Saturday Showtime: Shirley Booth & Burt Lancaster in ‘Come Back, Little Sheba

It’s barely dawn. Doc Delaney’s brutality enters the room before he does. Lola is roused from her sleep on the sofa, still wearing the printed dress that she’d cheerfully worn the night before, when her husband disappeared and left her to put on her little dinner party alone. When Lola hears Doc enter, she is startled awake, and goes to him. He sneers at her, filled with disgust –

DOC: Where’s the paper. I wanna see the morning paper.

LOLA: We don’t get any morning paper, Doc. You know that –

DOC:  Then I suppose I’m drunk or something. Is that what you’re tryin’ to say?

LOLA: Oh, no, Doc. 

DOC: (demanding) Then get me the morning paper.

~     ~     ~     ~

Lola asks Doc where he’s been, and why did he miss the special dinner she made for Marie and her fiance – but Doc goes on a rampage about the young girl –

DOC: I suppose you peeked in the keyhole and applauded it. Like you did with Marie and Turk.

LOLA:  Aw, Daddy, don’t say things like that. He’s a nice boy, Daddy. They’re going to be married

DOC: (reminiscing) – probably has to marry her – jus’ ’cause she’s pretty an’ he got amorous one day. Just like I had to marry YOU! (lurching towards her) You and Marie are a couple of sluts. Whadda’ya good for? You can’t even get up in the morning and cook my breakfast.

Doc paces the room, leering at the scented light bulbs in the parlor, the flowers on the dining table. Then snatches up a small china plate –

DOC (continued):  The china…gold rimmed china my mother gave us. My mother didn’t buy these dishes for sluts to eat off!

Doc violently yanks at the table cover, throwing the dishes and flowers across the floor. He turns his rage back at Lola.

DOC (cont’d):  Now get me a drink.

LOLA: No, Daddy, No Daddy please don’t – Doc, you know what it does to you –

DOC:  (belligerently mimicking Lola) ‘You know what it does to me’ – Makes me wanna come home and look at you! YOU!

Doc pours himself a stiff shot from the new bottle he hid in the cupboard to replace the one he just drank down –

DOC (cont’d) I’m gonna have another. And another and another – GET AWAY FROM THAT PHONE!

LOLA (into phone) Ed, hurry! He’s drinking again –

DOC: Tell the whole world I’m drunk! Scream your head off you fat slut!

LOLA (screams into phone): Ed! He’s got a knife!

DOC: Go ‘head, holler! Holler so the neighbors will think I’m beatin’ ya!

Doc raises the knife to plunge into Lola, but loses his grip on it. It scuttles across the floor. He grabs her neck and begins choking her –

~     ~     ~          

This is the role for which Shirley Booth won the 1952 Academy Award. Also starring Burt Lancaster as the recovering alcoholic ‘Doc’ Delaney, a tormented man, and a cold-hearted husband, who had dropped out of medical school earlier in life, to marry Lola (Booth) when she became pregnant. The baby died, we learn, which also resulted in Lola becoming unable to have any further children. This led to Doc’s increased drinking and misery. Bouts of anger and violence eventually lead to Alcoholics Anonymous for him, and the past year of sobriety. But there is still one bottle of liquor stashed away in the kitchen cupboard, for company…

The past is seemingly thrown in his face when Marie, a young college girl, moves into their home, renting a spare room. She begins seeing Turk, a conceited, muscular blonde-haired athlete and track star – even though she  has become engaged to Bruce, who is working out-of-town.  Doc, who barely listens to his own lonely wife, becomes obsessed with the college girls infidelity to her fiancé. He fears she will become pregnant, and be forced to marry the wrong guy – just as he seems to think he married the wrong woman…

Late one night, when he sees Turk come in through the girls bedroom window (to unlock the front door for her) he again is enraged. By the next evening, when her fiance’ is expected to be coming for dinner, his anger his hit such a pitched fever of rage, that he goes to find his bottle of liquor, hides it in his coat and leaves the house. He spends the night away, drinking until dawn. Drunk and violent, he returns home, and attempts to strangle his wife. But she has already placed a call to his AA sponsors. This brutish tirade lands him in the sanitarium wing of the hospital…

And the title of the film, Come Back, Little Sheba…refers to the excruciatingly lonely Lola’s lost little dog (okay, that was seven l’s in a row – count ’em – and that’s enough alliteration for one movie review) , whom she is still hoping to find, and whom she dreams about and calls out to from her porch at night…

But I’ve already told you enough. 

SO pop yourself up a big bowl of popcorn, sprinkle it with a little hot sauce (it’s much better than it sounds!) and see the film that earned our Shirley that Oscar 😀

About misterdibbles

Mister Dibbles,Dabbling in Mid-Century memorabelia, reporting on the past, cherishing retro- everything, from the foods, entertainment, housewares, movies, clothes, hairstyles, lifestyles and old-fashioned manners.
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