Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 22, No. 2. March 23, 1959
If you were told that the film "The Goddess" was about the rise to stardom of a small-town American girl and that having become the star of her generation she is lonely and unhappy, you would rightly say that you had seen it all before.
But "The Goddess", despite its similarity to earlier films, is a much better one. It does not have Kazen's electric direction in "Face in the Crowd", nor the sophistication of "Sunset Boulevard." But it does have a really wonderful actress in Kim Stanley, who plays the star Rita Shawn. It is a vital performance, full of variety and tremendous power. The director (John Cromwell) has luckily given the screen to her, not distracting the audience with clever direction, and she takes hold of the audience and the film almost faultlessly for nearly 104 minutes.
The other "star" of the picture is Paddy Chayefsky, who wrote the script. The film is divided into three main parts, or if you prefer it, acts, as in a play; "Portrait of a girl," "Portrait of a young woman" and "Portrait of a goddess." Each of these acts has a climax, yet there is no main climax in the film.
The first act shows how Emily, later to become the star Rita, is rejected by her flighty fun-loving mother. Emily has no friends, she has a bad reputation among the boys of the town, and she dreams of success. Success meaning a star in Hollywood, where everything you touch must surely turn into gold.
Here is Cheyefsky's main point—the American dream of success, and the glamour and the wealth that goes with It. Chayefsky shows that it is all a fake.
Fame and money are what Rita is after, in compensation for the love that she cannot find with other people.
In the second act Rita, having got rid of one husband, marries another (a famous sports star) and still finds that love and security have passed her by. She throws the word love around as if it were something she could pick off a tree, but it is all too obvious that she and her husband have no idea of its meaning. She has a nervous breakdown, divorces her husband, turns to drugs and for a time religion. She finds no solace, and ends up a hopeless failure as a person.
No Happy Ending
There is no happy ending, nor a sentimental one. As her faithful secretary says "I'll take her back to California, and she'll go on making movies because that's all she knows to do, and whatever happens after that happens."
Chayefsky has got away from his New York characters we saw in "Marty" and "The Bachelor Party."
He is still obsessed with the current and overdone theme of modern American plays and films; that of the necessity of loving and being loved, and of the emotional conflict between parent and child.
This theme has been done to death by much better writers as Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and William Inge. But he is a much less theatrical writer than these three and he has no dramatic deaths, suicides, or rapes.
He is less flamboyant, yet he has a few [unclear: mannerisms] that are becoming a little monotonous. He has become over fond of semi-poetical monologues, such as the existentialists in "The Bachelor Party" and the first husband's long monologue in "The Goddess" on how it is to be lonely and to attempt suicide three or four times.
It seems to me to be an easy way of giving the audience the details of the character, without bothering to bring it out in the flow of the drama. One can get away with it on the stage or television (from which Chayefsky has developed), but in a film it is far too static.
There are numerous scenes which are beautifully written, particularly the scenes in the hotel with the second husband, and it is in these scenes that Chayefsky is at his best. The dialogue is taut and not repetitive (another of his mannerisms) and the two characters are more clearly realised than in any other part of the film. Rita desperately looking for love and slowly getting bored with her husband are a triumph for both the author and Kim Stanley. But despite her performance the film belongs to Chayefsky.
It is a writer's film and on the whole it is a compelling and interesting one. How many films do you see because so-and-so wrote it, and not because X directed or be-Y is starring in it? Chayefsky is an author to watch.—L.A.