Wednesday, July 29, 2009


A charming romantic comedy which teeters pleasingly on the screwball tip. Charles Laughton is a rich old man who is, according to his doctor, on his deathbed. When Laughton's son (Robert Cummings) comes to see him, he says he's brought a fiancée back with him from his travels. The sickly old man begs to meet the fiancée before he dies, but when Cummings goes to the hotel, she's out shopping, so with perfect screwball logic, Cummings gives a hat check girl (Deanna Durbin) $50 to pose as the fiancée for an hour or so. Laughton is charmed by Durbin and surprises everyone by rallying the next day. Of course, when Cummings wants to bring the real fiancée (Margaret Tallichet, a Jane Russell lookalike) home, the doctor, also using screwball logic, warns that the shock might kill the old man, so Cummings gets Durbin to continue the charade. Durbin, a girl from Ohio who has been perusing a singing career with little success, finds out that the family has musical connections, so she agrees to the plan hoping to get an audition out of the whole thing. Tallichet is understandably upset, as is her nasty mother (Catherine Doucet), and just as Cummings decides to tell his dad the truth, Laughton finds out on his own and plots to keep his son and Durbin together.

This movie is grand fun, but there are some weaknesses. Like most mistaken identity comedies, rules of reason and logic must be ignored or else everything would get fixed in 10 minutes. The plot convolutions here are fairly weak, and Durbin and Cummings not only have very little chemistry, but they don't even have much screen time together. The character of the fiancée is given short shrift, so we have no reason to root against he--she seems like a fine person except for her nasty mother. Durbin herself is a bit of a weak link; she just doesn't have the spark that Jean Arthur or Irene Dunne would have given the character. But almost everything else about the movie works well. Laughton is perfect, holding down his temptation to play to the balcony, and his scenes with Durbin come off especially well. Cummings proves to be an adept comic actor, even if his character is ignored for much of the last half of the movie. There is a solid supporting cast; Doucet makes a good bitch, Walter Catlett, Guy Kibbee, and Charles Coleman provide solid support, and there's a fun bit with Irving Bacon and Gus Schilling as two men waiting patiently to take a death mask of Laughton as soon as he expires. The line which had me in stitches occurs when Tallichet calls while Durbin is present; the butler says, "Your fiancée is on the phone," and Cummings replies, "Tell Mr. Fiancée I'll call him back!" [DVD]

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