Back Street is a 1961 film made by Universal Pictures, directed by David Miller, and produced by Ross Hunter. The screenplay was written by William Ludwig and Eleanore Griffin based on the novel by Fannie Hurst. The music score is by Frank Skinner. The film stars Susan Hayward, John Gavin and Vera Miles.
The story follows two lovers who have limited opportunities to get together because one of them is married.
Hedda Hopper claims Hunter was considering Gregory Peck and William Holden for the lead until she suggested John Gavin.
It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design, Color (Jean Louis). Unlike the previous film versions, this one gives Susan Hayward plenty of opportunity to appear in Jean Louis’s spectacular gowns. This was a trademark of Ross Hunter’s remakes of older “weepies”; he employed the same method in Lana Turner’s versions of Imitation of Life and Madame X.
Of all three screen versions of Back Street, this 1961 production took the most dramatic license with the novel. It is different from both the 1932 and 1941 screen versions in many ways – changing the names of several characters and updating the story to what was then the present day. Good examples of how the plotline was sensationalized in this third version are the attempted suicide and the fatal car crash.
Wealthy department-store heir Paul Saxon has a romantic fling with a Nebraska dress-shop owner, Rae Smith, who breaks it off when she discovers he is married.
Rae moves to New York to become a fashion designer, then on to Rome to become the famed Dalian’s partner in a salon. Paul continues to woo her, explaining that his alcoholic wife Liz won’t grant him a divorce and is unstable, having tried to commit suicide.
Her resistance lowered, Rae becomes the lover of Paul, meeting secretly with him at a house near Paris that he buys. Paul’s son learns of the affair and demands that Rae stop seeing his father. Liz makes a public scene humiliating Rae at a charity fashion show featuring her designs. purchasing the closing creation, a wedding gown, for $10,000.
As a drunken Liz leaves the house to attend a party. Paul confronts her. He gets into the car with her, and as the two argue they fight over the keys in the ignition. The car crashes instantly killing Liz and leaving Paul critically paralyzed in the hospital. Paul dies from his injuries, but not before insisting his son call Rae so he can tell her he loves her. Rae, Paul Jr. and his sister Caroline are left alone with their grief.