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Minnelli May - The Cobweb (1955)

Directed by: Vincente Minnelli
Starring: Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Charles Boyer, Gloria Grahame, Lillian Gish, Fay Wray, Oscar Levant, John Kerr, Susan Strasberg

The issue of new drapes stirs up tension in a psychiatric clinic.

Minnelli managed to assemble an all star cast for such a strange concept. On paper it would seem like the plot of a screwball comedy but the movie is played completely straight, and is all the worse for it. You'll be screaming at the characters to lighten up. None of them are particularly likable, neither inmates or administrators. You would think someone with as much experience of clinics as Minnelli had, thanks to his estranged wife, would give us more of an insight. 
The patients just aren't convincing enough and are reduced to big name extras. The administrative staff are given cliched storylines to follow. If there are any central characters it's Widmark and Grahame, a bickering married couple. Bacall is completely wasted in a throwaway role as a chain-smoking activities director. Levant is perfectly cast as an inmate but doesn't get enough screen time to exploit his melancholy persona.
Perhaps the movie would have fared better had it been made twenty years later. With it's sprawling cast it resembles the films of Altman but Minnelli couldn't call on the technology that allowed Altman his famous overlapping dialogue. Considering the subject matter the movie is far too sane. A seventies version would have allowed a lot more freedom to explore the issues.
At one point, young inmates Kerr and Strasberg leave the clinic for a night at the cinema. A metaphor perhaps for Minnelli's plunging himself into his work to escape the grim reality of life with Judy?
There have been some great movies set on psychiatric wards, "One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest", "Shock Corridor", but I wouldn't bother booking yourself in for treatment here.
5/10