|Index||8 reviews in total|
The title of this comment is not reflective of this movie, a witty and
expertly-handled farce; a shiny, energetic bit of bric-a-brac
representing a memento of what we'll look back on one day as the high
point of American popular entertainment (if not American civilization -
once so down-to-earth, and disarmingly unpretentious). Rather, it
refers to the sad reality of what the powers that be are allowing to
befall the pre-1950 Paramount back catalog, as vital a part of American
cultural history as any you'd care to name. Whether it's Sony, or
Universal, or Vivendi into whose corporate clutches the rights have now
fallen, I've frankly lost track of - it's one of them, though (and
maybe all three).
Point blank: these films are not being cared for, let alone properly restored. You see it time and again with vintage Paramount films - if it's a famous title they're sure they can make money on (like DOUBLE INDEMNITY, say, or the ROAD comedies or Sturges classics) the print looks and sounds pristine; but these days - if it's one of the hundreds of less-well-remembered Paramounts - invariably the picture is bleached and indistinct, the sound deteriorated, and the entire experience of watching the film deeply compromised. There's no other word for it than "disgraceful" (particularly as it's been Sony/Universal/Vivendi who've been keeping these films OUT of circulation for decades now, resulting in their less-well-remembered status in the first place!) if for no other reason that it robs us, and future generations, of the joy of REdiscovery that's such a rewarding aspect of watching vintage Hollywood films; of seeing, and appreciating, aspects and nuances that its contemporary audience perhaps missed, or weren't even looking for, the first time around.
I'm possibly making a mountain out of a molehill here, and particularly in TAKE A LETTER's case, as the picture is soft but certainly still watchable, though the crispness and contrast of the original image isn't there. (The the cast-listing after the picture ends, however, is so washed out it's utterly illegible. You can barely make out a single name.) And compared to the unmitigated audio-video horror that is now SWING HIGH, SWING LOW (another Fred MacMurray Paramount comedy, screened by TCM a few weeks ago), TAKE A LETTER is flawless by comparison. But it bothers me no end that seemingly nothing is being done to restore, to save, these movies. Paramount wasn't PRC or Monogram, for God's sake: their roster of pre-1950 features are easily the equal of Warners, MGM....any of the other majors. How is it possible that a billion-dollar entertainment conglomerate, even though it's one unconnected to the making of these pictures, can show such casual contempt for film history? "Lost" films are one thing; this is more like watching them being abandoned. Maybe an old-fashioned write-in campaign is called for.
'Take a Letter, Darling' has both great actors (Fred MacMurray, Rosalind Russell) and a fun, timeless plot [this film could easily be applied to the here-and-now]. It relates a touchingly humorous story of love and jealousy and is a tribute to the romantic notion that true love never runs smooth. Elegantly done and a pleasure to watch.
Very good love comedy film that will satisfy any fan of the genre who understands 1940's lifestyle.One of Rosalind Russell's best movies.McMurray was in his full glory prime here.Nothing spectacular here,just good old love comed fare done with some degree of pride.....
1942's "Take a Letter, Darling" is a fun look at life in the '40s, and
no one could play a career woman like Rosalind Russell. Tough,
intelligent, sophisticated and glamorous, she fits easily into a man's
world. In this film, directed by Mitchell Leisen, A.M. MacGregor
(Russell) is the active partner in an advertising firm with Atwood
(Robert Benchley), but she has both man and woman trouble. Men make
passes and wives are jealous. To get around this, she hires a male
secretary, Tom Verney (MacMurray) who in reality is an artist trying to
save money to move to Mexico and paint. He takes notes, does research
for her and, most importantly, poses as her fiancé at business dinners.
Verney is wary of the job from the beginning and plays along reluctantly. When A.M. learns the often-married Jonathan Caldwell (MacDonald Carey) is looking for a new advertising company for his tobacco company, she also learns he hates women. She maneuvers a meeting but learns that his sister (Constance Moore) has to approve the campaign. Enter Verney - but when the sister turns out to be young, beautiful, and invites Verney to the southern plantation - A.M. finds she's jealous.
Good movie, good fun, terrific cast, if somewhat predictable.
ROSALIND RUSSELL and FRED MacMURRAY have seldom had their flair for
light comedy seen to better advantage than in TAKE A LETTER, DARLING in
which the battle of the sexes involves Russell's career woman falling
in love with her male secretary--really more of a personal assistant
here and one she hires to make deals with clients and their wives.
MacMurray comes to resent the position he's placed in and there's some genuine wit and satisfactory situations resulting when Russell uses him to make her various deals. Predictably, she falls in love with him and it takes the whole story for the two to finally meet on common ground after a series of misunderstandings and plot complications involving MACDONALD CAREY and CONSTANCE MOORE as a brother and sister team who are both schemers who can match Russell any day.
It's all very brisk, very '40s style in the way the situations are resolved. ROBERT BENCHLEY has a more subdued role than usual in comic support.
But the chemistry between MacMurray and Russell is what keeps the whole thing bubbling along to a predictable enough conclusion.
MACDONALD CAREY has one of his better roles as "the other man" who has already had four wives and decides Russell should be his fifth.
Summing up: Amusing and well worth your time with a clever script by Claude Binyon.
I've never seen MacMurrary of Russell give more nuanced performances than in this screwball comedy about a successful woman executive who hires a male secretary to appear conventional on social outings. What is completely surprising is the outcome isn't one that consigns either character to a rigid, gender-defined role. Sly wit and great performances throughout, albeit marred by unfortunate racial stereotypes of the time.
It's too bad that director Mitchell Leisen wasn't working today and
making Take A Letter Darling. If he did there would be a whole lot more
explicit gender bending in this one.
Not that this film isn't good. In fact it's witty and bright and shows Rosalind Russell at her best. In her autobiography Russell describes this film as the first in her career woman roles. I'm supposing she isn't counting His Girl Friday, I guess Russell thought that Hildy Johnson had a job as a reporter as opposed to a career. After all she was trying all through the film to get away on her elopement and honeymoon with Ralph Bellamy.
But in Take A Letter Darling, Russell is a partner with Robert Benchley in an advertising agency. She can't keep a secretary and for good reason, she's got some specific night work requirements for a secretary and she demands the male gender as requirement number one.
In the gay world that Mitchell Leisen was part of, it's called hiring a beard. So many did it back in the day when the closet ruled. Many of the gay stars were always paired with public female dates lest there be any whispers about their sexuality. I'm sure it was the same in the business world.
Russell hires free spirited artist Fred MacMurray to squire her around and keep jealous wives at bay and to deter husbands from getting any ideas about some after office frolicking. In fact she sends MacMurray out to a favorite men's shop of hers where she gets him outfitted the same way Gloria Swanson took care of William Holden in Sunset Boulevard.
In real life Russell would have hired a gay man for her purposes, but since the mere mention of gay was out of the question, the heterosexist MacMurray is hired. They double team husband and wife George Reed and Margaret Hayes to land one account.
But an even bigger challenge presents itself with brother and sister tobacco heirs, Macdonald Carey and Constance Moore. Carey's been married four times already and Moore is a mint julep sucking southern belle who looks at MacMurray like a Virginia ham.
Take A Letter Darling holds up very well today although a knowledge of the mores of the times would certainly help younger viewers. This is definitely a film that could stand a remake, a more honest and explicit film about the practice of bearding.
The first half-hour sparkles. Tom (Mac Murray) is hired as a male
secretary to what turns out to be a female (Russell) advertising
executive. Worse, A.M. (that's her name) insists the tall good-looking
secretary act as her beck-and-call escort. Remember, those were the
days of strictly defined gender roles that were being transgressed by
the arrangement. Hence, it's a setup with all sorts of entertaining
complications. Meanwhile, Tom sees his masculinity slipping away,
playing second-fiddle to a woman even if she is a generous paymaster.
Those early scenes crackle with amusing by-play and are beautifully
performed by two of Hollywood's best. I just wish the versatile Mac
Murray had gotten the recognition his talent deserves.
However, once the focus shifts to complications with the Caldwells (Carey & Moore), the movie settles into more familiar and less sparkling terrain. Nonetheless, the results remain a fine example of studio craftsmanship from the '40's. Screenwriter Binyon, for example, was renowned for the wit and satirical abilities that show up here, while director Leisen certainly had the right touch for the frothy material. Note, for example, how many of his scenes don't end with a conventional cut-away from cast principals. Instead, Leisen ends the nightclub scene with two extras engaged in some card-playing business, or the scene that ends with a bellhop extra walking a dog up the hallway. These are colorful touches from a director who obviously cares.
Anyway, in my book, the movie's an imaginative little comedy from the studio that certainly knew how to do them, Paramount.
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