• Blue Denim

    Released by: Twilight Time
    Release date: April 17, 2018
    Directed by: Philip Dunne
    Cast: Warren Berlinger, Buck Class, Brandon De Wilde, Macdonald Carey, Marsha Hunt, Carol Lynley, Nina Shipman, Roberta Shore, Vaughn Taylor, Mary Young
    Year: 1959
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    The time is the late-1950s. The place is Dearborn, Michigan, a paradise of Wonder Bread and mayonnaise. Fifteen-year-old Janet Willard (Carol Lynley) is being raised by her widower father (Vaughn Taylor), a caring but tight-assed college professor. Janet has the hots for sixteen-year-old Arthur Brently (Brandon de Wilde), whose father (Macdonald Carey) is a retired military officer with little to offer in the way of being nurturing or understanding. Art’s mother (Marsha Hunt) is loving, clueless, and far closer to his older sister, Lillian (Nina Shipman), than she is to him. Lillian’s about to marry a much-older dentist, to everyone’s apparent approval.

    Art comes home from school one afternoon to discover that his beloved old dog Hector has been taken off and euthanized. Angry and hurt that he’s had no chance to say goodbye to his pet, Art takes to holing up in the basement with his smartass buddy Ernie (Warren Berlinger). There the two pretend to study biology (a word that Ernie—and we’re not making this up—needs to define for a nervous Mrs. Brently) while actually whiling away the time smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, and playing poker.

    Janet takes to sneaking into Art’s mancave and hanging out with the guys, despite her father’s insistence that doing so is inappropriate. Over time, sparks develop between her and Art. About three months after some awkward conversation between the two and a discreet-fade-to-black, she discovers she’s “in trouble.” Neither Jan nor Art feel that they can confide in their parents, which leaves them on their own. Their first impulse is to marry, but the clerk at the local courthouse informs them that, due to their age, they need a signature from at least one parent.

    Not to worry. Ernie hears through the grapevine that some creep who works at the local drug store has a connection to an abortionist. This makes the problem one of money—one-hundred-fifty dollars, to be exact. Art, Janet, and Ernie empty their pockets and piggy banks and sell what they have to sell. When all they can scrape together is a measly $58, Art steals a blank check from his dad’s checkbook and has Ernie forge his father’s signature. Financing is thus secured, and the abortion is scheduled for the same day as Lillian’s wedding. During the reception, however, Art’s dad gets wind of the forged check, Art fesses up to what’s going on, and things become really interesting.

    Blue Denim began life as a Broadway play by James Leo Herlihy (best known for his 1965 novel Midnight Cowboy) and William Noble. It ran successfully from February to July of 1958, and Twentieth-Century Fox released the film version the following year. The narrative was softened considerably for the screen, with the original ending amended to meet production code standards, the word “abortion” removed altogether, and the word “pregnancy” presented to the viewer only once, in the chapter title of a book Janet sneak-peeks at the school library. Still, the viewer gets the point.

    Blue Denim is a glimpse at the dark side of Father Knows Best-era America, fourteen years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Young people at the time were at the mercy of their hormones, with no access to birth control and few options for correcting their “mistakes.” The resolution of the film’s conflict was a common one at the time, and the fact that it’s presented in a positive light speaks volumes about how different the world was a scant sixty years ago.

    The screenplay is very much a product of its time, as edgy as it was allowed to be and as thought-provoking as could be expected. Carol Lynley and Brandon de Wilde, as the young lovers, acquit themselves admirably, doing most of the film’s heavy lifting. To be fair, though, nobody else in the film (with the exception of Berlinger) is given a whole lot to do.

    Like Carol Lynley, Warren Berlinger reprises his Broadway role here. A nephew of television great Milton Berle, he was a successful “Oh, yeah, that guy” performer, with a 60+ year career stretching from the original Howdy Doody show to episodes of That Girl, Charlie’s Angels, and Happy Days, not to mention films including the Elvis Presley outing Spinout (1966) and the Robin Williams outing The World According to Garp (1982).

    Marsha Hunt appeared in this movie fresh from Hollywood’s early-1950s blacklist. A longtime liberal activist, she has over the decades campaigned for causes including ending world hunger, legalizing same-sex marriage, and raising awareness of climate change. She will be 101 years young in October 2018. She is not, incidentally, to be confused with that other Marsha Hunt, the American actress who inspired the Rolling Stones’ classic “Brown Sugar,” had a daughter with Mick Jagger, and is, as of this writing, a sprightly 72.


    Twilight Time is on a roll. As with the overwhelming majority of their recent releases, Blue Denim looks sterling in the Blu-ray format, thanks to an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p high definition taken from an obviously new and sparkling transfer. The film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on a single BD50, with more than enough room to handle the picture information and with a high bitrate. There’s not a single flaw to describe. Detail is exceedingly high, with every inch of the frame revealing unexpected but pleasing textures, painting a clear and defined monochromatic image. Contrast is gorgeous, and the picture is painted in lights, darks, and grays in an abundance of shades. There’s neither washout nor crush, and grain is perfectly organic. On the one hand, the film looks as if it were shot yesterday in the latest hi-def format; on the other, it never looks artificial. It isn’t DNR’d to death or artificially sharpened at all. Even the credits look fine, with none of the drop in visual quality one usually expects from scenes containing opticals.

    Sound is just as solid as the visuals. This is a beautifully robust aural experience. Twilight Time has opted for a remastered primary track in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and an isolated music score in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The sound is clear and well-modulated, with appropriate highs and lows that never force one’s hand to the remote. Dialogue is easy to discern, and the score is pleasantly mixed. Unfortunately, there’s no commentary track (historians Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo would have been perfect to tackle such an interesting window into the societal views of a past era), but optional English subtitles for the deaf or hearing impaired are included. As usual, these are professionally done with virtually no issues or typographical errors. And though Kirgo doesn’t provide commentary, she does write some stellar liner notes, provided in an 8-page booklet that also contains images (including a full-color reproduction of the original U.S. one-sheet) from the film. As astute as ever, Kirgo’s musings are insightful, well written, and repeat readings.

    Take note, film fans: Joan “Mommie Dearest” Crawford appears in the trailer (the only real extra provided), despite having nothing to do with the film itself. We would be remiss not to point out the irony of a known child abuser hawking a film about the poor relationship between parents and their children in 1950s households!

    The release is limited to 3,000 units.

    The Final Word:

    Blue Denim is a window into the societal views of the 1950s, particularly for people who didn’t live at the time. Both teasingly revealing and hopelessly naïve, it boasts strong performances and an interesting script dealing with a subject that many at the time would rather have buried. Twilight Time’s presentation, despite being low on extras, is a sight to behold, one well worth a blind buy for cineastes interested in down-to-earth melodrama and realistic family presentations.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2018.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Alison Jane's Avatar
      Alison Jane -
      Sounds pretty interesting.
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      Twilight Time has been releasing some obscure, fascinating films lately.
    1. paul h.'s Avatar
      paul h. -
      Nice review.
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      Thanks, Paul.