I Was a Male War Bride

Marian Marshall, Cary Grant, Ann Sherida in I Was a Male War Bride

I Was a Male War Bride, 1949, 20th Century Fox. Starring Cary Grant, Ann Sheridan. Directed by Howard Hawks. B&W, 105 minutes.

In post-WWII Germany, French Army Captain Henri Rochard (Cary Grant) is given the assignment of tracking down a German lens maker in nearby Bad Nauheim. Assisting him in his travels is American Army Lieutenant Catherine Gates (Ann Sheridan), whom Henri has met before under apparently less than desirable circumstances. Despite protests from both Henri and Catherine, their assignments stand, and they head off together to the German town.

The two encounter one obstacle after another, until, to their surprise, a bond develops. They arrive back from their journey engaged to be married, but new complications arise. Catherine is now assigned stateside, and for Henri to follow her back, he must qualify as a war bride — or rather, the “Alien Spouse of Female Military Personnel Enroute to the United States Under Public Law 271 of the Congress.”

Ann Sheridan, Cary Grant in I Was a Male War Bride
Ann Sheridan, Cary Grant

This is a slower paced comedy than many of director Howard Hawks’ earlier works, such as His Girl Friday or Bringing Up Baby, but it works. Hawks said in later interviews he wasn’t interested in “female impersonation” as a comedy tool, but he found Grant’s portrayal of a war bride acceptable because “he was so masculine.” Indeed, the most comic element of Henri dressed as a woman is the ludicrous nature of trying to turn Cary Grant into someone ladylike.

While he may not have looked to female impersonation for comedy, role reversal was a common element in many of Hawks’ films. In His Girl Friday, he changed the entire tone of the film by making the lead character a woman, instead of a man as originally written, and introducing romance to the plot. In To Have and Have Not, he presented Lauren Bacall as the more powerful of the two lead characters, although arguably it is difficult to see Humphrey Bogart as weak in any way.

Hawks also spoke to the challenge of bringing out the humor in some of the scenes. “We had a scene where Cary had to answer all kinds of ridiculous questions, such as “you ever had female trouble? We looked forward to making that scene, but when we did, it wasn’t funny at all. We got the idea that maybe a man like that would be amused at the sergeant having to ask him these silly questions. ‘Female trouble? Nothing but.'” With that switch in attitude, the scene worked.

Ann Sheridan Cary Grant in I Was a Male War Bride
Ann Sheridan, Cary Grant

Ann Sheridan, an often underrated actress, is thoroughly delightful as the “military personnel” who, in addition to the difficulty of getting her new husband home, is frustrated by the difficulty of spending so much as a single night alone with him. The sexual tension in this film is played for all it’s worth right from the beginning, despite the Production Code restrictions in place. It is indicative of the loosening of Code standards, which was starting to unravel at this time.

Like Cary Grant, this film is charming and disarming, and the humor holds up today. It is based on one man’s true life story of being a “male war bride,” and for the most part, the situations don’t bend the limits of reality too far beyond belief. Grant as a woman may be the notable exception, but that’s also one of the funniest parts of the movie, so it’s easy to overlook.

 

As of July 24, 2017, “I Was a Male War Bride” is scheduled to air on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on Sunday, August 20, at 4:00 p.m. ET/3:00 p.m. CT. Scheduling is subject to change; check TCM’s schedule for the latest information.

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The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Lana Turner, John Garfield in The Postman Always Rings Twice

The Postman Always Rings Twice, 1946, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Starring Lana Turner, John Garfield, Cecil Kellaway, Hume Cronyn. Directed by Tay Garnett. B&W, 113 minutes.

Frank Chambers (John Garfield) is a drifter who chances on a rural diner, owned by Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway) and his seductive young wife, Cora (Lana Turner). Before Frank can even sit down for his first meal at their diner, Nick has offered him a job.

Nick is blissfully unaware of the sparks between his wife and hired hand, and has no idea the two are having an affair and planning to kill him. Their first attempt fails, but eventually, they try again, and this time they succeed.

It’s up to attorney Arthur Keats (Hume Cronyn), with his less-than-honorable methods, to keep Cora out of jail. Frank somehow is never suspected, but his worries aren’t over. It’s a troubled road Cora and Frank must continue to travel.

John Garfield Lana Turner The Postman Always Rings Twice
John Garfield, Lana Turner

This was considered one of Lana Turner’s best roles, which admittedly is not saying much, as most of her career was marked by so-called “blonde bombshell” parts, requiring less of her than the challenge playing Cora presented. She proved herself capable of a strong dramatic role, however, and gave a genuine performance as the conflicted woman seeking more.

Garfield’s understated presence is a precursor to the method acting that became so popular only a short time after this film was made. There’s no doubt what Frank is thinking at any moment, yet that understanding doesn’t come through words. It is in his expressions and subtle movements that Garfield communicates Frank’s story.

As a member of The Group Theater, a theater collective whose founding members included Lee Strasberg, it’s not surprising Garfield developed the skill to communicate emotion, vulnerability and strength together in the same glance or quiet move. His own rebellious nature comes through in this film as well, adding to the layers of depth for the character of Frank Chambers.

Hume Cronyn, Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice
Hume Cronyn, Lana Turner

The film was well received by both critics and audiences. The critic for The New York Times wrote, “In its surface aspects, “The Postman” appears no more than a melodramatic tale, another involved demonstration (two hours in length) that crime does not pay. But the artistry of writers and actors have made it much more than that; it is, indeed, a sincere comprehension of an American tragedy. For the yearning of weak and clumsy people for something better than the stagnant lives they live is revealed as the core of the dilemma, and sin is shown to be no way to happiness.”

This is not a perfect movie; it starts out a bit slowly and ends on a melodramatic note somewhat out of tempo with the rest of the film. The courtroom scenes, however, particularly the part of the calculating, suitably amoral attorney played by Hume Cronyn, are gripping.

For fans of film noir, this is a must see, and for fans of classic films in general, this one is worth the watch if for no other reason than the strong performances of the entire cast, as well as the twist in the tale of crime and punishment, a borderline unacceptable plot element for movies of that time.

The Letter (1940)

Gale Sondergaard, Bette Davis in The Letter

The Letter, 1940, Warner Bros. Starring Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, James Stephenson. Directed by William Wyler. B&W, 95 minutes.

On a Singapore rubber plantation, shots ring out on a languid moonlit night. Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis) has coolly shot a man dead, dropped the gun and related a story of attempted rape to her husband Robert (Herbert Marshall), his attorney Howard Joyce (James Stephenson) and the local British constable.

While she is sent to the Singapore prison to await trial, there seems to be little doubt of the outcome. No one expects Leslie to pay a high price for killing this man she claims she barely knew. The dead man’s imposing and exotic widow, however, is in possession of a letter that could turn the tide.

In attempting to obtain that letter, Howard Joyce is first torn between honor and saving his client, then must face his client’s husband with the compromise, a half-truth that comes back to haunt him after the trial is over. Leslie, too, must face the repercussions of of her decisions, past and present.

Bette Davis, James Stephenson star in The Letter
Bette Davis, James Stephenson

Davis once again shows her ability to fully communicate to her audience with only nuanced movements and shades of expression, and Stephenson is compelling as the conflicted attorney. This tale of calculated malevolence received seven Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Davis), Best Supporting Actor (Stephenson), Best Original Music Score, Best Film Editing and Best Cinematography, Black and White. It won none, but was critically acclaimed and immensely popular with audiences.

In fact, the film critic for The New York Times commended William Wyler for his superb direction and further wrote, “It is an evil tale, plotted with an eye to its torturing effects. And Mr. Wyler has directed the film along those lines. With infinite care, he has created the dark, humid atmosphere of the rubber country. At a slow, inexorable pace, he has accumulated the details. His camera generally speaks more eloquently than any one in the picture.”

Not everyone was in complete agreement with all of Wyler’s direction, however. Davis famously walked off the set in disagreement over his decision about how to shoot the final scene between Leslie and her husband. Years later, when Davis was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute, Wyler joked at the ceremony that if she had the chance she would “drop everything at that very moment to redo a scene in The Letter.” She nodded an enthusiastic “yes.”

Herbert Marshall, Bette Davis in The Letter
Herbert Marshall, Bette Davis

The dead man’s Eurasian widow was played brilliantly by Gale Sondergaard, with barely a word spoken and a mask-like visage looking out over each scene laid before her. The Asian character actors played their subservient parts with nominal caricature, somewhat surprising given the era and the film industry’s tendency at the time to rely on such techniques.

Based on the play by W. Somerset Maugham, The Letter had been made into a movie once before, in 1929. The play itself had been inspired by the real-life story of Ethel Proudlock, a Eurasian woman married to the British headmaster of a private school in Kuala Lampur who shot a man when he paid her a visit. She claimed self-defense, and was first sentenced to death, then pardoned.

This is a gripping melodrama, with fine performances and the moody backdrop of an exotic locale.  It is a story that would have been more powerful without some of the code restrictions of the day, however, Wyler made it work. Some DVD versions provide an alternate ending that is said to be truer to Davis’ vision of those final scenes; watch it and cast your vote for the better choice.

The Feminine Touch (1941)

Van Heflin, Kay Francis, Rosalind Russell, Don Ameche in The Feminine Touch

The Feminine Touch, 1941, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Starring Don Ameche, Rosalind Russell, Kay Francis, Van Heflin. Directed by W. S. Van Dyke, B&W, 97 minutes.

Professor John Hathaway (Don Ameche) is exasperated by his students, in particular the star football player, who would rather flirt with the professor’s wife, Julie (Rosalind Russell), than study. Julie doesn’t take the young man’s advances too seriously, but she is bothered by her husband’s lack of concern about the attention she gets from men.

The professor isn’t likely to get jealous, however. As his book will tell you, jealousy has no place in a healthy marriage.

He’s working to get that book published, and visits publisher Elliott Morgan (Van Heflin) to show him the manuscript. Morgan’s assistant, Nellie Woods (Kay Francis) is in love with her boss, but that doesn’t stop her from pursuing the professor. For his part, Hathaway, either unaware or unconcerned about Morgan’s evident interest in wife, has suggested those two spend time together.

Morgan more than takes him at his word. When Hathaway is mistakenly arrested for lascivious behavior on the subway, Morgan leaps on the opportunity to move in on Julie.

Don Ameche, Rosalind Russell in The Feminine Touch
Don Ameche, Rosalind Russell

Critics at the time noted the film ran a little long, with The New York Times critic writing, “the film has many too many lines, but they do have a sort of dizzy spin to them, and Miss Russell knows how to deliver them mischievously.”

The “dizzy spin” could be attributed in part to Ogden Nash’s part in writing the script. The author and poet was known for his dry wit and deadpan humor, and fans of the understated will particularly appreciate this movie.

Van Heflin, Kay Francis in The Feminine Touch
Van Heflin, Kay Francis

This was Van Heflin’s first role for MGM after a mediocre career at RKO Studios and a run on Broadway in The Philadelphia Story, where he played the role of Macauley Connor. That accolade was used by MGM to promote The Feminine Touch, despite Heflin’s distinctly “un-Macauley-like” demeanor in the film.

This is a lightweight comedy, with a top-notch cast, particularly Rosalind Russell and Kay Francis, who ultimately engage in a classic cat fight over their men.  They’re far more adept at the battle then the men prove to be moments later. While this is film isn’t the finest work for any of its stars, it is a decent showcase of their talents, and a pleasant film to watch when you need an escape.

As of June 27, 2017, “The Feminine Touch” is scheduled to air on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on Friday, August 18, 2017 at 2:00 a.m. ET/1:00 a.m. CT. Scheduling is subject to change. Check TCM’s schedule for the latest information.

To Have and Have Not

Humphrey Bogart Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not

To Have and Have Not, 1944, Warner Bros. Starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall. Directed by Howard Hawks. B&W, 100 minutes.

Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) is an American expatriate making a humble living in Martinique, not long after the fall of France to Nazi Germany. He owns a small fishing boat and wryly caters to tourists looking to catch “the big one,” all the while doing his best to stay out of any political intrigue. For the most part, he’s left alone, even ignored, by locals.

Not much gets past him, and when he sees the sultry new girl in town (Lauren Bacall), artfully lift the wallet of the bombastic man who has been sidestepping his way out of paying the substantial sum he owes Harry, he steps in to control the situation. But this isn’t a woman who’s easily controlled.

Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not
Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart

This was the film that launched the romance between Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, and in later interviews Howard Hawks frequently told how he’d warned Bogart he’d found a woman who could match his insolence — and thereby match his power — on the screen. Bogart affably laughed at the idea, and any tension that might have come from playing opposite a strong woman was no doubt helped when he found himself falling in love with his co-star.

In her autobiography, By Myself, Bacall tells of the subtle yet powerful start to her romance with Bogart. Initially helpful primarily on a professional level with the young actress, after a few weeks Bogart made the first quiet move, and gradually the two began a discreet, then increasingly open, romance. Hawks was opposed to any sort of relationship between them, although he didn’t hesitate to use the intense emotions in his movie.

Bacall also recalled that when shooting scenes with Bogart, she began to shake with nervousness, well aware of her novice standing with the on-camera and behind-the-scenes movie greats who were creating the film. She learned to calm her nerves by tucking her chin down and peering up at Bogart during her scenes with him, a move that soon became known as “The Look.”

Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not
Dan Seymour, Humphrey Bogar

Hawks also told about a bet he’d made with his friend Ernest Hemingway, claiming he could make a movie out of any of the author’s books, even the worst, which he without reservation said was undoubtedly To Have and Have Not. From there Hawks worked with Hemingway to create a rough draft of a script, focusing on how the main characters met, but using little of else from the book. Screenwriters Jules Furthman and William Faulkner wrote the final screenplay.

Despite her character’s sophistication, it is easy to see the girl in 19-year-old Bacall. To Have and Have Not introduced her as an actress, and was also the first major role for Dolores Moran, who was 20 at the time. Moran’s career was short-lived; she appeared in several more films over the next few years, but retired as an actress in 1954.

Lauren Bacall Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not
Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart

The film had elements of Casablanca in its supporting characters and secondary story lines, with the trusted piano player, the difficult political situation, and the characters bearing a strong resemblance to those played by Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. It also shares a moodiness with that film, but To Have and Have Not is not a cheap imitation of other great movies. It is a classic for its own reasons.

 

 

 

Out of the Past

Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer in Out of the Past

Out of the Past, 1947, RKO Radio Pictures.  Starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas. Directed by Jacques Tourneur. B&W, 97 minutes.

Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) has chosen a simple life in a small town, making his living from his gas station and dating the local sweetheart, Ann Miller (Virginia Huston). He is content and at ease, until a dark shadow from his past appears in the memory of Kathie Moffatt (Jane Greer).

Years before, Moffatt had shot and wounded her boyfriend, the less-than-honorable Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas). She fled to parts unknown, and Sterling hired a private investigator, Jeff Markham, to find her and bring her back. Markham, of course, is none other than the man now known as Jeff Bailey. His search leads him to find Moffatt hiding in plain site in Mexico, but he doesn’t let Sterling know about his discovery. He’s fallen for Kathie, and the two run off together.

They are living quietly until Markham’s partner, Jack Fisher (Steve Brodie), finds them and threatens to take Moffatt back to Sterling. Markham and Fisher get into a brawl, and Moffatt, now sharper in her aim, shoots Fisher dead. After Markham buries the body, he starts a new life, but without Kathie Moffatt.

Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer in Out of the Past
Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer

Destiny steps in, and Jeff finds himself first back in Sterling’s palatial home, then in San Francisco, where he meets up once again with Kathie. The three have a few issues to resolve.

Before Mitchum was cast in the lead, the part allegedly was offered to Humphrey Bogart, John Garfield and Dick Powell, three of the most popular actors of the time. It was said to first have been offered to Bogart because the story on which the film is based, Build the Gallows High, and the movie itself, both strongly echo elements of The Maltese Falcon.

It is brooding, classic film noir, with tension that builds and a resolution that leaves its own questions. As the femme fatale, Jane Greer does a fine job, but her acting doesn’t match the quality performances by Mitchum and Douglas, nor is the interaction between her and either of those men half as interesting as the interplay between the male lead characters.

Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past
Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum

Filming took place primarily in a small town in northern California, with most of the cast and crew arriving a week or so before Mitchum appeared. He almost didn’t make it at all when the brakes failed on the four-seat plane he arrived in. The pilot was able to avert disaster, and while the two passengers in the back were unconscious after the emergency landing, Mitchum is rumored to have crawled out and hitched a ride to the set.

It was only Kirk Douglas’ third film role, the first being The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, and he is sharp, cunning and unlikable as the unscrupulous Whit Sterling. Mitchum, also a rising star at the time, shines with his typical low-key style in one of his finest roles.

In 1984, Out of the Past was remade, with a significantly different script, as the film Against All Odds. The remake starred Jeff Bridges in the Mitchum role, Rachel Ward in Greer’s role and James Woods in Douglas’ part. Jane Greer played Ward’s mother, and Paul Valentine, who had a small part in the original film, played a councilman.

Virginia Huston, Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past
Virginia Huston, Robert Mitchum

For fans of film noir, Out of the Past is a must-see, with most of the classic elements of that style seen in this movie. The snappy dialogue, the moody lighting, the sharp contrast between good and evil, all play a role. Mitchum, with his laconic style and brooding appearance, is the quintessential film noir star. And for classic film fans in general, this is one to add to your list of movies worth watching.

The Constant Nymph

Charles Boyer, Joan Fontaine in The Constant Nymph

The Constant Nymph, 1943, Warner Bros. Starring Charles Boyer, Joan Fontaine, Alexis Smith. Directed by Edmund Goulding. B&W, 112 minutes.

Lewis Dodd (Charles Boyer), a concert pianist, is in a slump, and for inspiration he seeks out his friend Albert Sanger (Montagu Love) in Switzerland. Sanger has four daughters, all of whom adore Dodd, but Tessa (Joan Fontaine) is particularly enamored of him.

Shortly after his arrival, the Sanger girls’ worst fear is realized when their father dies. They are left penniless, but in the care of their wealthy uncle, Charles Creighton (Charles Coburn). Creighton visits Switzerland with his daughter, Florence (Alexis Smith), who also becomes enchanted by Dodd, and he returns her feelings. Florence and Dodd are married, leaving Tessa heartbroken. For Tessa, who has a heart condition, this stress is a serious problem.

The life of ease and wealth proves uninspiring to Dodd, however, and the newlywed couple soon discover they are no longer happy together. Equally dissatisfied with their lives are Tessa and her sister Paula, who have been sent to boarding school.

Tessa has never gotten over her feelings for Dodd, and through his music, he appears to now be returning them. But she is young, and he is married, and any union between the two seems unlikely to be destined.

Charles Boyer, Joan Fontaine, Alexis Smith in The Constant Nymph
Charles Boyer, Joan Fontaine, Alexis Smith

The Constant Nymph was nominated for one Academy Award, Best Actress for Joan Fontaine, who lost to Jennifer Jones for her role in The Song of Bernadette. The nomination was deserved; Fontaine created an engaging and memorable character, one that is said to be among her favorites. She was cast after director Goulding had conducted a difficult search for a star who could play a 14-year-old convincingly and with depth, rejecting Joan Leslie, the studio’s choice.

Charles Boyer wasn’t as happy with his part, saying he felt the character lacked strength and sensitivity. Peter Lorre is also featured in one of his most “normal” roles, as the new husband of Tessa’s older sister Toni, and an excited father-to-be.

Charles Boyer Joan Fontaine in The Constant Nymph
Charles Boyer, Joan Fontaine

The movie had been out of circulation from 1951 to 2011 as rights to the story reverted back to Margaret Kennedy, the author of the book on which it was based. This was an unusual situation for Warner Bros., who typically bought story rights in perpetuity. Kennedy stated in her will the film could only be shown in universities and museums, and it was rarely seen even in those venues. In 2011, Turner Classic Movies introduced a restored edition at its annual Classic Film Festival.

This is a fine film, with a story that is well-told and realistic despite its melodrama, and sharp performances from the entire cast. It has a more esoteric approach than most films of its day, focusing a bit more on the ethereal (and perhaps ephemeral) aspects of life, yet it brings the audience into the realities of one of life’s most painful situations, the loss of love.

The Male Animal

Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland in The Male Animal

The Male Animal, 1942, Warner Bros. Starring Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland, Jack Carson. Directed by Elliott Nugent. B&W, 101 minutes.

Earnest professor Tommy Turner (Henry Fonda) and his wife, Ellen (Olivia de Havilland), are preparing to celebrate Homecoming (which happens to land on Ellen’s birthday), along with the rest of the fictional Midwestern University campus. They’re having a small gathering before the big game, and among the guests are Ellen’s former beau, Joe Ferguson (Jack Carson), and one of the school’s narrow-minded trustees, Ed Keller (Eugene Pallette).

Tommy isn’t thrilled Ed is going to be there to start with, and his mild concern turns to great dismay when he learns one of his students has commended him for his “bravery” in reading a literary piece by Bartolomeo Vanzetti, the self-proclaimed anarchist convicted of first-degree murder in one of the most controversial court cases of the twentieth century. Tommy plans to read it simply because it’s a fine piece of writing, not because of any political stand, but he’s in trouble. The trustees are ridding the school of “reds” — anyone suspected of communist sympathies.

Jack Carson, Olivia de Havilland in The Male Animal
Olivia de Havilland, Jack Carson

Add to his concerns his growing conviction Ellen would be happier with the recently separated Joe. Ellen, for her part, is doing nothing to dissuade him from those thoughts. Only Joe seems uncertain about the potential of a future with his former girlfriend. Joe, it turns out, isn’t as dumb as Tommy would like to believe he is, and sees the situation with a fair amount of clarity.

The Male Animal is light satire about serious issues such as censorship and racism. While the objects of these concerns may be different than today, the rhetoric is much the same, making this film relevant to audiences 75 years after its release.

The movie premiered in Columbus, Ohio, with James Thurber, co-author of the popular play on which the film is closely based, in attendance as a special honoree. The occasion focused on the collegiate theme of the story, including a huge dinner at Thurber’s old fraternity house. Honoring Thurber, who didn’t directly work on the film, was legitimate, as screenwriters Julius Epstein, Philip Epstein and Stephen Morehouse Avery kept their script true to the original play, and the star of the Broadway production, Elliott Nugent, directed the film. It was as close to a Thurber screenplay as you could get without having the man actually work on the script.

Henry Fonda, Jack Carson in The Male Animal
Henry Fonda, Jack Carson

The studio promoted the film as a love triangle between Tommy, Ellen, and Ellen’s sister, Pat (Joan Leslie), but Pat barely makes an appearance and has nothing to do with the tension between the Turners. Apparently, the provocative nature of the other woman was thought to be needed to sell this film, even though it was actually the other man at issue.

Thurber had a sly wit, and that’s reflected in the dialogue. This is a smart movie poking fun at a serious topic, with a talented cast (down to Tommy’s student, Michael, played by Herbert Anderson, who would go on to be best known as Dennis the Menace’s father). Both stars are at their comedic best, and while these may not have been their most challenging roles, they brought extra depth to the characters lesser actors or actresses may have failed to do. The film moves at a good pace and manages to deliver a serious message in a natural manner. The Male Animal is well worth the watch.

 

The Lady Eve

barbara-stanwyck-henry-fonda-in-the-lady-eve

The Lady Eve, 1941, Paramount Pictures. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda. Directed by Preston Sturges. B&W, 94 minutes.

Charles “Hopsie” Pike (Henry Fonda) is fresh on the boat after a year-long expedition up the Amazon studying snakes and other assorted reptiles. The first evening on board the luxury liner he meets socialite Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck) and her father, Colonel Harrington (Charles Coburn)…only father and daughter aren’t who they claim to be. Unbeknownst to Charles, they are card sharks and con artists, out to fleece their latest victim.

Jean, however, finds herself falling for Hopsie. She’s ready to go straight and begin a life together with her new love, when his friend and bodyguard Muggsy (William Demarest) discovers the truth about the Harringtons. Charles dumps Jean and leaves her heartbroken, as well as out for revenge.

She returns to his life as the Lady Eve Sidwich, ready to break his heart just as he broke hers. But she is at risk of being sidelined by her own desires.

charles-coburn-barbara-stanwyck-henry-fonda-in-the-lady-eve
Charles Coburn, Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda

The third film both written and directed by Preston Sturges, The Lady Eve is considered by many to be his finest work. It is a smart combination of satire and slapstick comedy, with plenty of sexual innuendo and mockery of the wealthy. Sturges, who had once been married to a socialite, was known for poking fun at upper crust society.

But the fun isn’t all at the expense of the privileged. Others in this film have a moment of having his or her foibles exposed or dignity bent.

Paulette Goddard and Brian Aherne were the studio’s choices for the lead roles, but Sturges, who had clout after the success of his first two films, insisted on Stanwyck and Fonda. It was one of the few comedies Stanwyck had appeared in during her career so far, and its success led her to the starring role in Ball of Fire later that year.

barbara-stanwyck-henry-fonda-starring-in-the-lady-eve
Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda

The film was well-received by critics and audiences alike, with The New York Times critic writing, “It isn’t often that this corner has good reason to bang a gong and holler ‘Hurry, hurry, hurry!’ As a matter of fact, it is all too rare indeed that we have even moderate provocation to mark a wonder of the cinematic world.”

The film received one Academy Award nomination, for Best Writing, Original Story (Monckton Hoffe, who wrote the original short story the final script was based on). It lost to Here Comes Mr. Jordan.

Stanwyck was long known for her professionalism on the set, including always being prepared for the day’s shooting schedule, as well as her kindness to fellow cast members and crew. It was a rare actor who met the high standards she set, but Fonda appears to have been one of them. He later wrote she was his favorite co-star, and is even rumored to have had a long-time crush on her.

The Lady Eve is sophisticated despite its slapstick comedy, and a prime example of Preston Sturges at his finest. It does lose a little shine with a few details such as Stanwyck’s distinctly bad English accent, although perhaps that was a deliberate element, but overall remains sharp and funny today.

 

Humoresque

john-garfield-joan-crawford-in-humoresque

Humoresque, 1946, Warner Bros. Starring Joan Crawford, John Garfield. Directed by Jean Negulesco. B&W, 124 minutes.

Violinist Paul Boray (John Garfield) has overcome family objections and the constraints of the Great Depression to achieve modest success as a musician. That’s not enough for him, however. To help his search for greater fame, his closest friend, wise-cracking Sid Jeffers (Oscar Levant), introduces him to socialite and patron of the arts, Helen Wright (Joan Crawford).

The two begin a tug-of-war toying of the emotions, with Paul mindful of her married status and she, not used to being rebuffed by men, alternately playing it coy, then cool. Paul has a childhood sweetheart who is clearly better for him then the tempestuous Helen, but he is being pulled into her affections.

It is a dangerous situation, and both are aware of the potential destruction to their lives, but as happens so often, passion draws them into a deeper and wider stronghold against their better judgment. At the same time, Paul is torn by his mother’s insight into his career and tortured relationships.

john-garfield-joan-crawford-star-in-humoresque
John Garfield, Joan Crawford

The relationship between patron and musician is complex, and performances by both Garfield and Crawford are up to the task of portraying the intricacies of the dynamics between the two. This is often noted as one of Crawford’s finest roles, coming on the heels of her Academy-Award winning portrayal of Mildred Pierce.

Close-ups of Garfield playing the violin are actually the hands of famed violinist Isaac Stern, who also served as musical advisor for the film and was the solo violinist on the film’s soundtrack. Stern was only 25 at the time, and this was a huge boost to his career.

John Garfield in Humoresque.png
John Garfield

Crawford later recalled one scene, in which she performs her own stunt by falling off a horse going at full gallop, in an interview with a biographer. “I must have been crazy because I said I wanted to do my own stunt. They must have been crazier, because they let me do it.

“The powers-that-be had decided it was too racy to have Johnny Garfield lay on top of me. We had to re-shoot the scene so I ended up on top of him. That passed. I couldn’t really understand what was the difference, him on top of me or me on top of him.

“Well, the difference was I had to fall off the horse again. I did, and I lived to tell the tale.”

joan-crawford-in-humoresque
Joan Crawford

The film was nominated for one Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring (Franz Waxman).

A musical term, “humoresque” means “a short, lively piece of music,” and while that is heard throughout the film, it is perhaps not the strongest title for the film, nor does it give much of an indication of its plot or tone.

One of the few movies ever made that features classical music in a key role, Humoresque is a compelling tale of a complicated relationship with flawed characters and an uneven path to romance, a path that ultimately leads to tragedy born of emotional, and likely distorted, decisions.