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Monday, May 27, 2013

'Sincerely Yours:' Liberace In Front of the Closet Door

Sincerely YoursLee Liberace with Joanne Dru and Dorothy Malone in
This review of Warner Archive's recently released DVD of the 1955 film "Sincerely Yours" is the first of two Liberace-themed reviews this week. Wednesday's post will be a review of the HBO docudrama "Behind the Candelabra," which premiered last night.

The spoiler alert is that the wonderfully campy "Candelabra" is a terrifically dark version of "Boogie Nights," complete with heavy cocaine use and delusions of grandeur.

Liberace's role in "Sincerely" is that of a wildly popular pianist who is a highly accurate fictional version of the real Liberace. As the product description on the DVD states, his repertoire in the film ranges from Chopin to "Chopsticks." Both that film and "Candelabra" include segments in which Mr. Showmanship plays an audience-participation version of a boogie-woogie song.

Liberace's character Anthony Warrin is at the top of his career when the film starts. He sells out large venues, is regularly recognized when he is out in public, and is also courted to play a concert at Carnegie Hall.  Warrin's enthusiastic confidence that he can appeal both to the general populace and the high brows who only like classical music truly is delightful.

An early scene in which Warrin playfully gets an older woman in the audience into the act is textbook charming and illustrates Liberace's appeal among the Geritol (Google it millenials) set. One can easily imagine the Golden Girls attending a Warrin concert and having him nicely tease innocent Rose Nyland in the same manner as the woman, who looked like she was ready to faint from excitement, in the film.

Warrin is also having a great time with his adoring secretary Marion, played by Joanne Dru, and his live-in and equally adoring personal assistant Sam, played by William Demarest. Other reviewers have commented on the similarities between Sam and Matt Damon's much less chaste character Scott in "Candelabra." The Uncle Charley (Google it millenials) that Demarest's character inspired are not fit for this relatively family-friendly site.

The trauma that propels much of the action in "Sincerely" comes in the form of Warrin experiencing career-threatening deafness early in the film. Rather than releasing an album entitled "Going Deaf for a Living," ala Fischer Z (Google it millenials), Warrin retreats from the limelight and sequesters himself in the fabulous Manhattan apartment that he and Sam share.

Warrin soon turns his attention to helping strangers who he observes from his balcony. A very nice "Mildred Pierce" segment has Warrin helping the middle-class mother of a woman who had married into society fully re-enter her daughter's life. This quest involves a hilarious and spirit-raising segment in which Warrin serves as a very expensive human jukebox at a charity event.

Other drama consists of Warrin's romance with Linda, played by Dorothy Malone, who Warrin meets in a very cute way while he is in San Francisco for a high-profile gig. The deafness complicates this relationship, which in turn complicates Warrin's relationship with Marion. This aspect of the film would have made a great plot for a "very special" two-part episode of "The Love Boat."

One awesomely nice thing about "Sincerely" that helps make it "unreal" is that it is an entertainingly hookey story even aside from what modern audiences know generally about Liberace's sexuality and specifically about the relationship behind "Behind the Candelabra." It truly is a feel-good film.

Anyone with questions regarding "Sincerely Yours," "Behind the Candelabra," or are curious regarding the R-rated riffing that both films inspired is welcome to email me.