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It was wonderful to see the stars at their peaks. Paulette Goddard, that attractive kitten, with Ray Milland at his most subtle best. They make a terrific pair and made several more films together (Reap The Wild Wind, Kitty and The Lady Has Plans) due to the chemistry of their screen partnership. This is a funny film about a gal from Texas, down on her luck, who gets a job helping out a Fortune Teller, Gladys George, and in the process falls for a well-to-do lawyer, Milland. Things, as always in screwball comedies, get mixed up but in the end girl gets guy and all live happily ever after. Enjoyed this very much. Four stars for the two stars Goddard and Milland.
Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard star in "The Crystal Ball," a 1943
comedy. Goddard plays Toni Gerard, a Texas beauty contestant who comes
to New York with no money and consults Madame Zenobia (Gladys George)
about her future. Madame Zenobia is a big fake who relies on maids and
social registers for her info. She doesn't know Toni's future, but
since Toni's a crack shot, she sends her to her friend who runs a
shooting gallery (Cecil Kellaway) who can use Toni's shooting to
attract customers. She also offers Toni a room to stay in.
Toni spots attorney Brad Cavenaugh (Ray Milland) when he escorts Jo Ainsley (Virgina Field), his client, to Madame Zenobia to ask for help finding her ring (which the maid put down the drain and then tipped off Zenobia). Toni is instantly attracted to him and pursues him in her own way. Meanwhile, the widow Ainsley is doing the same thing.
This is a silly, somewhat convoluted comedy bolstered by some delightful performances from Milland, the beautiful and effervescent Goddard, William Bendix as Cavanaugh's chauffeur, Gladys George, Cecil Kellaway, and Sig Arno, who is plagued everywhere he works by problems, thanks to Toni.
See it for the performances and for Goddard's beautiful gown toward the end of the film. What a wonderful screen presence she had.
Toni (Paulette Goddard) and Jo (Virginia Field) are both keen to pursue
Brad (Ray Milland). While Brad and Jo are already acquainted, Toni sees
her opportunity for an introduction with Brad by impersonating a
fortune-teller Madame Zenobia (Gladys George) and telling him his
fortune lies with someone else who he is about to meet who has red hair
and is eating an apple (ie, herself out of her disguise). At the same
time, she gives readings to Jo, encouraging her to go away! Its very
funny in parts and the film follows Toni's attempts to wrestle Brad
away from Jo. There is a good supporting cast including Pops (Cecil
Kellaway) and Biff (William Bendix) as Brad's chauffeur. Its a comedy
in which the women, in particular, are very funny.
My particular copy is taped from the TV and is too bright - I'm not sure if this is just how the film looks these days or if its something to do with the individual that I purchased it from. However, the quality of the film is a minor negative point. Its enjoyable, the cast are all likable and I'll be watching it again at a future date.
The Crystal Ball (1943)
Utterly fun, snappy, well written, smartly filmed, and all round entertaining. Yes. But also dependent on a plot device or two that push credulity. It's made to be a bit mad-cap, if not true screwball, and so it's easy to look the other way. If Paulette Goddard as the leading lady (ladies, in this case) is charming and friendly (and pretty, which is her main calling card to some), she is also a bit thin, and even comedies need complexity of character. Across from her is Ray Milland who has always been an odd leading man, likable and probably handsome to some, but lacking some kind of gravity or depth or charm to make him truly leading.
So this movie has it all and yet not quite all.
Goddard became famous when she got involved (literally) with Charlie Chaplin, and starred in his fabulous "Modern Times" in 1936. She was then set for all kinds of roles including comedy spots like playing opposite Bob Hope a couple times. I find her always fun, and maybe she's perfect for movies that have no pretensions, just as much as she seems to have none. Ginger Rogers was originally intended for this role in "The Crystal Ball" but the Goddard stepped in, and you can feel (maybe) the part fitting Rogers just as well or better.
Milland, a British (Welsh) actor who still hadn't found his stride in Hollywood, is almost working too hard here. At times he pours on the cheerful energy and you see his inner playfulness, but it comes off a little intentional. He isn't, maybe, actually playful on camera, always too self aware. He is, though, a decent substitute for Charles Boyer, who would have played the part with more mystery but maybe, judging from his other films of the time, less natural humor.
And then there is the story itself, a clever, marshmallow version of a Shakespearean identity switch. The main idea, that the same woman can put a veil over half her face and fool people who already know her, is one of the conceits of the movies (seen in masquerade balls most often) and I don't buy it. You won't either. Instead you have to just enjoy the idea and the fun to be had. The additional twists of an actual swindle involving the government and, briefly, a government agent is a bit much, too, but just go with the flow.
I'm being a bit critical all along because I really liked this film and found the weaknesses unfortunate. It has the bones and the great filming style of a great one. I'd watch it again, if that's some clue. William Bendix is fun, as always, and Cecil Kellaway, the man at the carnival booth, is pretty terrific.
Director Elliott Nugent is one of those workaday standard bearers who can pull a good crew together and he does well here (in the same way as he did in "The Cat and the Canary"). Cinematographer Leo Tover, though less known that some of the legends, has a whole slew of great movies to his name ("The Day the Earth Stood Still," "The Heiress," "Dead Reckoning") and he deserves a lot of the credit for holding this all together and giving it ambiance. It's the small things like this that make this film look and feel even better than it is, all told. Give it a cheerful chance. It may surprise you.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This ditzy chick (she's from a Texas hog farm) tries to fool her crush
into thinking that she resides in a swank New York City penthouse in
1943, when she actually lives in a slovenly back room on a carnival
midway-like alley. She asks her would-be conquest to just drop her off
in front of the building, but he insists on walking her to "her" door.
She picks a random fifth floor suite, but stammers a series of excuses
as to why she cannot just go inside (e.g., "I lost my key," "My aunt is
sleeping," etc.). Finally, her increasingly impatient escort tries the
door and finds it unlocked, forcing the floozy to slip quickly inside,
where she can hear a married couple arguing. Before she can slip back
out, the brassy wife "catches" her, assumes she's her husband's lover,
and rips her dress half off. The bimbo "escapes" just in time to run
into actress Mabel Paige in the hallway, walking her small pekinese
Totally hoodwinked by this half-undressed gold-digger, the New York swell sends his man back to the same penthouse the next day with a giant box of flowers for Miss Hog County. This time the husband answers the door, assumes his wife is having an affair with the sender of this floral tribute, and crushes the box on the head of the messenger. The hapless latter man emerges into the hallway, where Mabel tells him "You're very fortunate; the last one had her clothes torn right off of her!"
Upon learning about what happened to his flower delivery, the duped society man races over to the high-rise suite himself, where the ubiquitous Mabel asks him "Are you going in there?" to which he replies "Yes;" "You don't mind if I watch?" she concludes hopefully. The jealous husband again answers the door and quickly decks the swine lady's suitor with a punch to the nose. Staggering away once and for all, the ubiquitous Mabel chortles to him "Ha ha ha ha--you were the best of any of them!"
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It isn't really a "funny" comedy but rather a pleasant one, an
unbelievable story of down-and-out Paulette Goddard and the romance
that develops between her and nice-guy lawyer Ray Milland. The two
leads are both simply gorgeous. I don't care about Milland but Goddard
gets to unroll her stockings and strip down to her full slip, which
struck me as a thoroughly sensitive and poetic touch.
It's a romantic comedy with mixed identities and all that but the war seeps in around the edges. The women's hats are spectacles unto themselves.
Released in 1943, the was probably written and shot in 1942 because Mussolini is one of the targets in a shooting gallery. Mussolini stepped down in July of 1943 and Italy surrendered shortly afterward. One of the nice things about the war years -- and there were few nice things -- was that the musical vernacular blossomed. Radios played comprehensible music night and day -- tunes of love and longing, distracting ditties, and nationalistic jingles. (Bebop was in the closet smoking a reefer.)
In the first half hour of "The Crystal Ball" source music gives us "I've Got Spurs that Jingle, Jangle, Jingle," "Tangerine", and "I Remember You." If you ever feel like it, look up the lyrics to "Tangerine" sometime. They're the ne plus ultra of sophistication compared to what we can make out of today's lyrics: "I'm gonna rip off your head, Whee Whee Whee, then I'll pour a canna beer down your neck cavi-TEE." (You know, that's not bad. I wonder if I could make a living at this.)
I'm kind of skipping over the plot, because there's not much to it. Gladys George is great as a down-to-earth faux fortune teller. William Bendix is always likable, even when he's a heavy, because he can't help looking and sounding so endearingly dumb.
All in all, 1943 was a turning point in the war but the good folks back in Haddonfield never knew it. It was a long, painful slog and a lot of windows displayed small flags with gold stars on them. In 1943, being able to go to the movies on Saturday night and watch a slight, buoyant comedy like "The Crystal Ball" must have brought with it an awesome sense of respite.
Paulette Goddard and Ray Milland did several films during the Forties
enough they should qualify as a screen team. The Crystal Ball has them
as a former beauty contest winner who is down to 38 cents to her name
as she arrives in New York. She's befriended by Gladys George who is a
fortune teller and also by Cecil Kellaway who runs a shooting gallery
and she works for both at times.
Enter Ray Milland lawyer whose main client is Virginia Field, oil heiress and believer in the occult and various folks who make their living off the same. Goddard takes one look at Milland and decides he's the one.
Getting him away from Field will be a problem though. So in a series of Lucy like stunts she does everything she can to win Milland including accidentally giving him some inside information concerning his client's estate. And Field who has her hooks into Milland ain't giving up without a fight.
Always amusing and around is William Bendix playing Milland's chauffeur, butler, and general all around factotum. There isn't a movie or television show that he was in that something special wasn't added.
I think The Crystal Ball might have been a classic if someone like Mitchell Leisen or George Marshall had directed it. It's amusing enough, but lacks that classic spark.
Wealthy Manhattan widow Virginia Field (as Jo Ainsley) finds it
difficult to hold onto attractive attorney Ray Milland (as Bradford
"Brad" Cavanaugh) after pretty Paulette Goddard (as Toni Gerard)
arrives from a Texas hog town. Both women seek help from fortune
telling Gladys George (as Madame Zenobia). "The Crystal Ball" helps Ms.
Goddard make the best impression in this light but charming comedy. She
does take a bow in one of those 1940s "women's lingerie" scenes. The
film should have started with a scene establishing Goddard as the
central character, which eventually becomes the case. She receives good
support from the aforementioned, plus Cecil Kellaway (as Pop Tibbets)
and Peter Jamerson (as Leonard) at the shooting gallery. Playing Mr.
Milland's valet, William Bendix (as Biff Carter) is also fun.
****** The Crystal Ball (1/22/43) Elliott Nugent ~ Paulette Goddard, Ray Milland, Gladys George, Virginia Field
THE CRYSTAL BALL has such a hackneyed plot about a conniving woman out
to get herself a wealthy husband (in fact, two women with the same
idea), but the plot complications have serious undertones and there's
not enough witty banter to make it digestible. Audiences must have been
starving for light, fluffy nonsense like this during WWII, but despite
some funny moments it's nothing but a predictable romantic comedy.
What does help are the performances of Paulette Goddard, Ray Milland and Virginia Field as the romantic trio. Lost in the shuffle are William Bendix, Cecil Kellaway and other supporting players who have very little to do but stand around agape at the stupid plot whose ripest comic moments include a waiter who inevitably trips and falls whenever Goddard is within close range.
Paulette is a down on her heels gal with 38 cents in her pocketbook who needs help from fortune-teller Gladys George (totally wasted). When GG becomes ill, it's Paulette who is designated to take her place as the crystal ball fortune-teller who gets involved in the budding romance between rich playboy Milland and his widowed sweetheart Field.
None of it makes any sense and the situations are played for screwball comedy effect with only a couple of successful moments where the comedy is pitched to the right key. Both stars try hard, but the material is really beneath them.
However, fans of Goddard and Milland will find it easy enough to forgive the nonsensical plot and enjoy the stars at their physical peak.
Indian routine--very bad Martins in apartment! Madame Zenobia
"The Crystal Ball" is an enjoyable but flawed movie. It begins with Toni Gerard (Paulette Goddard) needing a place to stay and she is taken in my Madame Zenobia (Gladys George). Madame Zenobia is a phony fortune teller but she has a soft spot for Toni. Later, when Zenobia is hurt, Toni feels indebted and offers to cover for her--dressing up in her fortune teller garb and duping stupid people. However, at the same time, Toni notices a handsome guy, Brad (Ray Milland) and decides to use her Madame Zenobia persona to her advantage. And, throughout the film, she switches back and forth from herself to this persona--and hoping to hook Brad without his finding out she is BOTH women.
So why didn't I love the film? I guess I've never been a big Paulette Goddard fan--and her Indian bit was among the stupidest and limpest routines I've seen in a long time. It's not because her pretending to be an American Indian was offensive (which it was) but because it was done so badly!! But, on the other hand, the story was light and sweet. It also featured an incredibly funny routine that ran on for some time involving the Martins and their apartment. I don't want to say more about that--just see it and laugh at the complications that ensue from one of Toni's 'little lies'! Cute and worth a look.
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