Willie (Mary Badham) is gingerly walking along a railroad track, being careful not to fall off. She notices young Tom (John Provost) and calls him over, but then they both tumble down the embankment and land in a heap where they get to talking. She tells him she is wearing her sister's clothes, and this launches her into a reminiscence about her family, and how they lived in that boarding house over there, the one which is now abandoned with the sign "This Property is Condemned" on its doors. Willie's sister was Alva (Natalie Wood), a bright and funloving girl who was headed for disappointment...
Tennessee Williams wasn't too keen on this version of his one act play, probably because it bore little resemblence to the original which took the form of the two kids chatting on the railway line, whereas this film was mostly concerned with the love life of Alva told in a lengthy flashback with the conversation used as bookends to the bulk of the story. The result is that while it looks the part, it doesn't really feel like the work of its creator, and even with Francis Ford Coppola among the scriptwriters this fell somewhat flat as drama.
The main drawback is that all the characters don't come across as living, breathing people and seem more like clichés in a faux-Tennessee Williams reimagining. Natalie Wood is unquestionably the star here, and Alva's initial optimism is well portrayed in a flighty, starry-eyed performance, yet even there a contrived build up to tragedy takes away from any emotional power - this is more like a soap opera with A-list talent behind it. The other big name in the cast was Robert Redford, essaying the time honoured role of stranger in town who, as this is set during the Depression, does not surprise you when he brings bad news.
There are compensations in having two such glamorous stars in your film, because it does give you something to look at while you ponder over why nothing else is particularly captivating, and the supporting roles are filled out by the likes of Charles Bronson, not carrying a gun or punishing evildoers but in a rather dodgy part as the man who pretends to want to live with Alva's mother (Kate Reid) when he is really lusting after the daughter. Also appearing is Robert Blake who, as with all of the men, is holding out hope that Alva will fall in love with him, and To Kill a Mockingbird's Mary Badham makes a good impression, all elbows and knees and feistiness, in one of her rare appearances before she gave up the screen.
Conforming to your expectations, Alva and Redford's Owen do fall for each other, but also deeply predictably the path to true love does not run smoothly for them, and when Owen receives his inevitable beating from the menfolk it's as much as because he has won Alva's heart as it is because of the dire straits he is here to announce for all of them. Pessimism rules the day, as Alva's sparky nature at first entrances Owen and brings him out of his contrasting cynicism, only for real life woes to sabotage the couple's happiness time and again. The whole "opposites attract" notion is shown up as leading to nothing but trouble - we're talking opposites personailty-wise rather than looks-wise, patently, but in this film you cannot imagine many being satisfied for long. Alas, that includes the audience too. Music by Kenyon Hopkins.