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And that's Claudette Colbert, playing a not entirely plausible good-woman-turned-tough-cynic, who suffers, wisecracks, repents, and, most surprisingly, sings. That's clearly her voice taking on some decent Rainger-Robin songs, and it's a true, throaty, expressive contralto. Why didn't Paramount, which so often exploited the cheery, joie-de-vivre aspects of the Colbert personality, put her in more musicals? She's a natural. And she emotes touchingly in the soapier sections of this one, including a really devastating scene of her giving up her child. The story doesn't make a lot of sense, least of all the David Manners character, a Boston blueblood who is first portrayed as a rotter but turns out to be wonderful. Nor does Ricardo Cortez fit in easily, as Colbert's radio-manager boss; the script seems to want to suggest a romance for them, but never gets around to it. And the plot gymnastics toward the end, which are determined to give Colbert and Manners a happy ending whatever the cost to logic, are just impossible. Still, it's nicely pre-Code, never condemning Colbert for having a child out of wedlock, and quite a showcase for her many talents.
Just the thought of "Katharine Hepburn as a hillbilly" automatically sends many viewers into hysterics, and it's indeed jarring at first to view her as Trigger Hicks, an innocent Ozarks miss who's an ungainly combination of religious fervor, antisocial behavior, unexamined but potent sexuality, and wisecracks. Take away all your predispositions about Katharine Hepburn, though, and she's quite good in it, doing a lot of acting with her eyes and singing in a far more resonant alto than she exhibited decades later on the Broadway stage. It's a "Tobacco Road"-like melodrama of misfits in the hills, with Ralph Bellamy and Robert Young as the smart-men-from-the-city who are interested in her, and it's from a 1927 stage play that didn't run long. (One of the stage actors, Sara Haden, repeats her stage role; also in the original company was a very young Natalie Schaefer, as the wife of the Robert Young character.) It's picturesque and thoughtful and really quite touching in examining how nonconformists cope in unfriendly surroundings, and the lack of background music and deliberate pacing make it seem less manufactured and movie-fied than many contemporary offerings. Give it a chance. However, a postscript: In the mid-1970s I had occasion to tell Miss Hepburn, as she was getting into her limo, "Miss Hepburn, one of your movies is on TV locally this week, it's called 'Spitfire.'" "'Spitfire,' 'Spitfire,' she mused. "Oh, God help us all."
Whodunit with a full roster of old MGM players in support of James Garner, who's a rather nasty police chief we're supposed to like because he's James Garner. He does bring a lot of his personal charm to this murder mystery involving a small coastal California town, a possibly homicidal Doberman, and some twisted sex play. But there's an acid atmosphere, and it's dully shot and directed. Katherine Ross, as a veterinary technician who becomes Garner's love interest, is profoundly uninteresting, and among the supporting players I liked Ann Rutherford as a clueless but salty secretary and June Allyson (not playing a sweetie for once, and she's good) as a woman with secrets. The small-town, everybody-knows- everybody atmosphere is nicely maintained, and Hal Holbrook, as always, brings major acting chops, in this case to an underwritten part. But Garner's character, forever ramming his police car into something deliberately or threatening violence against his girlfriend or a local sheriff (Harry Guardino with an amusing '70s mustache), isn't that easy to root for.Also, it's just the period, but it's a casually homophobic piece. The plot involves lesbianism, and we're supposed to find the suspected miscreants that much more awful for being lesbian. And during one seduction scene, Ross asks Garner why he isn't married and he jokingly replies, "I'm a faggot." And that's supposed to make him endearing and amusing and clever. Nasty times, children, and we've come a long way.
A real dog, independently made by Gregory Ratoff but released by Columbia, from a script that could have been written on the back of an envelope, about Broadway producer William Gaxton trying to keep Mae West in his show, which is actually a Latin American revue featuring lots of Xavier Cugat. Mae is, as many have noted, allotted insufficient screen time, and when she's on, her lines mostly thud; plus, she looks at the zaftig side, and understandably bored. William Gaxton was a huge star on the stage, originating roles in such notable musicals as "A Connecticut Yankee," "Anything Goes," and "Of Thee I Sing," but he's a blank on film; he's somewhat better, in a similar role, in "Best Foot Forward" the same year at MGM. Victor Moore, a frequent stage partner of Gaxton's, does his usual bumbling- inarticulate-hick thing that some people find charming, and sings an absolutely dreadful song about victory gardens that can't even have had much impact in 1943. The songs are by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn and other hands, but they're dull, and the supporting cast is no- name, though Lloyd Bridges turns up as the ingenue's GI sweetheart, and Hazel Scott has a couple of specialty numbers that show her off to decent advantage. There were lots of barely- plotted B wartime musicals such as this, but most don't get shown, either through rights tangles or sheer disinterest. This one shows what a haphazard genre it was at the time.
Fairly expensive Warners musical, the then-novelties of which are a) CinemaScope and b) location filming in Miami, which does look '50s-luscious. These are tied to a very tired screenplay about superstitious Doris Day and her pals Phil Silvers, Nancy Walker, and Eddie Foy Jr. going from revue work to kitchen work to Broadway, courtesy of songwriter Robert Cummings, whose songs all sound like second-rate Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster. Much talent that had just turned out "Calamity Jane"--Day, Webster, Fain, choreographer (and here director) Jack Donohue, screenwriter James O'Hanlon--worked on this one, but it's nobody's best work, though Doris is as spirited and golden-voiced as ever, and you don't really want to see her end up romantically with someone as uninteresting as Robert Cummings. Silvers and Walker certainly deserved better material, and Donohue doesn't know how to pace a plot, even one as fragile as this. Martha Hyer is another casualty, overplaying Cummings' shrew of a girlfriend, and the other supporting players are no-name. It's worth sitting through once for a couple of nicely staged numbers (especially the opening) and some alluring glimpses of Florida, but it's the Warners musical at its most labored and uninspired.
Lionel Barrymore largely made a career out of playing gruff, grumpy anhedoniacs; Alice Brady made hers out of playing flighty upper-class twits. Both were capable of other things, but in this pleasantly pre-Code romantic comedy from a Paul Osborn play, both drag out their usual bags of tricks. He harrumphs and lets his facial muscles sag and crosses his arms, and she giggles and defies logic. They're an unhappily married late-middle-age couple whose daughter is about to be swept up by the cad Brady remembers loving 20 years ago, who is now having an affair with her sister. It's pretty frank about all the adultery, and there's a bracing twist ending. One wants a more dashing rake than Conway Tearle, but Katharine Alexander is amusingly tart and Eve Arden-ish as the sister, and Mary Carlisle is fine as the naive young miss. Casual racism and an insipid Freed-Brown song dot this fun nonsense, and there are serious moments of actual truth scattered about it--loved the scene where Brady finally must Be a Mom, and she steps up to the plate admirably.
Absolutely lovely movie, leisurely, diverting, full of character, in dazzling Technicolor, featuring beautiful Australian locations and a perfect Dmitri Tiomkin score. But first and foremost, a study of an imperfect but very worth-maintaining marriage. Watch how Mitchum and Kerr (who had enjoyed working together on "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison") react to each other, their body language alone speaking volumes, their eyes speaking more. Their accents are secure, too, and Michael Anderson, Jr., as their son, is no cloying kid actor but a real actor, natural and intuitive and quite believably their progeny. No real villains in this one and not a great deal of story, but a gorgeous series of set pieces, touching and winsome. A full meal.
An alleged comedy starring George Gobel and Diana Dors' cleavage, this TV-style sitcom asks us to believe 1) George would win Diana, 2) they'd live in what looks like a $10 million Manhattan duplex on his salary as a junior ad executive, 3) she would never, never get the chance to tell him she's expecting, which would essentially end the movie, 4) he'd put up with Jessie Royce Landis's endless henpecking (cue the mother-in-law jokes), and 5) the ultimate symbol of screen urbanity, sophistication, and chivalry is John Wayne. The writing is barely television level, and director Hal Kanter (later a TV mogul, responsible for "Julia" and other notable sitcoms), barely knows where to point the camera. The story's so thin that even at 85 minutes it feels padded. Diana, always good to look at and not an incapable actress, deserved better than this.
Avoided this for years because of its underwhelming reputation, and was delighted by a recent TCM showing. It's a fine filming of a muckraking Wilde comedy, in which, typically of the author, observations about class and sex and money are often dropped in, not to further the plot, just to allow Wilde to epigrammatically vent as only he could. It's a ravishing production in eye-popping Technicolor, swamped by Cecil Beaton gowns and played by a most competent cast. If Diana Wynyard's moral righteousness becomes a little wearying, I suspect it's the character rather than her playing of it, and she's matched splendidly by Hugh Williams' tortured, blackmailed statesman. Michael Wilding was never better, Glynis Johns is young and comely, and Paulette Goddard not only maintains a convincing accent but absolutely catches the charm, opportunism, and wise verbal sparring the character needs. It's a fine companion piece to the matchless "Importance of Being Earnest" of five years later, and much more eye-catchingly cinematic.
This early Mervyn Le Roy work starts out as an intriguing look at class, self-identity, and a mixing of two worlds, but less than halfway through it switches to a standard bootleggers-and- their-molls flick. In both sections, there are some loose ends flapping. We first encounter Gilbert as a well-to-do, polished Manhattanite, unaware that his money comes from the illegal liquor trade, and also unaware that his dad, whom he thought dead, is alive and dying, and he has a brother, Louis Wolheim (Louis Wolheim as John Gilbert's brother? even the script tries to make a joke of it), runs the dirty business. Where the heck did he think all his money came from, anyway, and how was he catapulted into such high living? The movie doesn't say. Anyway, upon discovering his humble origins, he's at first repelled and then sucked into the family business, resorting to murder and taking up with moll Anita Page (who's rather touching) because he can't get over being dumped by fiancée Leila Hyams. It's run-of-the-mill booze, broads, and guns from there, though the ending's unexpectedly downbeat and depressing (he has sinned, but surely he didn't deserve this). Gilbert is better than his reputation suggests--there was absolutely nothing wrong with his voice, and he emotes persuasively. But it's basically downhill from a good start.
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