Warner Archive Collection; DVD, $21.99; not rated
No candelabra are in sight in “Sincerely Yours,” Warner Bros.’ 1955 attempt to transfer the immense popularity of Liberace’s syndicated television show to the movies, but most of the great showman’s other attributes are on entertaining display in a new wide-screen edition of the film from the Warner Archive Collection.
Skillfully directed by the versatile Gordon Douglas (“Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” “Them!”), “Sincerely Yours” approaches the task of capturing its star’s distinctive appeal with genuine thoughtfulness.
As adapted, by the future best-selling novelist Irving Wallace, from a 1914 melodrama famously filmed in 1932 as “The Man Who Played God,” the film casts Liberace as a slightly more grandiose version of himself: a hugely successful classical pianist with a common touch, who passes from florid renditions of Chopin to “Chopsticks,” boogie-woogie and “The Beer Barrel Polka.”
Douglas’ direction gives particular emphasis to what was certainly Liberace’s greatest talent, his gift for establishing a personal relationship with his public.
In one scene set in a nightclub, he invites a table of middle-aged women (representatives of the homemaker demographic that supported his daytime television show) to reach out and actually touch him. “A little higher, honey,” he roguishly suggests, pointing to his knee. “About here is where I get the message.”
The film goes through the motions of setting up a rivalry between two women for the star’s affections, with the brunette Joanne Dru as his sensible, motherly secretary and the blond bombshell Dorothy Malone as the society dame who wants to be his student (it was this role, in the 1932 film, that made a star of Bette Davis). But the issue of Liberace’s conspicuously ambiguous sexuality is quickly and cleverly elided by projecting his character into a supernatural realm, beyond the reach of mere human relationships.
Struck deaf by an exotic movie disease, Liberace’s Anthony Warrin withdraws from the world to hide in his palatial Manhattan penthouse. He fills his empty hours by peering through binoculars at the little people in Central Park, eavesdropping on their problems through his newly developed gifts as a lip reader. When appropriate, he intervenes – an example of the celebrity as a magical figure, able to confer health, wealth and happiness on everyday mortals.
One plot strand effectively co-opts the concept of “Queen for a Day,” a popular radio show that would become one of Liberace’s rivals for the afternoon homemaker audience when it moved to national television in 1956. When he sees a working-class woman (Lurene Tuttle) being shunned by her daughter, who has married into money, Warrin arranges an elaborate scheme – involving, of course, a complete makeover and a new ball gown – to present the long-suffering woman to the in-laws she has never met in the most flattering light possible.
He’s God with an account at Bergdorf’s.
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