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.

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Madame Bovary (1949)

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Madame Bovary, 1949, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Starring Jennifer Jones, James Mason, Van Heflin, Louis Jourdan. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. B&W, 115 minutes.

Emma Rouault (Jennifer Jones) is a young woman living alone with her father in rural France, lost in her dreams of romance and excitement, lives she has read about in forbidden novels while in a convent school. One day she meets aspiring doctor Charles Bovary (Van Heflin), who immediately falls for her and pursues her as he tends to her father’s health.

Charles has no illusions about himself. He tells Emma he is a rather dull person and not a highly skilled doctor, but promises to treat her well and provide a good living. Emma, captivated by her own dreams, doesn’t appear to hear his blunt words and lackluster promises when she accepts his proposal.

They marry, and Emma immediately begins living beyond their means, which an indulgent and weak Charles allows. Emma, never satisfied, begins an affair with first another man in their village, then with an aristocrat (Louis Jourdan) who moves nearer to Emma so they can be together.

The realities of life are overwhelming for Emma, and take her on a tragic course that destroys the lives of all who love her most.

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Jennifer Jones, Louis Jourdan

Lana Turner was originally considered for the role of Emma Bovary, but was considered too sensual, a problem given the way producer Pandro S. Berman was trying to frame the film. Too appease censors, he set up the story with the real-life courtroom drama of the book’s author Gustave Flaubert attempting to defend his novel against charges of indecency. In the movie (which loosely draws from the real-life trial), Flaubert, played by James Mason, portrays Emma Bovary as a sympathetic young woman who has fallen under the spell of romantic novels and seeks a lifestyle that doesn’t exist. Her dreams of beauty and excitement make her sympathetic and deserving of forgiveness, Flaubert argues, and not harsh condemnation.

Perhaps it was that set-up of the plot that was problematic for the critic for The New York Times, who questioned whether or not the story of Emma Bovary was “timely.” However, he had high praise for the male stars, saying “Louis Jourdan is electric as her elegant lover, and Van Heflin is quietly appealing as her trusting, small-town spouse.”

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Van Heflin, Jennifer Jones

The tale of Emma Bovary has withstood the changing whims of time because of the unflinching way it reveals human nature and foibles, spelling out the reality of disillusionment and despair in unrelenting terms. The story has been brought to film numerous times, but this production stands out, perhaps because of its stark focus on Emma’s character without sharp judgment, letting the story speak its own truth.

Minnelli’s opulent storytelling, including the dance sequence during which reason is lost and passions are flamed, supplements the great heartache and loss that is found in Madame Bovary. The courtroom drama seems nearly moot in the end, but still leaves us pondering the fate of all who crossed into the life of Emma Bovary.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

Lizabeth Scott, Van Heflin in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, 1946, Paramount Pictures. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Kirk Douglas (film debut), Lizabeth Scott. Directed by Lewis Milestone. B&W, 116 minutes.

Three childhood friends are linked forever by the truth behind a crime committed by one of them in their youth. Or so two of them believe — and set out to destroy the third before he reveals what they know but can’t say. Only it’s unclear what that third person believes about the crime, or if he even knows one was committed.

Of course, this is film noir, so enter the femme fatale, who becomes a pawn in their plans of betrayal.

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Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Kirk Douglas

Van Heflin stars as the affable yet street savvy Sam Masterson, who, purely by chance, finds himself in the town he grew up in with his car in need of repair.

Unaware of the trap he’s about to walk into, he looks up his childhood friends, Walter and Martha O’Neil (Kirk Douglas, Barbara Stanwyck). Along the way he meets the alluring and vulnerable Toni Maracheck (Lizabeth Scott), who has a few secrets of her own.

Heflin is as appealing as any movie star of that era in this film, and brings an effortless, timeless quality to his performance.

Kirk Douglas made his film debut co-starring in this high-profile 1946 movie. His performance as the beaten-down, alcoholic district attorney foretells his quick rise to stardom. Placing a newcomer opposite an established star like Barbara Stanwyck was a bold move, but it paid off.

Stanwyck’s chilling portrayal of a ruthless, guilt-ridden women driven to push her husband to political success shows the depth and versatility of her talent as she reveals all sides of her character with equal skill and believability.

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Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott

True to film noir, it is melodramatic in parts. Overall, it rings true in its characters, their motivation and behavior. I found the start of the film to be a bit slow, but stick with it for essential information. The rest is compelling and suspenseful, with a dramatic finish that wraps up the story in a manner consistent with the plot as a whole.