Tea and Sympathy (1956)

122 mins | Melodrama | 28 September 1956

Director:

Vincente Minnelli

Writer:

Robert Anderson

Producer:

Pandro S. Berman

Cinematographer:

John Alton

Editor:

Ferris Webster

Production Designers:

William A. Horning, Edward Carfagno

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

Tea and Sympathy was based on the play of the same name by Robert Anderson, who also wrote the screen adaptation. Lead actors Deborah Kerr, John Kerr (who is unrelated to Deborah) and Leif Erickson recreated their roles from the 1953 Broadway production of the play, for which Deborah Kerr had won the Donaldson Award for best actress of the year and a special award for the best actress in her Broadway debut, and John Kerr had won the Donaldson Award and the New York Critics Award for best actor.
       Director Vincente Minnelli’s autobiography quotes a letter from Anderson stating that the play’s themes included: “An essential manliness which…consists of gentleness, consideration…and not just of brute strength. Another point, of course, is the tendency for any mass of individuals to gang up on anyone who differs from it…Also a major point is that when a person is in terrible trouble, we have to give him more than tea and sympathy.”
       According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the play’s inclusion of homosexuality, adultery and prostitution precipitated years of debate with the Production Code Administration, which at the time prohibited depictions of adultery and any depiction or inference of “sex perversion.” After the play’s success, several studios, including Samuel Goldwyn’s company, Warner Bros., M-G-M, Twentieth Century-Fox and Columbia, approached PCA heads Joseph I. Breen and Geoffrey Shurlock about how to write a screenplay adaptation that could receive a seal. In numerous memos dated late 1953 found in the film's PCA file, Breen and Shurlock replied that the basic story was unacceptable. During a 29 Oct 1953 meeting between ... More Less

Tea and Sympathy was based on the play of the same name by Robert Anderson, who also wrote the screen adaptation. Lead actors Deborah Kerr, John Kerr (who is unrelated to Deborah) and Leif Erickson recreated their roles from the 1953 Broadway production of the play, for which Deborah Kerr had won the Donaldson Award for best actress of the year and a special award for the best actress in her Broadway debut, and John Kerr had won the Donaldson Award and the New York Critics Award for best actor.
       Director Vincente Minnelli’s autobiography quotes a letter from Anderson stating that the play’s themes included: “An essential manliness which…consists of gentleness, consideration…and not just of brute strength. Another point, of course, is the tendency for any mass of individuals to gang up on anyone who differs from it…Also a major point is that when a person is in terrible trouble, we have to give him more than tea and sympathy.”
       According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the play’s inclusion of homosexuality, adultery and prostitution precipitated years of debate with the Production Code Administration, which at the time prohibited depictions of adultery and any depiction or inference of “sex perversion.” After the play’s success, several studios, including Samuel Goldwyn’s company, Warner Bros., M-G-M, Twentieth Century-Fox and Columbia, approached PCA heads Joseph I. Breen and Geoffrey Shurlock about how to write a screenplay adaptation that could receive a seal. In numerous memos dated late 1953 found in the film's PCA file, Breen and Shurlock replied that the basic story was unacceptable. During a 29 Oct 1953 meeting between Shurlock, Goldwyn, Anderson and the play’s New York director, Elia Kazan, Anderson stated that he would not change any of the “offending” elements. In the months that followed, several revisions were suggested to Shurlock by many writers, including making “Bill Reynolds” seem threatened by “Tom Robinson Lee’s” interest in “Laura,” rather than titillated by him; adding a punishment for Tom and Laura (which Shurlock rejected, saying it martyred them); and clarifying that Tom is not homosexual but merely different from the other boys.
       DV reported on 16 Dec 1953 that Anderson was considering forming an independent company in order to produce a film version of the play without a Code seal. That version was to be directed by Kazan and be supported by The Playwrights Company, the theater group that had produced the Broadway play. That article asserted “If ‘Tea’ goes out without a Seal—as it is bound to do if done independently—the film will constitute another test of the Code and the extent to which exhibitors are willing to buck it.” Later that month, Goldwyn was quoted in a Var piece as complaining that the Code was “behind the times.” [The first major production to be released without a Code seal, The Moon Is Blue (see above), was released in Jul 1953.] In Apr 1954, NYT noted that Anderson still planned an independent production, to be filmed on the East Coast.
       M-G-M bought the film rights to the play in Jul 1954. According to a Sep 1954 DV article, Anderson was paid $100,000 for the rights and would receive another $300,000 if he provided a script that gained approval from the Code. On 28 Apr 1955, after a revised script was once again denied a Code seal, the studio appealed the decision with the MPAA. By late Aug 1955, Shurlock and staff member Jack Vizzard agreed to a page-by-page review of the script, and on 1 Sep 1955, Sherlock sent a letter to M-G-M head Dore Schary assuring him that the script, if filmed exactly as written, would meet Code standards. After a 25 Sep 1955 NYT article stated that the play’s main themes had not been significantly altered, National Catholic Legion of Decency leader Rev. Thomas F. Little sent a letter to Loew’s, Inc. asking to see the script for himself. Shurlock responded to Little that his office was dismayed by the NYT article and that Schary had “disavowed its implications.” After including Little’s suggestion that Laura’s final letter state that Tom is happily married, the film was awarded a Code seal on 20 Jul 1956, and the Legion eventually gave it a "B" rating.
       The final film version differed from the play in that it removed the suggestion that Tom or Bill held any latent homosexual tendencies and did not include a scene in which Tom swims in the nude with a gay music teacher. In addition, the film adds a flashback framing structure, in which Tom returns to a school reunion and, after reminiscing about the past, reads the letter from Laura expressing her remorse at having slept with him, an act that destroyed her marriage. The play ended with Laura's famous line, "Years from now, when you talk about this—and you will—be kind." In the film, the line ends the flashback.
       Although, as noted above, Erickson recreated the role of Bill from the Broadway production, on 31 Oct 1955, a “Rambling Reporter” item in HR stated that at that time, M-G-M wanted Burt Lancaster to play the role of Bill. An Apr 1956 HR news item listed Dick York as the film's star. According to a Jul 1956 NYHT article, the beach scene was filmed at Zuma Beach, CA.
       Upon its release, the film garnered mainly positive reviews, although the LAT review asserted that the film would disappoint fans of the play. The NYT called the film “strong and sensitive” but pronounced the letter at the end “prudish and unnecessary.” For her performance, Deborah Kerr received a BAFTA nomination for Best Actress of 1956. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
29 Sep 56
p. 28.
Box Office
6 Oct 1956.
---
Daily Variety
2 Dec 1953
p. 1, 11.
Daily Variety
16 Dec 1953.
---
Daily Variety
20 Jul 1954.
---
Daily Variety
22 Sep 1954.
---
Daily Variety
26 Sep 56
p. 3.
Film Daily
25 Sep 56
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Oct 1955
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Apr 1956
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Apr 1956
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Apr 1956
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
25 May 1956
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Sep 56
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Nov 1956
p. 6.
Life
8 Oct 1956
pp. 139-141.
Los Angeles Examiner
4 Oct 1956.
---
Los Angeles Times
4 Oct 1956.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
29 Sep 56
p. 90.
New York Herald Tribune
1 Jul 1956.
---
New York Times
4 Apr 1954.
---
New York Times
25 Sep 1955.
---
New York Times
28 Sep 56
p. 24.
Time
8 Oct 1956.
---
Variety
30 Dec 1953.
---
Variety
26 Sep 56
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Ward for Miss Kerr by
MUSIC
SOUND
MAKEUP
Hair styles
STAND INS
Singing voice double for John Kerr
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Tea and Sympathy by Robert Anderson, produced on the stage by The Playwrights Company and Mary K. Frank (New York, 30 Sep 1953).
SONGS
"The Joys of Love," composer undetermined.
DETAILS
Release Date:
28 September 1956
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 27 September 1956
Production Date:
12 April--late May 1956
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
27 August 1956
Copyright Number:
LP7203
Physical Properties:
Sound
Perspecta Sound; Westrex Recording System
Color
Metrocolor
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Duration(in mins):
122
Length(in feet):
11,236
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
18176
SYNOPSIS

At his Chilton preparatory school ten-year reunion, writer Tom Robinson Lee reminisces about his eventful year at the school: As a new student, shy and sensitive Tom acquires a romantic crush on Laura, the wife of dormitory headmaster Bill Reynolds. In the dorm garden outside her downstairs apartment, Laura draws Tom out, learning that he barely knew his mother and has never before been in love, having lived the previous decade in a series of all-male boarding schools. After Tom reveals that he hopes to escort her to Saturday night’s dance, which will follow opening night of the school play, Laura tries to teach him to dance, but Tom is too shy. Later, he follows her to the beach, where Laura sews with faculty wives Lilly Sears and Mary Williams. Although Bill and the other boys are roughhousing nearby, Tom prefers to sit with the ladies, and when some of the boys spy him helping them to sew, Tom earns the nickname “Sister Boy.” When Laura later drops by to ask Bill to plan a vacation alone with her, he berates her for allowing Tom to sew, and reveals that he has invited some students to vacation with them. Upon returning to the dorm, the boys taunt Tom, even though his roommate, Al Thompson, a star athlete, comes to his defense. On Saturday afternoon, Tom competes in a tennis match that his father Herb has come to watch. When Herb hears the boys mocking Tom, however, he leaves the match, to Tom’s dismay. Herb later tries to “help” his son by urging him to cut his hair into a fashionable crewcut and encouraging him to harass soda shop waitress ... +


At his Chilton preparatory school ten-year reunion, writer Tom Robinson Lee reminisces about his eventful year at the school: As a new student, shy and sensitive Tom acquires a romantic crush on Laura, the wife of dormitory headmaster Bill Reynolds. In the dorm garden outside her downstairs apartment, Laura draws Tom out, learning that he barely knew his mother and has never before been in love, having lived the previous decade in a series of all-male boarding schools. After Tom reveals that he hopes to escort her to Saturday night’s dance, which will follow opening night of the school play, Laura tries to teach him to dance, but Tom is too shy. Later, he follows her to the beach, where Laura sews with faculty wives Lilly Sears and Mary Williams. Although Bill and the other boys are roughhousing nearby, Tom prefers to sit with the ladies, and when some of the boys spy him helping them to sew, Tom earns the nickname “Sister Boy.” When Laura later drops by to ask Bill to plan a vacation alone with her, he berates her for allowing Tom to sew, and reveals that he has invited some students to vacation with them. Upon returning to the dorm, the boys taunt Tom, even though his roommate, Al Thompson, a star athlete, comes to his defense. On Saturday afternoon, Tom competes in a tennis match that his father Herb has come to watch. When Herb hears the boys mocking Tom, however, he leaves the match, to Tom’s dismay. Herb later tries to “help” his son by urging him to cut his hair into a fashionable crewcut and encouraging him to harass soda shop waitress Ellie Martin, as the other boys do. Later, Herb visits Bill, a friend from their Chilton days, and expresses shame that Tom is not “a regular fellow.” Laura is distressed to overhear the men’s hopes that the evening’s bonfire, at which new boys, wearing pajamas, are roughed up by older students, will make a man of Tom. When she later complains to Bill, he reveals that Tom’s outcast status is a stain on the dorm and a grievance to Herb, and that rather than becoming emotionally involved, her only role is to provide “tea and sympathy” to the boys. Laura brings up her first husband, a sensitive boy she married when they were eighteen, only to lose him the next year in the war, but the subject infuriates Bill. Upstairs, meanwhile, upon learning that Tom is to play a female in the school production, Herb forces him to decline the role. Tom is disappointed and humiliated, especially after Herb admonishes him to “fight tonight, or else.” At the bonfire, the boys march Tom out to the field, but once there, refuse to touch him, a slight more shameful than the hazing that the other boys are enduring. Unable to bear it, Al rips off Tom’s top, prompting the others to join suit. As Laura runs off in revulsion, Tom rushes back to the dorm. In her rooms later, Al confesses to Laura that his father has insisted that Al change roommates the following year, and when Laura threatens to besmirch Al’s reputation to show him how easily false rumors can start, Al responds heatedly that she has nothing to lose and so cannot understand. Realizing the truth of Al’s statement, Laura apologizes. Al then attempts to teach his friend how to appear manlier, but Tom knows that it is too late for him to gain the boys’ comradeship, and refuses the lessons. After Al reveals that he will switch dorms, however, Tom, in desperation, considers his friend’s parting advice: to visit Ellie, whose bad reputation will give credence to Tom’s heterosexuality. Soon after at their apartment, Bill tears up a book of poetry Tom has given Laura. Laura begs to know why Bill hates Tom and what has driven a wedge in their young marriage, but Bill refuses to talk to her, stating only that he does not want Laura to see Tom alone. When Laura then hears Tom making a date with Ellie, however, she tries frantically to detain the boy, inviting him into the apartment and informing him about her husband, who was killed trying to prove his bravery to disbelieving peers. Tom, assuming Laura pities him, tries to leave, prompting her to beg him to dance. Instead, Tom asks why Bill hates him and his father is ashamed of him, and breaks down in tears. When Laura holds him, Tom impulsively kisses her, but runs off when Bill and some boys return early from their weekend mountain climb. Tom sneaks off to Ellie’s, where he is awkward and repulsed by her slatternly ways. He tries to kiss her, but after he pulls away, she recalls his nickname and shouts “Sister Boy” at him. Tom breaks down, grabbing a knife from her kitchen drawer to attempt suicide. Ellie screams out to her neighbors, who call the campus police, and Tom is arrested. The next day, the campus hears the story of Tom’s humiliation, and although Herb is at first proud of his son, when he learns that Tom pulled away from Ellie, he crumples in grief. Laura, overcome with sadness and anger, tells Bill in private that she blames him for bullying Tom by imposing a rigid definition of “manliness,” and insists that real men can be gentle and considerate. She then declares that she is lonely and depressed and wishes she had helped Tom prove himself with her, after which Bill retorts that she wants to mother a boy rather than to love a man. When Laura asks why he refuses to let her love him, Bill storms off without reply. Laura looks for Tom in his room, only to discover a series of half-finished suicide notes. She searches the school grounds, finally locating him alone in the woods. There, Tom expresses his deep shame, and as Laura consoles him, her sympathy and loneliness cause her to reach out for him. As they kiss, she says, “Years from now, when you talk about this—and you will—be kind.” In the present, Tom visits Bill, who now lives alone in the dorm apartment. Bill, still cold, gives Tom a letter he found among Laura’s belongings. In the garden, Tom reads the letter she wrote to him stating that she appreciates the loving novel he wrote about their relationship, but feels that she sacrificed Bill for Tom, because the boy was easier to save than the marriage. Now sad and alone, Laura wishes Tom a full and understanding life, and assures him that, as he wrote in his book, “the wife always kept her affection for the boy.” +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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