Edge of Doom Reviews
Farley Granger has just died, so this is another tribute. When Elizabeth Taylor died, they said she was the last movie star. I don't think that's at all true, but Farley Granger certainly was one of the last of the old studio players. His Wikipedia entry lists several movies where he acted in them to be performing opposite various great actors, and the fact that he was under contract even after Olivia De Havilland had essentially broken the studio system was probably part of it as well. He had been with Robert Calhoun, a production supervisor for the National Repertory Theatre, since 1963, which probably didn't help his career much. This may be why it seems to me that he didn't get as much of a career as he might have. His star faded, probably at least in part because they couldn't as easily pretend he was straight, and he ended his career the way too many bright stars did--on [i]Murder, She Wrote[/i].
Here, he is Martin Lynn. Martin's father was a criminal who killed himself well before the story begins. His mother (Frances Morris) is dying of tuberculosis. Martin wants to marry his girl, Rita Conroy (Joan Evans), but he can't afford it on the salary paid him by Mr. Swanson (Houseley Stevenson), the florist who's employed him for four years. He wants to send his mother to Arizona, too, but it's too late. What's more, he won't send for Father Kirkman (Harold Vermilyea), because Father Kirkman had refused to bury Martin's father in consecrated ground. Young Father Thomas Roth (Dana Andrews) was off on another errand. Martin decides that his mother deserved better from the world, and he's determined that she get a fine funeral. Father Kirkman scoffs at the idea and won't contribute to it, and in a fit of rage, Martin kills him. Coincidentally, a theatre is robbed that same night, and the police haul Martin in for a crime he actually didn't commit.
I sympathize greatly with Martin on a lot of it. It's true that the Church can't exactly provide a fine funeral for any and all parishioners. However, Father Kirkman doesn't even remember who Martin's mother is from one minute to the next, and you have to figure that they'd had lengthy conversations about Martin's father. Certainly Martin is getting screwed over by Swanson. Mr. Murray (Howland Chamberlain), the funeral director, would have loaned Martin the money for a fine funeral is Swanson hadn't treated Martin so shabbily first. It's also true that Martin had been struggling, working very hard, to find a way to get his mother into a warm, dry climate, and Swanson was realistically cheating Martin out of his due. Four years with no raise? That's not fair. The least he could have done was provide flowers, and at a reduced rate, too. Yes, it would have been a loan, but Martin was faithful enough to work there despite not getting a raise in four years.
All that said, this is a desperately preachy movie. We're told the story mostly from Martin's perspective, but we're told it by Father Roth. He's explaining to another young priest why sticking it out in this particular slum is a good thing. Not because you can maybe help people like Martin, which surely ought to be the goal, but because people like Martin can help you. They can restore your faith. Because you're not them, possibly. Father Roth tells Martin that God has not given up on him, for all Martin has given up on God, but it comes across as more self-righteous than comforting. Martin is in a great deal of pain, and while it's true that he's holding onto the prospect of a fine funeral for his mother with the fervor of a child, he's got to hold onto something. If he hadn't been taking care of his mother, he could have married his girl and maybe gotten out. Maybe gone somewhere else. Maybe stayed where he was but improved himself. But we can learn a lesson from him about how to be better ourselves.
Martin's problem is that he's basically decent in a place which won't let him be. Doubtless everyone around him remembered What His Father Had Done. (Not that I do, other than the suicide bit.) That's hard for a person to live down. He doesn't push Swanson for a raise--doesn't even look for a better job, which I have to tell you I would do. No, he keeps working for Swanson because his mother likes flowers. He is able to take some home for her every day, the ones which are too faded to sell. Martin is a Good Boy, and that's the film's basic problem. It's not as though he runs away after killing the priest, either. He still works to give his mother the funeral he thinks she deserves. At the last, he asks if he'll be allowed to attend her funeral. (It's not as though the ending is a surprise, given 1950. You couldn't get away with killing a priest.) He's racked with guilt, but he still has obligations which come before his own needs. That's what got him into all this in the first place.