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At the start of WWII, Katie O'Hara, an American burlesque girl intent on social climbing, marries Austrian Baron Von Luber. Pat O'Toole, an American radio reporter, sees this as a chance to investigate Von Luber, who is suspected of having Nazi ties. As country after country falls to the Nazis, O'Tool follows O'Hara across Europe. At first he is after a story, but he gradually falls in love with her. When she learns that her husband is indeed a Nazi, O'Hara fakes her death and runs off with O'Toole. In Paris, she is recruited to spy for the allies; he uses a radio broadcast to make Von Luber and the Nazis look like fools. Written by
John Oswalt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Leo McCarey helms this 1942 lark, whose moods and genre conventions---saccharine romance, espionage adventure, screwball farce and war-time propaganda---swing to and fro so regularly that it's difficult to be bored even when the tipping scales of narrative contrivance become somewhat stressful at times. It's soapboxy-er than its early blitheness suggests, and at one point, the customary lead comic duo is mistaken for Jews and have a close shave with quite a grim fate. At times, because of the nonsensicality of the wildly contrived plot, the brashness of swastika hands on clocks and downer developments initially feel mislaid before they're consistently salvaged by a highly competent group of surprisingly naturalistic and genuinely funny performers, but meets its challenges admirably when it matters.
Vienna, 1938. Ginger Rogers plays Katie O'Hara, a Brooklyn dancer who's flown off to marry the rich and high-ranking Austrian Baron Von Luber, a Nazi VIP on the sly, for status and prosperity. Chin dimple extraordinaire Cary Grant plays hyper-transatlantic correspondent Pat O'Toole, who receives a job as a radio commentator to obtain a rare interview with the impending baroness to expose the Baron as a Nazi undercover. The Baron is played by Walter Slezak, that indelible character actor who managed to get pigeonholed as cunning Nazis. You may recognize him from Hitchcock's Lifeboat. Pat's not deterred by Katie's unwillingness to be questioned, and manages to meet her posing as a tailor.
Obviously, the reporter becomes smitten with Katie and frantically attempts to disabuse her regarding her fiancée. A turning point slams into this happy-go-lucky buffoonery when Hitler takes Austria, and Katie begins to learn the truth about her new husband's dealings. The two brash Yankees team up and go on the lam through Norway, Holland and Belgium before sudden sabotage missions are sprung on them and create grave dramatic tension. "This is the sort of thing that can make a man a Republican!" he huffs.
I had my doubts about Ginger Rogers. Not having seen many of her best known films such as those with Fred Astaire, I thought she may prove yet another example of how incomparable Irene Dunne was alongside Archie boy. About forty minutes into Once Upon a Honeymoon, I was firmly disabused of my presumptions. She has an inborn knack for being natural in a way that even transcends the stagy tenets of the Golden Age, saying a lot without saying much, and saying something different with her face than what she's saying with her mouth. I can't say this excuses the inanity of Archie earlier on managing to trick her so effortlessly into thinking straight vodka is a glass of water, but overall, she's not an uncomplicated Dumb Blonde Type present only to hang off Cary Grant's shoulder. McCarey takes the time to photograph her surprisingly emotive disillusionment about the state of affairs around her.
I'm frankly willing to forego any criticisms or dismissals of any moments that border on cornball or lugubrious purely for reward of the scene where O'Toole and Von Luber finally happen upon one another and have a man-to-man sit-down. It's one of those delicately cool scenes where two characters hold their cards firmly against their vests, but say just enough and share just enough sidelong glances to be satisfied of the other's hand. It's an exciting scene that raises the stakes and ratchets up the tension in a subdued, completely unexpected way. In fact, McCarey and his cast are so graceful that it only falls apart when it finally reaches the bungled ending, which I suppose is what happens when you try to balance propaganda and slick storytelling. Regardless, though quite the opposite of cynical or acerbic, it has a streak of the spunk and cunning of a Billy Wilder film, or the "shpontanuity," as one of the Baron's comrades suggests.
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