Thursday, January 28, 2010


Gary Cooper is a famous author who has ruined his talent through drinking and wasteful living--think F. Scott Fitzgerald. When his latest book is rejected by his publisher, he and his wife (Helen Vinson) go off to stay on an old family farm in Connecticut, with Cooper hoping the lack of distraction with allow inspiration to strike. As soon as he arrives, he is approached by a Polish immigrant (Sig Ruman) and his lovely daughter (Anna Sten) about buying a neglected part of his land, which they intend for use by Sten and her husband-to-be (Ralph Bellamy). Cooper sells them the land, then quickly returns to his non-productive drinking ways. Vinson--think Eva Gabor on Green Acres--tires quickly of farm life and heads back to New York as winter sets in; one night, a drunken Cooper flirts with Sten, telling her she's too good for the rough, uncultured Bellamy. She rebuffs him but the next day they've become friends. With Sten as his muse, Cooper starts writing again, good stuff, we're told; he lets Sten read it and soon they're in love. Her father senses what's going on and forbids her visiting Cooper, but one night she's stuck there during a snowstorm and, though nothing more than a kiss happens, Ruman forces her to marry Bellamy within the week, just as Vinson arrives for a surprise visit. On Sten's wedding night, the forces of love, jealousy, and culture clash bring about a tragic ending.

This is a predictable melodrama, but worth watching, with several actors playing a bit against type, especially Cooper; he was no longer the male ingénue of MOROCCO or DESIGN FOR LIVING, and he hadn't yet been stereotyped as the strong, silent hero of adventure films or Westerns. He's relatively silent but plays a weak man who can't make things come out right for himself or his loved ones. Sten is better here than she was in NANA; in fact, she's very good but she's just not a Garbo type, and this was her last starring role in a Hollywood A-movie. Vinson's character is neither bitchy nor unsympathetic, just someone like Cooper and Sten who is subject to forces she can't quite control. The biggest surprise is Bellamy in a role far removed from the usual passive loser-boyfriend he played in many comedies of the 30's; here, he's almost playing a Lon Chaney Jr. type, a big, dumb, rough-edged, unlikable lug, and he's good in the part. The film's tone is also unusual for the time: though it becomes a tragic melodrama, it begins as almost a comedy, and comic touches remain here and there until the end. [DVD]

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