(1972)3.5Craig ButlerTransferring Clifford Odets from stage to screen can be a tricky business. Although he certainly was capable of writing for the screen (Sweet Smell of Success, for example), at heart, Odets remained rooted in the theater. There's a tartness and a tang to his dialogue, part of it realistically reflecting language as spoken by New Yorkers in the 1930s and '40s, but another part heightened to achieve a dramatic effect on-stage. Translated onto the big screen, this can come across as artificial -- sometimes excessively so. Fortunately, this fine adaptation avoids this pitfall, mostly by filming the play as a play rather than by trying to create the illusion of "reality" for which most stage adaptations aim. Framed in this theatrical setting, the words and characters have room to breathe and soar, resulting in an entire production with vigor and electricity despite its downcast subject matter. Many of the play's machinations are dated, to be sure, but they are handled with such assurance by this expert cast that most will be willing to overlook this. Top-billed Walter Matthau is excellent, turning in a lively, but well modulated, performance that doesn't let his star power overshadow his fellow players; Ruth Storey is chilling as the manipulating mother who justifies her heartlessness and grasping as being for the good of the family; and Leo Fuchs is masterful in a performance abounding in nuance. Robert Lipton is a bit forced, but his character is the most difficult to pull off well, and his flaws are compensated for by Martin Ritt's excellent, sleazy Morty. A devastating portrait of a family obsessed with denial, Awake and Sing! is powerful and moving.