Friday, March 01, 2002

REMEMBER? (1939)

This is a cute little comedy of romantic reconciliation with a rather silly gimmick (an amnesia potion), but a cast strong enough to carry it over its rough spots. It's not manic enough to be screwball, but some of screwball's plot conventions show up. Lew Ayres goes on vacation and meets Greer Garson; they fall in love, return home, and decide to marry. All that happens before the movie's first scene, which has Ayres arranging for his best friend (and co-worker) Robert Taylor to meet Garson over lunch. Somewhat improbably, Taylor and Garson fall for each other at first sight and eventually elope. Ayres takes it in stride (again, a bit improbably) and there's even an interesting suggestion that they might work things out as something of a menage a trois; if this had been a pre-Code film or a play by Noel Coward, they might well have done so! But, this being a mainstream MGM comedy, we're just meant to think that they're being very Three-Musketeersish about it all, remaining friendly despite Taylor winning Garson's hand.

But it's only half over. Six months go by and Taylor's workaholic tendencies have irritated Garson to the point where she initiates a separation and impending divorce. Ayres slips them an amnesia potion (we're meant to think that a drug company has actually developed one intended for public consumption!) and the pair forget everything that happened over the last six months, leading us back to the situation at the beginning of the film, with Ayres, Taylor, and Garson all meeting at lunch again. Ayres engineers things so they'll work out better this time.

The actors put this half-thought-through whimsey over quite well and make this an enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes. Taylor is handsome, Ayres is charming and Garson is lighter than air, presenting a very different persona from the later roles that made her famous. A substantial sideplot involving Garson's rich family allows Billie Burke and Reginald Owen to shine. Burke especially is wonderful with her usual befuddled mannerisms. Henry Travers, Sara Haden, and Laura Hope Crews have small parts, and an older actor named Richard Carle is fun as the stone-deaf boss of Ayres and Taylor; it's a one-joke part that, amazingly, doesn't get too stale over the course of the film.

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