Back Street (1961)



Based on the 1931 novel by the late, great Fannie Hurst, Back Street is a tragic film about the relationship between a man and his mistress. There are two other versions of this film that I have yet to see, but it’s only a matter of time until I get to the 1932 and 1941 Back Streets. I doubt that they will be able to top the decadent set designs and costumes from renowned designer Jean Louis, but I’m sure each film has an interesting take on this legendary love story.

Rae Smith (Susan Hayward) and Paul Saxon (John Gavin) meet by chance as Saxon is passing through Nebraska on military business, and they fall in love almost instantly. The problem is that Saxon is a married man. Once Smith finds out that he is married, she cuts him off and moves from Nebraska to New York as a form of therapy. She ends up running into him in New York after she has established a career in the fashion design industry. She rejects him once again and shortly thereafter earns an opportunity to move to Rome in order to expand her business. She immediately accepts, mostly because she wants to dismiss all chances of running into Saxon again. Guess whom she runs into in Rome? I swear he’s got some sort of tracking device on her. Once she runs into him, along with his entire family in Rome, she decides to just give in to the affair of her dreams. Of course, this doesn’t last for long and everything starts to fall apart as expected.

What I love most about this film is its ability to keep such a raunchy situation so classy. Their love just feels so authentic, mostly thanks to Hayward. I’m a pretty big fan of John Gavin, but this definitely wasn’t his best performance. He was just this sort of strange statue hanging around the set majority of the time (a very handsome statue at that). However, Hayward was, as always, astounding. Thankfully, the film focused more on her character than Gavin’s. Back Street is a film I watched years ago that I’ve kept on the back burner, but after watching it again recently it’s slowly becoming one of my favorite classics.

-Britnee Lombas

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