Would be a decent enough movie – good concept but plot problems and sometimes clunky direction – but oh, the cast! A few months after The Lady Eve, someone had the smarts to hire a bunch of Preston Sturges players (Coburn, Demarest, and I’m counting Jean Arthur from Easy Living) along with Cuddles Sakall (same year as Ball of Fire) and Spring Byington (You Can’t Take It With You) and throw ’em all together. I was worried that the unknowns (Edmund Gwenn as a cranky boss and Robert Cummings as Jean’s labor-organizer love-interest, both Hitchcock actors) would drag down the cast, but no, everyone was great.
Coburn is supposedly a reclusive tyrant businessman whose response to any trouble is to fire people, but when he goes undercover at his own department store to ferret out pro-unionists he immediately turns into a teddy bear and falls for a fellow worker (Byington) in the shoe department. His new friends, Jean and Robert, are leading the labor fight, and though Coburn easily gets their list of sympathizers, he decides – instead of firing everyone on the list – to have a double wedding and take everyone on a Hawaiian cruise.
Wood made a couple of Marx Brothers movies and writer Norman Krasna did Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Indiscreet and White Christmas. Nominated for two oscars alongside The Devil Pays Off and The Devil and Daniel Webster, a diabolical year.
Silly setup becomes more serious as it goes along. Jean Arthur (post-semi-retirement, in her second-to-last film role) is a buttoned-up U.S. Representative (from Iowa) visiting wrecked post-war Berlin to assess the morale (and morals) of the occupying troops. John Lund (of High Society) is a shady Iowan captain with a sharpie-drawn mustache who is playing the black market, drinking at nightclubs and covering for his girlfriend Marlene Dietrich. So soon after WWII, we know even the cynical Wilder won’t let Dietrich off the hook after Jean is shown films of her cavorting with Hitler himself. So Jean enlists Lund in her undercover operation to discover which American troop is covering for Dietrich. He’s now attempting to protect himself and his girl from the no-nonsense Arthur, so he pretends to fall in love with her as a distraction.
Dietrich sings “The Ruins of Berlin” (I know the Dex Romweber version), and man are the ruins impressive. There’s hardly a non-bombed-out building seen in the opening aerial shots and the scattered location shots from the ground. The contemporary NY Times review calls Lund “disarmingly shameless.” For some guy I’ve never heard of playing against two of my favorite actresses, he comes off surprisingly well.
Bright Lights says Wilder pitched the film’s concept as propaganda to the U.S. military in Germany, describing “an entertainment film with Rita Hayworth or Ingrid Bergman… with Gary Cooper if you wish… and with a love story — only with a very special love story, cleverly devised to sell us a few ideological items.” The military found the finished film unsuitable to be shown in Germany, believing that a movie which stars a morally compromised U.S. soldier sleeping with an eroticized nazi mightn’t be in their best interest.
Cute comedy, doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that’d be nominated for seven oscars, but there you have it. Town malcontent Cary Grant is arrested for a trumped-up charge. Everyone knows he’ll be killed by the town mob, so he escapes and hides out in old schoolmate Jean Arthur’s house. But she’s fixing it up for visiting law professor Ronald Colman, and when he arrives early, she arranges to stay in the house as his secretary so she can take care of Grant, keeping him hidden away from Colman in the attic. Colman is a self-important Good Man who refuses to deal with real people in real situations, preferring to stay apolitical and theoretical as he’s about to be appointed to the Supreme Court, so Arthur and Grant arrange run-ins between him and the corrupt town officials that are rigging Grant’s case, convincing him to bring his great influence into play.
Jean Arthur would be in Stevens’s The More The Merrier the following year, which I thought about while watching this – Jean and two guys in a single living space trying not to run into each other. Grant was between Suspicion and Once Upon a Honeymoon, and Colman played amnesiac in Random Harvest the same year. “This is a great country is it not?” I was happy to recognize the commie from Trouble In Paradise ten years later as a borscht peddler.
Jean Arthur in her fourth-to-last movie. Her gentle, distinctively high voice floats above the constant hiss of background noise, barely audible but still clear as day.
She flees her three obnoxious suitors: pathetic, proper Grady Sutton (baddie of The Sun Shines Bright), unmemorable middleman Hans Conried and crude, punchy Grant Withers (a Clanton clansman in My Darling Clementine) for a Western bus tour, then loses the bus, ending up with handsome rodeo cowboy John Wayne (four years after Stagecoach but still not above crap like this).
Also, Charles Winninger, Judge Priest himself in The Sun Shines Bright (IMDB calls him “ever-huggable”) does his best Stumpy impression as Duke’s buddy Waco.
Seiter, eight years and 25 movies after Roberta, cranking ’em out too fast. Story writer Jo Swerling was oscar-nominated the previous year, would later cowrite Guys & Dolls on broadway. Produced by Jean Arthur’s husband, who cowrote her The More The Merrier the same year.
My favorite sentence from the TCM synopsis: “Joining Mollie in the hay, Duke warns her that he isn’t marriage material and speaks fondly of his horse, Sammy.”
Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942, Leo McCarey)
Another nazi comedy, this one McCarey’s follow-up to Love Affair. Ginger Rogers has finally landed a rich baron (Walter Slezak, title star of Dreyer’s Michael, also in Lifeboat), follows him to various countries, each of which falls to Hitler soon after. This gets the attention of reporter Cary Grant, and French secret agent Albert Dekker (ultimate baddie of Kiss Me Deadly). Ginger proves her loyalty to the viewer by rescuing her Jewish maid (Natasha Lytess, Marilyn Monroe’s acting coach) before agreeing to spy for Dekker, while Cary takes a nazi radio propagandist job, like if Mother Night was a comedy. The spy game doesn’t work too well, so Ginger pushes the baron overboard on an ocean liner and sails away with Cary.
The More The Merrier (1943 George Stevens)
A different kind of wartime picture than Once Upon a Honeymoon. This one focuses on the high women-to-men ratio in the D.C. area, and a housing shortage that forced people to take roommates. The story is short on logic, but the cast is super cute – and I don’t mean Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea, I’m talking about Charles “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” Coburn, great scammer of The Lady Eve. It’s the usual setup, where sweetie Jean is engages to a boring dude (Richard Gaines, Edward G. Robinson’s boss in Double Indemnity) but oughtta be with Joel instead, so Coburn invents complicated ways to make that happen, but all while the three are roommates.
Nominated for most major oscars, but up against Casablanca. Coburn still won an award. Remade as Walk, Don’t Run with Cary Grant. The last comedy Stevens would make before heading to war. IMDB: “Joining the Army Signal Corps, Stevens headed up a combat motion picture unit from 1944 to 1946. In addition to filming the Normandy landings, his unit shot both the liberation of Paris and the liberation of the Nazi extermination camp Dachau, and his unit’s footage was used both as evidence in the Nuremberg trials and in the de-Nazification program after the war.”
I enjoyed watching this with Katy much more than I did in film class. Everything is worse when doing it in class (or everything is better with Katy).
Mail flyers in Argentina struggle with difficult terrain, disabled pilots, a love triangle, infighting and a contract saying they get new planes if they fly a few more difficult missions on schedule. Dutchy (Sig Ruman, covert nazi in A Night in Casablanca) owns the planes but Cary Grant gives orders to the flyers. Kid (Thomas Mitchell) is the oldest with poor eyesight, Joe (Noah Beery Jr.) dies early, Sparks is the radio man, I think Les gets injured (most of them do at some point) and Tex (Westerns actor Don Barry) sits in a booth warning of weather conditions.
New flyer Bat (Richard Barthelmess, star of Broken Blossoms and The Dawn Patrol, sort of Henry Fonda crossed with Peter Lorre) shows up putting everyone on edge because of a word-of-mouth story that he’d abandoned a copilot – oh, and he brings new wife Rita Hayworth, an ex-flame of Cary’s who doesn’t know the dead-copilot story. And Jean Arthur (You Can’t Take It With You, Easy Living) was just passing through until she caught sight of Cary Grant, then follows him like a puppy for two hours trying to get him to tell her to stay, refusing to leave until he does, a catch-22 that works out romantically at the end.
Hawks and Cary Grant made this between Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday. Thomas Mitchell (The Kid) won best supporting actor as Doc in Stagecoach, also played the plantation owner (Scarlett’s dad) in Gone With The Wind, king of the beggars in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and appeared again with Jean Arthur in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington – all in the same year as this movie.