My first Borzage in a while. Jean Arthur is leaving her rich boatbuilder husband Colin Clive (Dr. Frankenstein himself), so he pays a dude to visit her room and, ahem, “forcibly seduce” her. Charles Boyer interferes, knocking the guy down, then an enraged Clive murders the dude just to pin the crime on Boyer.
That’s all the first few minutes – bulk of the movie is Jean and Charles falling in love over fine food and dancing, palling around with over-exhuberant chef Cesar (Leo “Pancho” Carrillo), on the run until the husband takes her hostage again.
This was released to theaters two months before the Hindenburg exploded, so it wasn’t meant to be foreboding. But we all remember the Titanic, don’t we folks – when Jean flees on Clive’s own ship to testify for Boyer, Clive orders the ship to go ever faster through icy waters until it smashes into icebergs. He writes a confession letter and shoots himself, but joke’s on the big dramatic baby because the passengers survive.
Dan Callahan for Criterion:
In other Borzage movies, the lovers are often threatened by war or poverty, but here they are threatened by the madness of one powerful and relentless man … This is one of the key love stories of the thirties and of all time because it refuses to follow rules and gathers up as many moods and genres as it can before it’s too late.
Nearly the same plot as Spaced: two down-and-out strangers apply for a couples-only newspaper ad. But here, another popular 1930’s plot is thrown in: the rich guy pretending to be a commoner. Trouble in Paradise star Herbert Marshall is a futurist auto mogul, God’s own Jean Arthur (same year as The Whole Town’s Talking) can cook very well, and they’re hired as cook-and-butler by some fellas. He’s trying to stay in charge of the company he founded, she is arrested when his secret auto designs are found in her possession, their criminal employer Leo Carrillo proposes to Jean, Herbert doesn’t fool anyone for long and when he returns to his old life, Leo kidnaps him from his society wedding – it’s a lot for a 70-minute movie, and it mostly works thanks to the cast.
Ford directed at least 25 movies in the 1930’s – this one was made soon after Judge Priest. We watched this for Jean Arthur (a couple years before Easy Living), and a bonus was the really impressive dual acting by Edward G. Robinson and all manner of effects used to make him into two people: a bland office worker, and a bank robber nicknamed Killer. Robinson is turned into the cops by busybody Donald Meek (Stagecoach, etc), so the cops give him a signed letter saying he’s not the killer but a lookalike – of course this gets into the newspapers, since everything back then got into the newspapers, so Killer comes looking for his lookalike, steals the letter and forces the bland Robinson to cover for him. But Bland Robinson’s secret is that he’s a creepy stalker for his lovely coworker Jean Arthur, so when she’s endangered by all this activity, our man steps up and saves the day. I wouldn’t necessarily have thought crime comedies to be in John Ford’s wheelhouse, but dude’s wheelhouse was extremely large.
We heard that someone, somewhere, was having a Jean Arthur marathon, so we decided to participate and found this. Jean’s neglectful husband Fred MacMurray is lost at sea and presumed dead, but returns to find she has a new neglectful husband, his business partner Melvyn Douglas, and Jean enjoys having two men fight over her. The guys try leaving it to chance, but Melvyn cheats – the movie is pretty much on Fred’s side from the start. I guess Wes Ruggles was popular in his time, since his photo appears on the movie poster. I was not a fan of the first thing I saw him direct – looks like his thing is to cast all my favorite actresses opposite Melvyn Douglas. Written by Somerset Maugham, the highest-paid author in the world, also featuring butler Melville Cooper, who had played the Sheriff of Nottingham vs. Errol Flynn a couple years earlier.
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.”