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The Man Who Understood Women was created by noted screenwriter Nunnally Johnson who had worked with Henry Fonda going back to Jesse James. On the basis of respect for his talent and his friendship with Johnson, Fonda got cast in the part of Hollywood wunderkind Willie Bauche, a man who it turned out did not understand women in the slightest or at least the woman whom he married and was responsible for her stardom, Leslie Caron.
Willie Bauche needed an actor with the flair of a John Barrymore to carry it off. In fact Fonda's character of Willie Bauche is a second cousin to Oscar Jaffe from Twentieth Century. Now Henry Fonda has been successful in comedy, but the fellow who utilized him best, Preston Sturges in The Lady Eve did not tamper with Fonda's basic All American serious character, he played Barbara Stanwyck and the rest of the cast off against it. What Barrymore or Orson Welles on whom the lead is allegedly based could have done we'll never know.
Speaking of Welles the character of Max Buda whom he played in The VIPs was exactly like what Fonda was trying to achieve in The Man Who Understood Women.
Fonda is a Welles like character who discovers young hopeful Leslie Caron, makes her a star and marries her. But he's all about himself and Caron's eyes start wandering and land on young army officer Cesare Danova while she and Fonda are on the French Riviera. Of course Fonda gets jealous and begins scheming all kinds of things that you have to watch The Man Who Understood Women to find out.
Leslie Caron was very hot at that point in her career having just come off the best film of 1958, Gigi. Still even I can't understand why she rated billing over Hollywood veteran Henry Fonda. I'm betting Fonda wasn't to thrilled with that either.
Besides working with Nunnally Johnson, Fonda got to work with Myron McCormick with whom he had gone to Princeton with and was part of the famous Triangle Players during their college days. McCormick plays his number two guy who tries to instill a little reality into Fonda's life, but is unable to.
The film actually begins quite promisingly. Nunnally Johnson who knew Hollywood as good as anyone has a great beginning with Fonda alerting producer Conrad Nagel to a new discovery in Caron, but doing it in such a way that Nagel thinks it's all his idea and that he's stealing someone from Fonda whom he can't stand, but who Fonda knows he can't stand. That was all very well done, if the film had kept up that quality it would be a classic today.
The Citadel film series book The Films Of Henry Fonda also says that there are a lot of inside Hollywood jokes, but said to say they stayed inside. One reason I looked forward to seeing it was that after some 50 years of tell all memoirs and second hand accounts, I figured that things a 1959 audience might not have gotten I would have. Well frankly I didn't so Nunnally's inside stuff stays inside.
After this one, Fonda stayed off the screen for three years coming back in a part in Advise And Consent that he was believable in. Far more than The Man Who Understood Women where he was probably the most miscast in his career.
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