives; however, her roommate, Kate (Suzy Parker) is there, and she and Joe spend the evening talking. Before long, despite the tremendous disparity in their ages, Joe and Kate are deeply in love. Can there possibly be a future for them?
This film moved me deeply. Although it took close to 50 minutes to really come together, once it did, there was no stopping it. More than just a tearjerker, this was a sobber (for me). As with Madame X, I was sobbing (not merely weeping) for nearly a half hour in this film. Coop was totally magnificent in his role...emotional and vulnerable in a way I've rarely seen him before. I can't help but wonder if his own years-earlier romance with the half-his-age Patricia Neal made this role deeply personal for him and if that personalness translated into what I think is one of his very best performances. My heart was completely touched by his character. Adding to the movie's emotional tug was my awareness that this was one of Coop's final films. Three years---and a half dozen films---after this, Coop would succumb to cancer, and his wonderful, charismatic presence would grace the silver screen no more.
Suzy Parker, who I have never seen before, was really lovely in her role as Kate, and Geraldine Fitzgerald was spot-on as Joe's overbearing, shrewish wife. Although at times it didn't seem like the scenes flowed right, I still positively loved this movie.
So, there you have it, with this one film, Madame X must now share its title of "tearjerker of all tearjerkers," and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, though still very beloved, is now my second favorite Gary Cooper film.
I don't believe Ten North Frederick is out on DVD, and TCM rarely airs it. However, it is available on YouTube (in 11 parts), and I highly recommend seeing it. It's really a beautiful film, and, I think, it features Coop at his absolute finest.