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Count Armalia believes that the luck of birth is all that separates the rich from the poor. To test his theory, he sends Anni, who is a singer in a dive, to a ritzy resort for two weeks. With fancy new clothes and ersatz status, Anni decides that she likes the rich life. But with time running out, she needs a rich husband and Rudi is the one she chooses. Only it takes longer than two weeks for Rudi to dump his fiancée and propose to her. In the weeks that she has been there, she finds that she loves Giulio, the postman with the small house and the donkey cart. But will she give up love for wealth.... Written by
Tony Fontana <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This is a very well made film. The name Ferenc Molnar gives it credibility even though the scriptwriters probably changed everything about the great playwright's original story. It may not be "Liliom" but it has enough European styling and atmosphere - in great part due to Franz Waxman's music and some very easy on the eyes sets - that the viewer feels engaged. The cast of characters is top notch and the whole premise is intriguing. This is the kind of part Greta Garbo had done before ("As You Desire Me" anyone?) but was probably considered too old, too dignified and too un-Italian to play. In that role, the producer's first choice, Luise Rainer, would have been perfect, especially if the ending had been just a trifle more pathetic.
What we get instead is Joan Crawford of the too-long, too-scary face, of the barrel chest and short stubby arms, too-low waist, too-wide shoulders, gorilla dentition, limp hair, decidedly ungirlish attitude and trowelled-on self-confidence. But what she can do with this part is give us an equally scary transformation from vulgar to vamp (and back again) that she is so familiar with, one has to admire its sheer technical acumen. She is fascinating to watch at all times. She could do this in her sleep (and probably did) and manages to strike the right note most of the time, even though she's in the wrong film. The dialogue is remarkably literate and Crawford's performance is certainly nuanced and theatrical enough to have been believable on a stage.
The whole cast is excellent, with a special mention to Mary Philips as the maid and confidante Maria and Paul Porcasi as the irascible hotel manager. It's also touching to see Crawford emote with her husband of the time, Franchot Tone, who seems to be quietly directing her in such a way that she doesn't go overboard at least in their love scenes.
One has the feeling that the original play must have had a lot more bite and satire of the upper classes as well as more profundity than what we're getting but it's still a pretty spectacular ensemble performance all around. With that limited script, director Dorothy Arzner does everything she can to make the story believable and engrossing, to work around her megastar's familiar tricks and to add poetic grace notes that are not lost on a European public but were probably overlooked by the American audience and critics of the time. Still, with all its disparate moments of brilliance, this film begs the question: What was Molnar's play really about?
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