Saturday, November 30, 2002


This is another kid's movie that I associate with being shown on TV during Thanksgivings of the past. Apparently, it was released the same week as the Pearl Harbor attack and got lost at the box office, resulting in the failure of Max Fleischer's cartoon studio, which was an attempt to rival Walt Disney, and whose previous big feature was GULLIVER'S TRAVELS. There is nothing wrong with the animation here; it's colorful and detailed, though its age shows now. The problem is that the story, though certainly age-appropriate for kids, lacks the imagination and magical touches of the Disney films. Hoppity the grasshopper returns to Bugville, a small lot of land that is home to a large cast of insects which include Mr. Bumble the bee and his daughter Honey, and assorted other flies and bugs. The land that Bugville is on is about to be torn up by humans for the construction of a skyscraper. A nasty beetle is also plotting against Bugville (and melodramatically plotting to get hold of Honey) and it's up to young Hoppity to save the day for the whole community and for his sweetheart. There are a pair of "good" humans, songwriter Dick and his wife, who remind me of the human couple in 101 DALMATIONS. Of course, there are also songs, mostly forgettable even though they are written by Hoagy Carmichael. From my current vantage point, the movie seemed slow going, and the character of Hoppity wasn't very engaging. But it's all amiable enough and would seem to still be perfectly enjoyable for the very young. At almost 90 minutes, it felt a bit long, but it did fulfill my need for holiday nostalgia.

Friday, November 29, 2002


I'm a child of the 60's and therefore a child of TV, and I have fond memories of watching children's fantasy movies over Thanksgiving weekend, sandwiched between football games and variety shows. I thought over the holiday weekend this year, I'd re-watch some of the movies I most associate with Thanksgiving viewing. This 30's all-star version of Lewis Carroll's fantasy was one of my favorites back then, even though most of the stars weren't familiar to me. This movie cropped up fairly frequently back then, but is hard to catch these days. Thanks to Turner Classic Movies, I was able to see it again with an adult eye, and while some of the magic I recall is gone, other delights remain. The movie is, I believe, fairly faithful to the spirit, if not the letter, of Carroll's books--it's based on both "Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass"--and this viewing made me realize that, whatever ALICE'S charms, a strong narrative is not one of them. There's no need to rehash the plot, such as it is, in detail: Alice, a young girl, is frustrated with being kept inside on a snowy winter's day, so she falls asleep and dreams an extended visit to the land on the other side of the mirror. She has silly and surreal encounters with strange creatures and wakes up all cozy back in her overstuffed armchair, with her kitten in her arms.

This movie may well have had an influence on THE WIZARD OF OZ six years later, not just in the trajectory of the plotline (it's not a big stretch from Alice to Dorothy), but in the fantasy sets, magical effects, and elaborate costumes. The impact of having so many guest stars is blunted because most of them are under so much makeup, they are unrecognizable. You certainly can't prove by me that it's really Cary Grant under the Mock Turtle outfit; he might have just dubbed in his weepy dialogue and odd song. The same thing goes for Richard Arlen as the Cheshire Cat, Charlie Ruggles as the March Hare, and even W. C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty. The most recognizable are Edward Everett Horton as the Mad Hatter and the wonderful Edna May Oliver as the Red Queen. Other stars who pop in and out briefly include Ned Sparks, Jack Oakie, May Robson, Gary Cooper, and, in the most grotesque makeup of all, Alison Skipworth as the Duchess. As an adult who was watching largely to spot the stars, the film came off to me more like a revue of short and vaguely comic sketches that, more often than not, have no real punch line or payoff.

My favorite bits: Horton and Ruggles singing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat," which would not have been out of place in a Monty Python episode; the Duchess' freaky baby who turns into a pig; and Polly Moran as the Dodo, reciting "dry" history in order to dry off a soaking wet Alice. Charlotte Henry as Alice is serviceable but nothing more; she seems far too unflappable given all the bizarre and chaotic transformations she is witness to throughout. There is a lot of sadness and crying in the story: Alice's tears when she keeps growing and shrinking, the caterwauling pig-baby, the Mock Turtle, and the ill-fated oysters in "The Walrus and the Carpenter," which is done as a cartoon. If this had been made in the 60's, it might have been a favorite of the stoners, what with the strange creatures and the non-linear and non-logical story. The creepiest (but also funniest) thing in the movie is the talking leg of mutton at the climactic party. The movie doesn't quite have a conclusion as much as it just comes to an end, perhaps when the budget ran out! Not totally successful, but still a fascinating movie that should be seen by all classic movie fans at least once. Whether young children of the 21st century would enjoy it, next to Harry Potter and Toy Story, I cannot say.

Monday, November 25, 2002


An amiable little mystery with a bit too much comic relief and a few too many characters for its own good. Van Heflin is a private eye who becomes a suspect in the murder of Broadway starlet Mida King (Patricia Dane). Mida wasn't very nice and several people have motives for murder. Primarily, there's her mobster ex-boyfriend Stephen McNally, and her rich fiancee David (Mark Daniels) who found out she was planning to divorce him in six months to get his money. David's own jilted girl (Cecila Parker) and her big shot father (Samuel S. Hinds) are also suspects. The murder takes place in David's private train car, parked under Grand Central Station (hence the title of the movie) and a hidden elevator winds up playing a big part in the solution. There are two fairly interesting aspects to the film: 1) the whole story takes place over one night, and 2) all 10-12 folks (suspects, cops, and bystanders) go racing around Manhattan to recreate the events of the evening. Other actors include Connie Gilchrist (the Irish maid in AUNTIE MAME) in one of her biggest roles as an ex-vaudevillian in Mida's employ (she actually gets a brief song in a flashback scene), Betty Wells as Gilchrist's sexpot daughter, and Millard Mitchell (SINGIN' IN THE RAIN's studio boss) as a bumbling cop. Sam Levene is the chief inspector who is constantly and somewhat implausibly upstaged by Heflin all along the way. Things bog down a bit in the middle but the ending redeems it.

Saturday, November 23, 2002

Two miscellaneous oddities:

DON'T BET ON BLONDES (1935)--A silly trifle. Warren William plays a bookie who goes legit running an business in which he charges lots of money to insure against improbable things (I assume this is based a little on the reputation of Lloyd's of London). He insures a male model's neckline (the model doesn't care about his belly, but his neck must be in good shape) and the bellowing voice of a woman who wins prizes in "husband calling" contests. One case involves a man who doesn't want his wife to have twins, which run in his family; she winds up delivering quintuplets, so William's company doesn't have to pay! The main plot involves Guy Kibbee as an eccentric man who lives off his daughter (Claire Dodd). He insures her against marriage so he can keep living off of her while he finishes writing a Civil War history book that will show that the South actually won. William steps in with his operatives and wrecks her romances (one with Errol Flynn in a small role), but William winds up falling for her himself. Complications ensue. Short but still a bit draggy, with tons of credibility problems. Mary Treen and William Gargan also appear. Not terribly notable except for a interesting use of split-screen during a horse race scene at the beginning.

UNDER SECRET ORDERS aka MADEMOISELLE DOCTEUR (1937)--I could find almost no references to this movie in my movie guides, and it ended up being more fun to track down info about this film than it was to watch it. Originally made as a French language film, it was remade with an English-speaking cast replacing everyone except leading lady Dita Parlo, as a Mata Hari-type spy in WWI (I think--the print I saw was very murky and choppy, and based on the running times I found for the movie, it must have been missing at least 10 minutes, so following the finer plot points was nearly impossible). Erich von Stroheim plays her boss, and he gives his usual somewhat wooden but sinister performance. Speaking of wooden, John Loder, a B-movie leading man, is the good guy here, who gets taken in by Parlo, but redeems himself at the end. The last shot, a stylized firing squad scene, is the best in the otherwise unimaginative and plothole-ridden movie.

Thursday, November 21, 2002


MGM's oversized self-important musical biographies aren't usually my cup of tea--they're basically revues with a few big names here and there, and lots of starlets and up-and-comers, surrounded by an almost totally fictionalized account of a songwriter's life. This one, however, works better than most. Robert Walker plays Jerome Kern, who apparently was still alive when this movie was being shot but died before its release. We see Kern as a young man frustrated by his inability to break into the Broadway "follies" shows; producer Harry Hayden is only looking for British talent. Walker meets up with "serious" composer Van Heflin, a completely fictional character who winds up becoming mentor and best friend to Walker. Once Walker breaks through, he is happy to toil away writing popular tunes, even as Heflin remains mostly unfulfilled. The narrative line begins with the triumph of Kern's Show Boat, flashes back through his career, and ends with him watching the filming of the MGM tribute.

This is not the kind of movie usually noted for its acting, but both Walker and Heflin are good, with Walker giving a nice low-key performance. But as with all of these films, the narrative winds up being a series of articifial tableaux to take up time between songs. Some of the better production numbers: Lena Horne starts things off with a bang singing "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man of Mine," looking stunning in purple and white, and getting to play, for a few minutes, the role she should have had in MGM's 1951 SHOW BOAT remake; the always funny and deadpan Virginia O'Brien does "Life Upon the Wicked Stage"; Angela Lansbury sings in a swing; June Allyson does the comic patter number "Cleopatterer"; Van Johnson and Lucile Bremer sing and dance to "I Won't Dance"; the climax is Frank Sinatra doing a fine job with "Ol' Man River." Also appearing: Dinah Shore, Cyd Charisse, Ray McDonald, and in a small non-singing role, Mary Nash, who plays Mrs. Lord in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. Better than the average musical bio, even if it's almost certainly a total work of fiction.

Monday, November 18, 2002


This British oddity can be lumped in with BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS to show that Nazis and whimsy never quite go together. Set early in WWII (apparently before the Americans got involved) Elsa Lanchester plays a cleaning woman who is the widow of a former military man (Charles Laughton in one of the strangest cameos ever, seen only in a huge photograph that hangs in the widow's house). While cleaning up the attic, she discovers her husband's much talked about lucky charm, the Magic Eye, which supposedly once saved his life. She puts it in her pocket and doesn't give it much thought until an air raid when she miraculously survives a couple of almost direct hits. Egged on by friends, she believes the Magic Eye has made her invincible so she decides to travel to Berlin and assassinate Hitler! Posing as a deaf-mute cleaning lady, she manages to make it from London all the way to the German chancellory without passport or papers (the most unbelievable part of a movie with almost nothing believable in it!). Along the way, she makes friends with a German war hero (Gordon Oliver) who is actually a member of the Underground. She also meets up with Lord Haw-Haw (Gavin Muir), a real-life character who was sort of a British "Tokyo Rose," using radio broadcasts to hurt British morale.

I won't give away anything about the preposterous last 15 minutes of the movie except to say that by the end of this very short (barely an hour) film, I was ready to declare the "fighting Nazis with magic" genre totally dead. Lanchester is as good as she can be given the ridiculous circumstances, and there are a few nice moments. In one, when she gets to Berlin, she tries to look Hitler up in the phone book and is outraged that he's not listed. Another fun scene is when she pretends to be deaf while cleaning windows in a Nazi official's office, but instead she is carefully listening to a discussion of classified information. At one point, in a weird "fourth wall" moment, she talks directly to the camera. Quite an oddball movie; it manages to be both bizarre and banal at the same time.

Saturday, November 16, 2002


Luchino Visconti filmed this "bootleg" version of James Cain's THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE a couple of years before Hollywood got around to it. This version is too long in the middle, but it's much more interesting than the American version. Massimo Girotti plays a sexy homeless drifter who stumbles into a relationship with Clara Calamai, a young woman stuck in a dead-end (and deadening) marriage with a older man (the couple run a small inn/restaurant out in the middle of nowhere). Girotti stops by for a meal and, when he and Calamai strike sparks, connives to hang around as a hired hand. The two begin a lusty affair immediately; when she suggests getting rid of her husband, he freaks out and takes off for the city. On the train, a vagabond artist (Elio Marcuzzo) pays for his ticket and they strike up a friendship, which very definitely has homoerotic elements. They share a bed in a tense and unresolved scene and they wind up working together on the streets until Girotti runs into Calamai. He goes off with her and they actively plot to kill the husband. As in DOUBLE INDEMNITY, once the deed is done, their relationship sours, leading to betrayal, more death, and an ironic but fitting ending.

I think it's interesting that, although the cliche of woman as ball and chain is intact, the usual city/country pattern is reversed here: Girotti feels trapped out in the open spaces of the countryside helping Calamai run the inn, and feels more internal freedom in the bustling city with his male friend. Girotti is beautiful, whether stubbly or clean shaven, whether in a tank top, sweater, or bare chested. Calamai is less beautiful, but has an earthy appeal and the two have good chemistry. There is social commentary on the oppression of people in society--I'm sure it's a Marxist movie, although I wasn't paying attention to the political undercurrents. The constant use of music playing in the background of scenes is interesting. The DVD I saw didn't translate the lyrics of the songs, but I assume most of the music was being used as ironic counterpoint. At 135 minutes, it is too long, but it's worth catching, especially if you're a noir fan.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002


If this odd film were made today, it would probably be a scruffy indie film; the fact that it actually works as a mainstream and fairly glossy Hollywood movie with big stars in the leads is one of the strangest things about it. The first half is set on a brutal penal colony island in French Guyana. Clark Gable, a prisoner, has the hots for loose woman Joan Crawford. He sneaks away from work detail to visit her in her rooms and when he's caught, they both get in trouble. Meanwhile, a mysterious prisoner (Ian Hunter) appears seemingly out of nowhere. He's accepted by the men, although it's clear from early on that he's something of an otherworldly figure. He joins Gable and some other men on a break-out through a jungle (with Crawford tagging along). One by one, the men undergo spiritual conversions, seeing the error of their ways and being reconciled to their fates by Hunter before they die or disappear. Much of it plays out like a quasi-Christian "Twilight Zone" episode.

Some of the other men include Albert Dekker, Eduardo Cianelli, John Arledge, and Paul Lukas, who is quite good as the one man who won't accept Hunter and his message of redemption; his bleak speech just before he slips off into the darkness is a highlight, and helps make the movie more than just a 40's "Touched by an Angel." The jungle scenes are tense and well done, though ultimately the entire first half winds up being a bit beside the point. It doesn't take much looking between the lines to see a homoerotic relationship between and a young man and an older mentor that is handled subtly. Peter Lorre has a small role as a slimy informer. There is some rather forced Christ symbolism, but mostly the allegorical Christian elements work rather well, being mostly non-denominational, and a little creepy at times. After a slow start, a very interesting film indeed. Oh, yeah, Gable and Crawford are both fine, and Hunter is very good.

Monday, November 11, 2002


A silly, disjointed revue with a particularly weak plot: Alden College will be run by its faculty until such time as a female Alden can actually graduate and take over running the college. Gracie Allen is the Alden woman who manages the feat, albeit through cheating with the help of Bob Hope. I think Allen is supposed to be so dumb that she doesn't really know that she's cheating, but the ethics of the situation are never made clear. You can feel a desperate attempt being made to reproduce a Marx Brothers atmosphere here, and it doesn't work, remaining a parade of skits and unmemorable songs. What plot that does intrude is usually irritating.

However, there are a number of reasons why I would watch it again: a young and lovely John Payne in a clinging white T-shirt, boxers, and angel wings on his shoulders (serenading forgettable opera-style singer Florence George); Hope and Martha Raye doing a wild, slapstick number in which Hope appears to crack up a couple of times; Edward Everett Horton as a woman-hating professor who changes his ways; Jerry Colonna in a very short but very funny bit singing a song with wildly exaggerated vocal flourishes; Ben Blue doing some nice physical schtick as an inept phys ed teacher; the cute opening bit, set in a Pilgrim schoolhouse in 1738 where a choirboy suddenly breaks out in a jazz riff (he gives his name as Benny Goodman). George Burns isn't up to his best ability here, but he does get to do some of his flustered exchanges with Gracie. There's a cute number set in a campus soda fountain with lots of coeds dancing, and three Stooge-like waiters falling all over the place. Cecil Cunningham (sort of a B-movie Alice Brady/Edna May Oliver) is present, and you might glimpse Betty Grable, Jackie Coogan, and Robert Cummings. Very silly, but I had fun.

Sunday, November 10, 2002


In this B-movie series, Glenda Farrell plays Torchy Blane, a spunky blonde reporter who hounds cop Barton MacLane to get the dope on high profile crime stories, and who also manages to outwit the police and solve the crimes ahead of them. She did several films in the series, though Lola Lane and Jane Wyman also played the role.

SMART BLONDE (1937) is the first in the series, and it has a memorable fast-paced opening as Torchy, riding in a cab, races a train, then jumps out and hops on the caboose in order to get an interview with a big shot financier. He's headed to town to buy some sports and gambling assests from a local bigwig who is selling out to please his high-toned fiancee. As the two get off the train, he's shot dead and Torchy helps MacLane gather clues and suspects, and solve the crime. As often happens, about halfway through, I lost track of the mystery, but the movie remained watchable. Farrell lacks the spark that someone like Joan Blondell or Ann Sothern or even Una Merkel might have brought to the role. In "don't blink" moments, you can see Wayne Morris and Jane Wyman.

TORCHY BLANE IN CHINATOWN, from 1939, was the seventh in the series (they cranked out nine in just two years' time). Leonard Maltin doesn't like this one at all, but I enjoyed it even more than the first one, although (or maybe because) Torchy seems to be reduced to a supporting role in her own series. In this one, a group of men who were involved in the quasi-legal smuggling of Chinese jade are threatened with death by a local Tong-like family. One by one, despite police protection, each predicted death comes true. MacLane's character is constantly doing the wrong thing, but he seems to get more screen time than Farrell, who cracks the case. An interesting supporting cast, including James Stephenson, Henry O'Neill, and especially handsome Patric Knowles, helps this one rise above its own "averageness" for me. Also, I could keep track of the mystery, and I even figured it out ahead of either MacLane or Farrell (which must mean that a precocious 8-year-old could figure it out). I wouldn't call these must-see movies, but they were fun and, at around an hour each, they never bog down.

Friday, November 08, 2002


A Nazi version of THE BAD SEED! At the time, this movie might have seemed different or daring with its depiction of a child warped by indoctrination in the Nazi philosophy, but it dates rather badly, and it doesn't feel much more daring than if an Andy Hardy movie had tackled the same issue. Fredric March brings his young German nephew over to the USA to live with (and hopefully to assimilate with) his whitebread midwestern American family. The problem is that the kid (Skip Homeier) is a full-blooded Nazi at the age of twelve. Homeier struggles throughout with a trumped-up, phony sounding accent and a look that never feels very dangerous. Had the character been a little older, his bullying villainy might have been more effective. It takes a while for March to realize how Nazified the boy really is; he was brainwashed to believe that his heroic father was a traitor and a suicide when he really died in a concentration camp. Betty Field is the Jewish girlfriend of March, who tries to be understanding, and Joan Carroll is March's daughter. She's not bad; she has more to do here than she did as Margaret O'Brien's older sister in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS. Most of the household (even the German maid) wises up to the kid, and his only "ally" is Agnes Moorehead, playing another bitter spinster aunt, who resents March's upcoming marriage.

Despite pulling knives, stealing keys, and threatening some children, Homeier never really feels "evil." In fact, I kept thinking that, like the bizarre encore scene in THE BAD SEED, all he really needed was a good spanking. Even at the climax, when he attacks someone from behind and we're led to believe he might have committed murder, the resolution is way too pat and bloodless. The anti-climactic finale feels an awful lot like the heartwarming sitcom resolutions we're used to in the average family TV show. It was based on a play, and its stage origins are obvious--it could use a little more directorial style. There is a lot of propaganda about American tolerance for minorities, which rings a little hollow nowadays, and in the end, it's not a terribly compelling movie.

Thursday, November 07, 2002


This movie is apparently historically important for its weird blend of screwball comedy and Red-baiting; I've read about it frequently, but it doesn't shown very often. It's certainly no masterpiece, but I'm glad I was able to see it. The anti-Communist element would have made it more topical about 15 years later--and indeed it had a major theatrical re-release during the McCarthy era. Barbara Stanwyck plays the daughter of an Army general who plans to marry a campus radical (Hardie Albright), much to her father's dismay. When Stanwyck's aunt flies off to Mexico on vacation, the father arranges to have her shanghaied along to get her away from the commie boyfriend. While there, she gets involved with an American soldier (Robert Young) who ends up going AWOL to help her get back home. The middle of the movie becomes a kind of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT road trip (except Young is no Gable) with the amusing Cliff Edwards along for some laughs. Ruth Donnelly is wasted in a small part as Edwards' shrewish wife. The general realizes that Young might be the one to get Stanwyck away from Albright, and he hires Young to bust up the radical protest.

The movie is amusing in places, but could have been a bit more tightly plotted. For example, I'm glad that Cliff Edwards is brought back at the finale, but it makes no sense that he's there. One of the more notorious lines occurs when Young, who has seen Stanwyck on the dance floor, declares that she can't be a Red because thinkers are dodos on the dance floor. The anti-intellectualism that pairs up thinking with Communism (which implies, of course, that red-blooded Americans can't or shouldn't think), is astoundingly stupid. It's kind of a reverse SWEPT AWAY, with the female Marxist converted by the male capitalist--though Stanwyck never really seems to be especially political at any point in the movie. Funny in spots, but sluggishly paced. Still worth seeing just for its *weirdness*.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002


This is a nifty little B-film that anticipates ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, a better movie made a year or two later. Virtually the entire film takes place in one setting, an isolated airfield in the Andes Mountains (looking a lot like California--ANGELS, with its bigger budget, gets the look much better) where a group of rough and tumble pilots, mostly disgraced ones who couldn't get better jobs in the States, engage in the dangerous job of flying supplies to miners in the mountains. Onslow Stevens is the boss, a creepy and miserly man who keeps a scrapbook of high-profile pilots who have gotten in trouble so he can offer them jobs--there is high turnover due to the dangerous flying conditions and the poor quality of the planes they use. Chester Morris is the unoffical leader of the pilots.

One day, Van Heflin arrives with his wife (Whitney Bourne); we're supposed to realize it's a mistake to bring a woman into this setting, although the tough-guy pilots are really too nice to be threatening. Still, entanglements follow as Morris falls in love with her, and so does Douglas Walton (a sort of second-string Leslie Howard-type). Heflin, a reformed drunk, starts out fine but when he realizes the situation he's stuck in, he deterioriates rapidly. Injury, death, and revenge follow. Despite the low budget, some of the flying scenes aren't bad. Morris is his usual self--if you don't already like him, this movie won't make you a fan, but if you do like him, as I do, you should catch this one the next time TCM shows it. Comparisons with ANGELS are inevitable, and this one will always come in second, but it's not bad for its type.

Sunday, November 03, 2002


This was a Broadway hit for Preston Sturges (although otherwise he had nothing to do with this film version) and the version most people are familiar with is the 50's one with Ezio Pinza and Janet Leigh, which I've never seen. This one is stagy, too long, and hampered by a static directorial style, but it does have its moments. Its primary asset is the performance of Paul Lukas as Gus, an opera singing lothario whose heart is captured by a relatively innocent Southern belle (Sidney Fox) who has been transplanted to New York City by her totally obnoxious finace, George Meeker. The film takes place over one night and the next morning, beginning just after midnight in a boarding house/speakeasy as Fox and Meeker wander in and make the acquaintance of a couple of colorful characters who frequent the place: Lukas as the womanizing singer and Lewis Stone as a retired and heavy-drinking judge. Meeker is quick to display his true colors, bullying Fox around but full of empty bluff when confronted by anyone else. He winds up in jail overnight and Fox talks Lukas into letting her stay in his room. Apparently, he plans to add her to his list of conquests (he has an entire closet filled with women's clothes), but instead he discovers a soft spot for her, an honest "babe in the woods," and he gives her his bed while he shares the judge's room. Relationships get further tangled and straightened out the next morning.

Lukas is quite good; I mostly think of him as a rather dull presence in movies like WATCH ON THE RHINE and LITTLE WOMEN, but he shines here, giving the best comic performance that John Barrymore never gave. He and Fox generate an interesting moment of heat in a long kissing and caressing scene (played standing up). Even though they have chemistry and are both likeable, and Fox and Meeker clearly don't belong together, the movie doesn't make us particularly confident that she and Lukas will ultimately be a much better match. At a little over 90 minutes, the pacing is a bit too leisurely up until the somewhat rushed ending. The look and feel of the film remind me of the later THREE MEN ON A HORSE, also based on a play, and largely set in a similar boarding house/bar establishment. Sidney Toler, best known as Charlie Chan, plays an understanding Irish cop. A memorable line from Fox: "I read in a book on psychology that nothing is immoral except--well, I plumb forgot!"

Saturday, November 02, 2002


This is sort of an American anti-Mrs. Miniver, or the process by which an anti-Mrs. Miniver person becomes a Mrs. Miniver. Fay Bainter plays Mrs. Hadley, a rich Washington widow; the first scene is set at her birthday party on Dec. 7, 1941. She has a cozy little circle of friends and relatives with her, but the news of Pearl Harbor disrupts the party. Soon, everyone else gets caught up in the war effort, but Mrs. Hadley tries to ignore every aspect of it, not to mention ignoring the dysfunctional aspects of her own family life. Gradually she alienates all of her circle, so when she throws a birthday party for her son, who is off in the Army, no one shows up.

The movie is predictable, but it's still fun to see all the friends, one by one, get on Mrs. Hadley's shit list, and of course, see her eventual transformation to patriotic and caring citizen. The only question is, will it be too late for her son and daughter to appreciate her again? Edward Arnold is her confidant and ex-beau, and Spring Byington is her rich and scatterbrained friend who has a funny scene when an air raid warden comes into her bedroom to enforce a blackout--startled, she cries, "It's just like the French Revolution!" Jean Rogers (who I'm not familiar with) and Richard Ney (the son in MRS. MINIVER and real-life husband to Greer Garson, at least briefly) are the kids, and Van Johnson has one of his earliest roles as a soldier who falls for Rogers. Bainter underplays the role nicely; she could have been a scene-stealing harridan, but she's much more subtle than that. The wartime propaganda, as usual, is *not* subtle, but the 90-minute movie moves along nicely to a satisfying climax.