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Film / This Property Is Condemned

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This Property Is Condemned is a 1966 drama film directed by Sydney Pollack, based upon a one-act play by Tennessee Williams.

The setting is the fictional town of Dodson, Mississippi, in the early 1930s, during The Great Depression. It is a run-down railroad town and the Starr family operates a run-down boarding house in the town. The main attraction at the boarding house is extremely good-looking young Alva Starr (Natalie Wood). Alva's selfish, scheming mother Hazel (Kate Reid) is acutely aware of this, and in fact is encouraging Alva to pay attention to Mr. Johnson, the richest of the boarders, in hopes that he will "take care" of them.

Into town comes one Owen Legate (Robert Redford). It turns out that Owen is from the railroad and he's there to perform an unpleasant task: to lay off the bulk of the railroad's employees at the station. This makes him extremely unpopular in the town, but Alva, who is aware of her mother's hopes to pimp her out and who desperately yearns to escape Dodson, looks to Owen as her way out.

An up-and-coming Francis Ford Coppola co-wrote the screenplay. Charles Bronson plays J.J., a smith for the railroad who is nominally Hazel's boyfriend but really has eyes for Alva. Mary Badham (Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird) plays Alva's younger sister Willie. And Robert Blake and Dabney Coleman turn up in minor supporting roles.


  • Adaptation Expansion: The original source material is a one-act play consisting of Willie telling a story about her late sister to another boy in town. The film's screenplay incorporates the play into the framing sequences and adds a dramatization of Willie's story.
  • Compensated Dating: Basically what Hazel is forcing her daughter to do, to spend time with Mr. Johnson in return for favors (she gets a gold bracelet). How far Hazel is willing to go to pimp her daughter out is undetermined.
  • Downer Ending: Owen and Alva break up after he finds out she married J.J., and she then dies of tuberculosis. Hazel runs off with some man, abandoning her daughter Willie, who's now apparently an urchin squatting in the abandoned, decaying boarding house. And Dodson seems well on the path from Dying Town to Ghost Town.
  • Dying Town: Dodson already was clearly not doing well, with a series of dilapidated storefronts and a grungy boarding house, but Owen delivers the death blow when he announces a whole lot of layoffs at the railroad station.
  • Flyaway Shot: The film ends with the camera flying up and far away as Willie walks on the train tracks below.
  • Food Slap: When Lin the raging asshole is manhandling little Willie, Owen smacks him in the face with an ice cream cone.
  • Framing Device: The entire film is a flashback, told by Willie to a boy of the town.
  • Full-Name Ultimatum: Alva does this when Willie asks a too personal question.
    Willie: Alva, how many times have you done it?
    Alva: Willie Starr!
  • Gray Rain of Depression: Owen and Alva part forever when she runs out into a driving rain, weeping, after her awful mother tells Owen that she's already married.
  • Hangover Sensitivity: Willie, who is 12 or so, says she feels terrible because she drank a whole beer at the party the night before. (She's pretending.)
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Alva gasps for air and then tells Owen that "Sometimes I have trouble catching my breath." Sure enough, she dies of some lung ailment, presumably TB.
  • Inhuman Resources: The "hatchet man" variety. This is specifically Owen's job. Unlike many portrayals, however, he obviously feels guilty about it.
  • Lingerie Scene: Multiple scenes with Alva in nothing but a slip, including when she's fashioning a dress to go out with Mr. Johnson.
  • Mathematician's Answer: One of the railroad people, guilt-tripping Owen about laying people off, says "How do you sleep?", and Owen answers "On my stomach."
  • Ms. Fanservice: This movie gets as much mileage as 1966 would allow out of Natalie Wood. Stocking Filler, Skinnydipping, Sexy Soaked Shirt, multiple Lingerie Scenes, and a lot of cleavage-baring dresses.
  • My Beloved Smother: To say Alva's mother, Hazel, is excessively controlling would be to state the obvious. Moreover, the fact she mostly sees her daughter as a marketable item to exploit for financial gain and would go to any means to keep things that way pushes her into Evil Matriarch territory by the film's end.
  • "Pan from the Sky" Beginning: The camera pans down from a kite in the sky to find Willie walking along the railroad tracks, wearing one of her sister's old dresses.
  • Sexy Soaked Shirt: Naturally Alva puts her dress back on after skinnydipping, which is why it's plastered to her when she barges into Owen's room to confront him.
  • Sexy Sweater Girl: Alva is dressed in the tight sweater and bullet bra combo for the climactic scene in which she breaks up with Owen.
  • Shout-Out: Owen and Alva go to see One Way Passage, and he makes fun of her for crying at the Tearjerker.
  • Shower Scene: More Natalie Wood fanservice, as Alva is taking a shower when an angry Owen barges in, he having heard about her supposedly going to Memphis as The Mistress to Mr. Johnson.
  • Skinnydipping: Something the townsfolk do on a regular basis, it seems, as Alva's cry of "Let's go skinnydipping!" causes everyone at the boardinghouse except for Owen to run to the creek and dive in. Alva kisses J.J. there but then pushes him away.
  • Stocking Filler: In one Fanservice scene Alva peels off her stockings after the party.
  • Title Drop: Willie reads the "This Property Is Condemned" sign that is posted on the front of the boarding house.
  • Tomboyish Name: Alva's little sister Willie. Her parents wanted a boy.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Yes, more fanservice from Natalie Wood, as Alva changes into a dress while her mother demands that she whore herself out to Mr. Johnson.