Thursday, January 24, 2013

LOVE NEST (1951)

Soldier William Lundigan returns to New York City to find his wife (June Haver, pictured at left with Lundigan) has used their nest egg to buy an apartment building that's falling apart. She knows he wants to write a novel about his experiences in Paris ("What's the name of that restaurant where the existentialists don’t hang out?"), but he winds up spending all his free time fixing up the apartments and dealing with the tenants, including Frank Fay, an older man who says he is an estate evaluator but who is actually a serial swindler of widows, now at work on another lonely tenant (Leatrice Joy). Then along comes an old Army buddy of Lundigan's, a busty WAC (Marilyn Monroe) of whom Haver becomes immediately jealous, though Monroe seems more interested in another one of Lundigan's friends  (Jack Paar). Plot complications ensue, including: 1) the arrival of a federal agent looking to bust Fay for his past misdeeds even though he insists he's found real love with Joy; 2) an attempt to re-wire the entire building before it gets condemned; and 3) an incident in which Lundigan spends the night in Monroe's apartment—innocently, of course, though Haver doesn't see it that way. 

This is a cute sitcom-ish movie with a perfectly pleasant couple at the center, one plus being that neither Lundigan nor Haver is the traditional wacky/screwball type. The film does have an odd little edge, provided by Fay who plays the swindler in a low-key fashion, keeping us off balance about his real agenda: Is he sinister? Is he just lonely? Does he really love Joy? And when he offers the couple the money to fix the wiring, will he really come through? The ending is almost downbeat, saved by a clever epilogue. Fay was at one time married to Barbara Stanwyck, had his career almost derailed by alcoholism, and is best known for originating the lead role in HARVEY on Broadway (taken in the movie by James Stewart). He only did a handful of movies, so it's worth seeing this film just to catch one of his performances. It’s also interesting for other supporting players:  Monroe before she became a leading player, Paar before his TV hosting days, and Leatrice Joy (who was married in the 20s to John Gilbert) long after her silent film career. Cute and a little strange. I liked this odd exchange: Monroe, paying rent money to Lundigan: "It seems strange giving money to a man you know"; Lundigan: "I bet it does." [FMC]

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