Monday, January 30, 2012

WOMAN'S WORLD (1954)

Clifton Webb, the head of an automobile company, needs to fill the position of general manager at his New York City office and brings three managers and their wives in from other cities to interview for the job: 1) Fred MacMurray has developed an ulcer and his wife Lauren Bacall is ready to leave him over his obsession with work, but he's the only one of the three who seems to desperately want the job; 2) Cornel Wilde is critical of modern business methods and his wife, June Allyson, is reluctant to give up their wholesome Midwestern family life; 3) Van Heflin is competent but not terribly ambitious, though his wife, Arlene Dahl (pictured with Webb), is plenty ambitious for both of them and loves the idea of moving to the Big Apple. Though Webb interviews all the men, it's his theory that paying attention to the wives is equally important if not more so, so he arranges a series of social situations in which they can all interact. Bacall, despite her problems with MacMurray, works at making a good impression; sweet Allyson keeps saying the wrong thing, especially one night when she gets a little drunk; sexy Dahl tries using her seductive wiles on Webb. Ultimately, it's the behavior of the wives and how their husbands react that determines who Webb chooses for the job.

This is one of those 50s movies with a wide screen filled with attractive sets and mannered performances covering up a fairly shallow story that might work better on television. The idea here, that the wives are better indicators of the men's suitability for the job then the men themselves, is clever, and Webb's final decision may surprise some viewers, but the characters are all surface with little depth. Still, this generally held my interest. Allyson and Dahl play their parts rather broadly, but the other actors are fine, with Heflin and Bacall standouts. Elliot Reid and Margalo Gillmore as relatives of Webb's are also fine. Webb is his usual brittle self; predictable but fun to watch. I particularly like Webb actually saying the clich├ęd line, "I like your spunk" to Wilde. [FMC]

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