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Blue Sky

Director: Tony Richardson


Two fine actors give among the best performances of their careers in Blue Sky, a long on the shelf Orion picture that deserves a good shot at a theatrical life before being put out to video pasture. This 1991 production was the last film directedby Tony Richardson, and it happens to be one of the more creditable efforts of the latter part of his career. Oscar-winning Jessica Lange makes the most of an opportunity at a full blown star turn as Carly Marshall, the wife of Army scientist Hank Marshall (Tommy Lee Jones), whose irrepressible sensuality and wild spirit can’t be reined in even by the military. It is the early 1960’s and at the outset she friskily teases and tempts the local officers in Hawaii with her Brigitte Bardot get up, only to slowly move into a Marilyn Monroe phase.
When Hank, Carly and their two girls are transferred to a base in Alabama, the ‘litter box they are forced to live in sends Carly inot a deep funk. It becomes clear that the even-keeled Hank is the only person who understands Carly and can calm her down, but her violent mood swings are never the less alarming, especially to older daughter Alex (Amy Locane), who’s just entered troublesom teendom.
While Hank is forced to cope with the Amy’s gung-go nuclear test fanatics, Carly tries to integrate herself into female life on the base. But she’s a blonde bombshell at a tea party and bound to cause trouble. Sure enough, when Hank bows out of twirling her around at a big social, Carly gets carried away on the dance floor with the camp’s commanding officer, Vince Johnson (Powers Boothe), and the seeds are surely planted for future trouble.
Taking care of a life force such as Carly is clearly a full time job, so when Hank is sent to Nevada for two weeks to observe an underground nuclear test, the door is open for Vince to prey upon Carly’s obvious weakness. Unfortunately, their late night tryst is witnessed by Alex and her new beau, Vince’s son Glenn (Chris O’Donnell), and all hell breaks loose on the base.
Rama Laurie Stagner’s semi autobiographical original story pushes into rather more dubious and mukey territory from this point on. When Hank tries to reveal the fact that two cilivians were exposed to radiation during the test explosion, the Army comes down hard, committing him to a hospital for observation and threatening him with court-martial. Carly then takes matters into her own hands, suddenly becoming a crusader for full disclosure of military secrets and cover-ups and fighting to save her husband from career oblivion or worse…
Richardson, who died in 1991 shortly after completing the picture, mounted the action in a visually straightforward, unflashy manner, concentrating his attention where it counted, on the performances. The result is very much like a solid melodrama from the 1950’s, and gratifyingly so – a sharply focused piece in which a small number of characters define themselves in terms of their interaction within well-poscribed physical and social limits. The film feels like a thowback.

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