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I love films with Charles Coburn and although he was mostly a supporting actor, I try to watch every film I can if he's in it. There was just something about his on-screen persona that I found both charming and sweet--despite the fact that he also often played rather bombastic men! He was wonderful in THE DEVIL AND MISS JONES as well as THE MORE THE MERRIER, so Columbia Pictures decided in this case to give him the lead! And, while the film isn't great and the plot is at times silly, the film is still quite watchable just for Coburn. In essence, the film IS Coburn, as the subplots aren't really that important and, in a way, neither is the main plot!! Instead, just watching sneaky and curmudgeonly Coburn is a treat all in itself. The film may lack depth and staying power, but it IS still a lot of fun and you could certainly do a lot worse than watch this movie!
First, Charles Coburn looks awful in a full beard. Second, the movie is
predicated on a premise that doesn't hold up: If a famous writer were
to come to the US from England, why would he be concerned about having
a good cook? He would be dining out with his hosts and hostesses every
night! The character Coburn plays is an unfunny variation on Sheridan
Whiteside. Did the man who came to dinner fuss over whether he had his
own cook? No, of course not: He had the people with whom he was holed
up provide his meals and cater to his every whim.
The movie has some charming female character actresses. Marguerite Chapman is appealing as the Coburn character's daughter, too. But the ex-solider she falls for lacks charm in spades. Additionally, the two have zero chemistry.
It's wonderful seeing little-known movies from Columbia again. But I can't be gracious and pretend that every one of them is a lost treasure.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Stage veteran Charles Coburn came out of nowhere in the late 1930's to
make a name for himself in the public eye as one of the most versatile
and amusing character actors in the movies. With his appearances as
imperious fathers and businessmen in such screwball comedies as
"Vivacious Lady", "Bachelor Father" and "The Devil and Miss Jones"
(pretty much in the lead), it was obvious that at some point, he would
start to get an occasional lead. 1943 marked the year he won an Oscar
(most deservedly) and that was a supporting win where he could arguably
be called the lead. At the same studio (Columbia), he was given a juicy
part playing a parody of legendary British writer George Bernard Shaw,
and while he obviously enjoyed chewing the scenery, the overall script
he was given was rather weak.
Like Shaw, Coburn's Rudyard Morley is a famous beaver bearded writer, equally pompous and eccentric. On route to America, he is told there isn't enough room for both his prized cook (Norma Varden) and his daughter (Marguerite Churchill) and he must make a very quick decision. Family ties bind, however, so once in America, he begins searching for the perfect replacement, basically stealing away feisty Almira Sessions from a snooty society matron and making enemies of her society friends. Other troubles with the law cause Coburn to land in jail where he learns some lessons in humanity and hopefully make amends with the Americans he's offended. He's truly funny when he tries to get onto the upper berth of a train he's traveling on and when he mistakes another society matron as a woman he intended to interview as his private cook.
As long as Coburn is on screen doing what he does best (stealing scene after scene), the film is mildly amusing, but there are some massive passages of time where it gets deadly dull. That mostly comes during the very forced romance between Churchill and Bill Carter as a naval officer on leave (and the son of the offended society matron Isobel Elsom) where the two have truly no chemistry. Mary Wickes is present in a very different role as well (a mild-mannered member of Elsom's society group who tries to befriend Coburn) but is basically underused. Young Betty Brewer plays a feisty teenager who seems much younger than herself and offers a few moments of amusement. Without Coburn present, however, this would seem to have absolutely no point, so it is a minor disappointment.
The year is 1943, and as Robert Osborne of TCM candidly pointed out
prior to the beginning of this movie last night, there were few leading
men available for boilerplate cinematic products like this one.
It's not a bad "bad" movie, it is certainly not offensive. There's just nothing working for the movie other than the effortless performance of Charles Coburn.
Charles won an academy award for a movie filmed about the same time (Best supporting actor - The More the Merrier 1943) and appeared in a total of six movies released in '43.
If you happen to be looking for a soft and warm family comedy with Mr. Coburn, I would recommend, one of my overall favorites, The Devil and Miss Jones, or the above mentioned The More the Merrier (both also star the delightful Jean Arthur).
I recommend this movie only for those who don't want to have to think during a movie, are having trouble sleeping, or don't want to be disturbed while doing their crossword puzzle. It's a good "bad" movie.
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