Monday, November 21, 2011

When Tomorrow Comes

Irene gone with the wind - we're still in 1939 - in
 "When Tomorrow Comes"           

Release date 08.11.1939

"I'm not bitter... I just feel sort of numb in here."

Another workday at one of the common restaurants in New York; waitress Helen (Irene) and her co-workers are busy with lunch hour. The girls are a little bit nervous because of an Union meeting in the evening and a possible upcoming strike. Helen - herself left-wing oriented - tries to calm them down. One of the diners that day is Frenchman Philip (Charles Boyer) who immediately attracted to Helen follows her to the Union meeting.

For once, Irene takes Charles' order...

Helen speaks at the gathering, and manages to convince the other waitresses to strike. Philip introducing himself simply as a pianist - Helen assumes that he plays somewhere in a bar and has a similar background  like herself - walks Helen home, and persuades her to jaunt with him the next day.
The trip starts nicely and comfortably on a boat with a picnic lunch from the Ritz but soon a storm comes up  and the couple is forced to take refuge in Philip's Long Island house. Helen quickly discovers that Philip is not only the wealthy owner of this mansion but the famous pianist Philip Andre Chagal - and, well, he is married. Despite the hurricane outside and the seductive fireplace atmosphere inside, Helen begs Philip to drive her back to town , after he kissed her.

The storm is not what I am afraid of...

And then a tree falls atop of the car, and they have to look for shelter in a church, and then they think they'll drown, but they don't and are rescued the next morning and then Philip tells Helen that he is desperately in love with her. And then on their way back to New York they meet Philip's wife Madeline (Barbara O'Neil), who turns out to be mentally disturbed. And then Helen sends Philip away, and then Philip returns and tells her that he can't give her up. And then Philip's wife turns up at Helen's threshold and pleads her case - "I am mentally ill, but not all the time, and I am helpless, and won't you give up Philip?" And then Helen dines the last - no it's the first time - with Philip and decides to send him alone to Paris, and then Philip leaves...

The first/last dinner...

Okay, I admit my recount of this storyline is a little bit flippant, but when I first watched this film I felt dissapointed and this feeling still lingers on. What a waste of talent and opportunities! "When Tomorrow Comes" was based on an unpublished story by James M. Cain, and after I read the not until 1951 published novel, I assume that Cain was the reason why this movie starts so promising. Irene as a waitress with communist leanings, delivering a rousing speech at an Union meeting is an interesting change of path for her; and Charles Boyer as leading man and John M. Stahl as director - how exciting! My expectations were fulfilled in the first 40 minutes and then a storm comes up and in a jiffy I end up with a drab love story at my hands. Why didn't they stick to "The Modern Cinderella" - so the working title - story? 

"Modern Cinderella" beaming

The exit of the Cinderella still could have worked if the love story which uses all kind of dramatic situations as aids - storm, water, toppling trees, and even a mental case - wouldn't hesitate every time drama really tries to take its toll. For instance, this scenery in the church - our protagonists just narrowly escaped death, water is streaming into their shelter, and they start talking about the end of the world... their love is anyway ill-starred, maybe they are facing death, one way or the other those are their last hours together, and all they can think about is taking a nap?? Of course, Irene making herself comfortable on/at Charles is nice  to watch, but after I schlepped through this scenery of elementary forces I am in the mood for some drama or let's just say some heart-to-heart talk. I'm defenitely not in for a snooze, especially not with Irene and Charles around! 

I have to admit, this looks cosy...

The story as a whole is so patchy, as if different writers wrote each one scene only vaguely telling each other what happened beforehand. When the nutty wife turned up, I knew I would not even get a happy end.  Old Hollywood husbands plain and simple don't leave their psychologically unstable wives. This is sort of reassuring - at least for the deranged  females - but Philip's Missis seems to be of the dangerous kind. In the scene with Helen Madeline comes across as manipulative and creepy. What is she going to do next? Burn the house down?? Barbara O'Neil played her so spookily, that she managed to distract me from Irene - and this is really something!

Irene with scene stealer - according to Irene adding some needed pep - Barbara O'Neil

Naturally, my lament is complaining on a high level. Everything but this uneven story is beautiful. Irene and Charles Boyer create together a glowing onscreen presence as if they'd increase each other, and director John M. Stahl obviously knew what he was doing. Especially the beginning - I admire how we "walk" into the story - and the last minutes - a wonderful example of Dunne/Boyer underacting - are outstanding. 
I am well aware that the sources of my irritation are probably censorship and Irene's onscreen persona - who would be interested to elaborate on a tough cookie/Union girl image for her? - but this time my knowledge does not help. "When Tomorrow Comes" simply doesn't ring true for me; an accumulation of pleasant to watch screen moments sums up to a movie I don't really like. At least, I am in good company; Irene didn't like this picture, too, kind of "Dunne like" not exactly telling why but her vagueness echoes my uncomfortable feelings about this film. Miss Dunne gets the last word (interview with James Harvey, 1978):

I can't help it. 

JH: But you didn't enjoy making When Tomorrow Comes, the Stahl film with Boyer?
ID: No, I didn't. It's quite a nice way I have, isn't it, of blocking things out I don't like to remember?... I only remember one scene in that film... we were caught in a storm -- in a church choir?
JH: Yes, it's a strange scene.
ID: And he was a pianist -- or I was?
JH: He was. (I laugh)
ID: Yes, I remember him sitting at the piano... and was I a waitress?
JH: Yes, you were a waitress.
ID: I remember those early scenes, yes.
JH: You were very good in them, too. (She looks at me dryly, I laugh)
ID: (softly) I can't imagine that I was good in that.
JH: Really? Why not?
ID: Well... I don't know. I didn't like it. 
JH: And even working with Boyer didn't help?
ID: Not in that.
JH: Did he dislike it, too?
ID: I don't think he liked it very much... 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Invitation To Happiness

The lady and the bloke (Fred MacMurray)

Release date 06.07.1939

"If you are not afraid of failure, there is no failure." (Eleanor)

Since his retirement, wealthy Mr. Wayne (William Collier Sr.) has a weakness for odd investments and this time he is interested in buying an interest in heavyweight fighter Albert "King" Cole (Fred MacMurray) offered to him by his former oil partner Hank "Pop" Hardy (Charlie Ruggles). To safeguard her father's investment, his daughter Eleanor (Irene) accompanies him to a fight to have a look at Cole. Though Cole wins and is obviously a promising boxer, Eleanor isn't really convinced and the after fight businees talk ends with a quarrel between her and Cole and a quick exit of the latter. Feeling insulted, Eleanor follows him and soon they are involved in a conversation - after Eleanor slapped Cole - which reveals Cole's more sensitive sides. Well, Elenor falls head over heels for the guy, and after her father bought half of his contract, on a visit to the training camp it becomes obvious that Cole is similarly attracted to her. In opposite to his "usual Blonde" (Marion Martin), Eleanor is a woman he can talk to about his ambition and the driving force of his life - the championship. This is his aim and goal and he can't imagine failure. Cole is very much aware of the class differences between them but nonetheless they elope and get married.

The Blonde, the King and his Queen

Soon reality catches up with our happily honeymooning couple: Cole is a fighter, which means training camps and a life on the road without the mollycoddling influence of a wife. Months of apartness follow, and Cole isn't even around when his son is born.
Those months turn into years, and though Cole had all the money he needed to support his family a couple of years ago, he  is still after the championship. For his ten year old boy, Albert Jr. (Billy Cook), his seldom present father is almost a stranger. At last, Cole's aspiration seems to be in reach - the fight for the championship. Once again he visits his family, mainly to tell them that he has to leave soon for the next camp. Instead of a reunion, the tension between Cole and Albert and Eleanor's vain tries to mediate leads to a controversy between the couple. In this situation, Cole turns to his former Blonde, and despite still loving her husband Elanor files for divorce. Cole gets temporary custody for Albert, and is determined to prove to his son that he loves him, even if this means that he has to jeopardize his chances for the championship...  

Mr. Wayne (William Collier Sr.) and Pop (Charlie Ruggles) telling 
Eleanor some truths about the life as a fighter's wife...

This is an oddly obscure film which is almost never mentioned. But whereas it's not one of the absolute hightlights of Irene's career, "Invitation To Happiness" has a special place on my own Dunne agenda. It was one of the first films of Irene I watched, and I  remember very well how impressed I was. 
What gets me especially about Irene Dunne over and over again are those details; a love scene - Eleanor and Cole engrossed in conversation, they are alone outside, Cole tells her that they'd better go inside. Eleanor simply asks "Why?" She knows, he knows, we know that love is in the air, and well, there are still those class differences... Irene stands there with slightly waggling shoulders, her hands in her pockets - a body language which is at the same time challenging and cautious. And then she says "Why?" and it's unbelievable what she manages to express with only one word. Her voice is breathless with excitement, tension, and, oh boy, how she wants to be kissed!

during filming with Billy Cook and director Wesley Ruggles

Of course Irene Dunne films are full of this kind of tidbits - and I could easily pick some other scenes from "Invitation To Happiness" - but one example of my Dunne newbie memories is certainly enough.
As you know by now, while I've never lost the enthusiasm for those details they are not sufficient to secure a film a place on the list of my Dunne favorites - this needs some other elements. One strong argument is the presence of Fred MacMurray. I plain and simple like that guy - once again an actor who worked with all my favorite actresses - and he is perfect in the role of this sensitive big hunk of a man. The supporting cast is outstanding, even for old Hollywood standards, and all of them get some rewarding scenes. Child actor Billy Cook who asserts his position in this high quality cast, deserves an extra mentioning. 
The diretor's seat was occupied by Wesley Ruggles with whom Irene worked on "Cimarron" and he proved once again that he had a knack for action scenes; the boxing sequence is especially well done. As the icing of the cake Irene is dressed in fancy 20s costumes - the story begins in 1927 - designed by Edith Head.

Irene in an Edith Head creation

Till now this sounds like quite a film, doesn't it? Okay, a "lady and the uneducated fella" story is not exactly groundbreaking, but always likeable to watch, and the bottom line "If you are not afraid of failure, there is no failure" is intelligent enough to please me. The idea that sometimes defeat in one department of life might bring success in another section is certainly one I like. 
"Invitation To Happiness" has the fate that it's overshadowed by the superior films Irene made around that time. Irene and Fred MacMurray make a pleasant couple but it's not the Dunne/Grant, Dunne/Boyer magic; neither is this movie as witty as "The Awful Truth" nor as sophisticated as "Love Affair," it's simply not in this league of films, but nevertheless it's a solid piece of entertainment.
That's another Dunne picture I'd love to watch in a decent print one day, but my rather blurry copy does not hinder me from accepting this "Invitation" from time to time - it's always an enjoyable, relaxing evening.

Meet the Coles!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Love Affair

Charles Boyer and Irene 

Release date 03.16.1939

"Anything can happen, don't you think?" (Terry)

Sailing from Europe to New York, Michel Mornat (Charles Boyer) - a notorious playboy, who is on his way to marry heiress Lois Clarke (Astrid Alwyn) - meets Terry McKay (Irene) - a young woman kept by her boss and "fiancé" Ken Bradley (Lee Bowman). Though both are (almost) going steady, they start flirting and Michel clearly has a shipboard romance in mind.

First encounter...

Obviously, Terry is attracted to him and wouldn't be adverse to a little fling, but she fears that they would make the newspapers and stops the entaglement before it really started. However, on a shore excursion - the boat docks at Madeira - they run into each other, and Michel invites Terry to join him for a visit to his grandmother. Janou (Maria Ouspenskaja) lives on a hill in a house with a calm, unwordly atmosphere that immediatley captivates Terry. 

with Janou (Maria Ouspenskaja)

From his grandmother she learns about some other sides of Michel; not only is he a talented painter, but there is nothing wrong about him the right woman couldn't fix. These hours together work like a catalyzer for their feelings and back aboard Michel and Terry know that something serious is happening between them.  

 Work and love or a life of "pink champagne"?

Although they are sure about their feelings for each other, they are not sure if they could manage a long-term relationship; both are used to a life of "pink champagne" - and that someone else pays for the champagne. Michel has never worked before and Terry only a short time as singer at a nightclub before she was picked up by Ken. They agree not to see each other for six months, and have a try at finding a job and changing their lifestyle. If this will work out they'll meet again atop of the Empire State Building and then the future will be theirs. 

Terry and Ken (Lee Bowman) - Michel is not amused

Both take the first step and leave their respective partners. When his art doesn't sell, Michel takes a job as painter of signs while Terry starts singing again. At last, the six months are over and the Empire State Building is already in sight, but then fate strikes. Terry - in a hurry to meet Michel - is run over by a car, and this accident brings her into the wheelchair. Not knowing if she'll ever walk again, she doesn't want to be a burden for Michel and does not contact him. 

Terry and the kids singing "Whishing" 

Whereas the fact that Terry didn't show up is the dissapointment of his life, Michel just can't turn back to his playboy ways and instead concentrates on his painting. Likewise, Terry refuses any help from Ken and makes a living as music teacher at an orphanage still hoping that she'll escape the wheelchair in the nearer future and then she'll "run to Michel." Coincidentally they meet at a theater performance. Michel not aware of her state of health, and irritated because Terry is accompanied by Ken , visits Terry the next day. He simply has to know why she didn't climb the Empire State Building before he'll leave "to sail the seven seas" trying to forget her... 

The last visit...

"Love Affair" is not only a very beautiful film but an interesting mixture of different genres. Romantic comedy - mainly taking place on the cruiser - and melodrama walk hand in hand glued together by well-nigh religious elements. An igniting moment for Terry's and Michel's relationship is when they pray together in a little chapel on Janou's estate. The scenery is immersed in light coming from a window above and concentrating on Irene thus arousing the effect that we - and Michel - seem to see her anew. When they leave the chapel there is a moment of slight embarrassement between our main characters; something has changed and they know it. Both our protogonists are not quite flawless - the first detail we learn about Michel is that he just betrayed his fiancee with her best friend - and Terry's relationship with Ken - though he is the only page in her "little black book" - is not exactly one out of an etiquette guide for ladies. But we are told to love the sinner and not the sin, and who does not want to believe that love might have a cathartic effect and bring out the best in us? Of course this "catharsis" has to stand a test, and our couple has to prove that they are changed as individuals to be allowed to become a couple again.

one of my favorite publicities...

As serious as this sounds as light is the tone in which the story is told - certainly an outstanding, appealing feature of "Love Affair." Charles Boyer and Irene are simply wonderful in the leads, and their first co-work resulted in a film they both called one of their favorites. Again we are lucky enough to witness the mysterious moment of onscreen chemistry; in the case of Irene and Charles a chemistry more based on tenderness and warmth than  on repartee and timing which connected Irene so wonderfully with Cary Grant. Charles Boyer was Irene Dunne's other favorite leading men - Miss Dunne knew whom to pick. Irene had the fondest memories of the atmosphere on the set of "Love Affair" and gave a by an Academy Award nomination awarded performance.

on set with Leo McCarey and Charles Boyer 

She is not only supported by her leading man, but by the fine direction of Leo McCarey - another one of Irene's favorite co-workers. On one hand low-key on the other hand most impressive, McCarey finds a touching visual language for this "affair" - the first encounter, the aforementioned scene in the chapel, their first kiss or the whole last ten minutes of this film... anyway, those last ten minutes! If I would need a reminder why I started this project - I do not, just in case - I could simply watch these ten minutes. That's  top class Dunne  - an emotional rollercoaster of a scene handled solely by the use of her speaking voice and her facial expressions; and in passing she proves why her Terry was and is the woman Michel fell in love with. That someone like Charles Boyer is Irene's counterpart in this scene is an exhilarating onscreen moment. 

There we sing again...

All of this would be certainly enough to make "Love Affair" one of my favorite Irene Dunne films, but I get a super extra - a song! "Sing My Heart" was especially written by Harold Arlen  for this movie and fits Irene's voice perfectly. A fav song in a fav film - that's certainly worth a recommendation! 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Joy Of Living

as Margaret Garret

Release date 05.06.1938

M-"Haven't you any responsibilities?"
D-"Yes, to me! I do what I want to do, when I want to do it!"

Hard-working and successful Broadway star Margaret Garret (Irene) is not only emotionally and financially drained by her parasitic family (Alice Brady, Guy Kibbee, Lucille Ball and Warren Hymer) but lately traced by ship-owner Dan Brewster (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). His efforts to gain her attention are unappreciated by Margaret, and she has him arrested. At last they end up at court and to rescue Dan from a six month prison sentence – Margaret had something more mild in mind – she agrees to serve as his probation officer.

Margaret and Dan (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) at court

It turns out Dan is not only infatuated but has a mission and a message. His mission is to rescue Margaret from her family, and here is the “Brewster message”: skip your responsibilities and do the things you want to do, when you want to do them. Tricked by Dan, Margaret spends an evening with him which he uses to convince her that one can have a lot of fun with only two bucks. This search for inexpensive entertainment includes drinking, dancing, roller skating, some singing and more drinking. Margaret – anyhow already attracted to Mr. Brewster – starts under the influence of a lot of beer and admiring glances of Dan to earnestly fall for the guy.

The lady is having a beer...

Our drunken couple lands in Margaret’s bedroom – of course this is harmless as can be – but the family isn’t as convinced as we are, and makes quite a brouhaha. When Dan accuses them that their only concern is the fear to lose their meal-ticket, Maggie orders him out. No one is allowed to speak such disrespectfully with her family. Despite their behavior she still believes that they would stick to her in time of trouble.
However, learning that Dan is going to sail for China in the evening she hurries to the dock, proposes, and is accepted by Mr. Brewster.

Maggie on her way to propose...

Follows a quick shot of a marriage, but the newly-weds already start quarreling only a few minutes after the ceremony. Their plans for the nearer future are not exactly compatible – the “Brewster message” and Maggie’s feeling of responsibility towards her contract and her family don’t go well together. It seems that this marriage is at an end before it really started, but don’t worry, Maggie will soon learn the truth about her family…

Maggie and her loving family...

You’d assume that a comedy involving Miss Dunne and a score by Mr. Kern is a sure bet with me, but, well, it is not. I have a lot of difficulties with this film, starting with the basic – the story. There are beautiful “money isn’t everything/enjoy your life as long as you can” films around but “The Joy Of Living” is not one of those candidates. The fact that the ambassador of the aforementioned “Brewster message” is the owner of a ship, a mansion furnished little island and obviously doesn’t have to work much - probably he lives off the family fortune - is hard to swallow. Maybe I’d gulp even this, if the representative of this sort of “Joy Of Living” wouldn’t be Douglas Fairbanks Jr. He doesn’t find a charming, light tone but starts bossy preaching, which simply annoys me. Oh boy, how I wished for Cary Grant or Robert Taylor to be around!  Added the absence of chemistry between him and Irene, and this awful, ridiculous “Duck thing” he does all the time, the leading man of “Joy Of Living” just sunk.  

Sorry, Douglas, I just knocked you out!

To do Mr. Fairbanks Jr. at least some justice, I have to say, that as his tone lacks lightness the shortage of this fundamental comedy necessity is a main problem of the whole film. They are all trying too hard  – including Irene. The first half of the movie is okay and has its moments, but then they start pushing the whole thing over the edge. Everything is exaggerated and especially the supporting actresses and actors are at the brink of caricatures. The running gags – Irene’s fight with her veil drinking beer or the reoccurring hiccups for instance – are exhausted to an extreme and repeated over and over again.  This comedy is far away from offering any sophistication or wit, and to handle slapstick in such a long stretch – the “we are having a good time” sequence is far too long – needs an expertly tight and stringent direction, which is unfortunately not supplied by Tay Garnett. “Less is more” would have been a nice guideline for this movie.

You couldn't be cuter...

Okay, me don’t like that film…but what about the score? Come on, it’s Kern! Well, it’s Kern, and although those are not songs of an “evergreen” quality they are still very beautiful. The majority of the numbers is presented in the first half of “Joy Of Living”, probably one reason why I like this part a lot better than the rest.
Irene Dunne always gives me something, and “Joy Of Living” isn’t an exception to the rule, but her Margaret Garret definitely isn’t one of my favorite performances of hers. There are Dunne moments where she gets me once again, and she makes a cute drunkard, but that’s all there is.

one of those moments...

“The Joy Of Living” was a film Irene didn’t remember very well in later years, and I’d forget all about it, if it wouldn’t be for a couple of  Irene Dunne scenes and some Kern songs.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Awful Truth - my favorite dialogue

Jerry: In half an hour , we'll no longer be Mr. and Mrs. Funny, isn't it?
Lucy: Yes, its's funny that everything is the way it is, on account of how you feel.
Jerry: Huh?
Lucy: I mean, if you didn't feel how you do, things wouldn't be as they are, would they? What I mean, things would be the same if things were different.
Jerry: But things are the way you made them.
Lucy: Oh, no. Things are the way you think I made them. I didn't make them that way at all. Things are just the same as they always were...only you are the same as you were, too...So, I guess things will never be the same again. Ah,...night.

Jerry: Good night....
Lucy: You are all confused, aren't you?

No, not after I wrote it down and typed it out! 

The Awful Truth

The Warriners

Release date 10.21.1937

Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant) allegedly back from Florida - he never left New York and we won't learn about the why and wherefore - is nonetheless slightly annoyed when he returns to an empyt apartment with a couple of friends. Where is his wife Lucy (Irene)? Entrance Lucy, surprisingly all dressed up and with her handsome singing teacher Armand (Alexander D'Arcy) in tow. Follows the well-known excuse of "the car broke down and we had to stay in an inn," and exactly when Jerry is on the brink to embark on an "I'm in the right" scene caused by jealousy, Lucy discovers that the oranges he brought her are not from Florida but from California! The hasty jump to conclusions of the Warriners ends with a divorce and a struggle about the custody for their dog, Mr. Smith.

arguing over Mr. Smith

Mr. Smith goes to Lucy with visitation rights for Jerry which means that he shows up frequently at Lucy's apartment. While waiting for her final decree, Lucy urged by her Aunt Patsy (Cecil Cunningham), starts dating wealthy Oklahoma farmer Daniel Leeson (Ralph Bellamy). Unsophisticated Dan soon proposes and is accepted by Lucy thus bringing Jerry completely to the scene.

Dan enjoys a hearty laugh...

He does the best he can to disturb the ongoing courtship, and in the proceedings it becomes obvious that he and Lucy are still very attracted to each other. Being a woman and therefore quicker about such things, Lucy knows that she loves this lunatic soon-to-be ex-husband of hers, and we could be heading in the direction of a reconciliation, if Armand wouldn't enter the scene...
Well, completely fed up now, Jerry decides to look for other female company and before long, he is involved with rich socialite Barbara Vance (Molly Lamont). The three months are over, at midnight the decree will be final, and Lucy visits Jerry at his apartment for a last farewell - still hoping that it won't be the last, though.

Sometimes it's hard to be a woman...

Accidentally she picks up the phone, and to destroy the suspicions of his fiancĂ©e Jerry passes her off as his sister. Turns out this wasn't such a good idea, because "Sister Lola" gets an invitation to a dinner party at Barbara's parents' house. That's the chance Lucy waited for and she not only shows up, but gives the phrase "to be the heart and soul of a party" a new and very peculiar meaning. To rescue the situation, Jerry drags her out of the house, and taking advantage of the situation, Lucy presses every button to lure him into her bedroom before midnight...

Irene Lola Lucy in action!

Much of the action was improvised and director Leo McCarey wrote parts of the script directly on the set, which gives "The Awful Truth" an unbelievable fresh- and directness. Though he left his actors room for spontaneity, McCarey defenitely knew what he wanted and this shows. Additionally, he had - due to his training in his earlier films - a knack for slapstick, which makes this movie a splendid mixture of witty dialogue and almost banal humor. Bedroom farces, sitting on handkerchiefs, toppling over chairs or other madcap scenery are neither exactly new nor sophisticated but how these situations are handled ,and by whom, cracked even me up  - decidedly more on the verbal side of humor.

The Warriners - slightly seperated

"The Awful Truth", this story about two human beings who get into a divorce not to lose their face and have to make fools of themselves not to lose each other in the end, is a lot, a lot of fun. This exemplary representative of the screwball comedy genre gained Leo McCarey a Best Director Academy Award.
On the set of her second comedy, Irene met the first of her two favorite leading men - Cary Grant (the other one was soon to come Charles Boyer). And as she told in an interview: "We just worked from the first moment. He's a generous actor. He can afford to be, any man that gorgeous, and who'd watch little old me?" (interview with James Bawden) Anyway, "The Awful Truth" certainly offers enough good reasons to watch "little old me." It's Irene Dunne at her comedic best, in an with an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress awarded performance, and if you want to know what all the fuss about her perfect timing is about, you just might watch this film. But of course, all of Irene's timing wouldn't work without someone like Cary Grant as counterpart - quite a master of timing himself that guy!

Little Ol' Me, Mr. Smith and Mr. Generous

If "The Awful Truth" is an example for timing it's as well an example for another difficult-to-explain-but-you-know-it-when-you-see-it term -- on-screen chemistry. Is it that the actors seem to be at ease with each other and at the same time there is an erotic tension? Is it repartee? Or simply bringing out the best as actors in each other? Seems to be all of this and a lot more!
However, what I simply love is Irene's and Cary's constant ogling each other. They react to their -once again expertly arranged entourage - and concurrently have a steady sort of private interaction going on. Irene Dunne and Cary Grant simply were a perfect match, last not least in their similar style of acting which looks so effortless and natural and was unfortunately of the Award Nominations amassing and not winning the statuette kind.
Those two human highlights are competently supported by Ralph Bellamy in one of these rather thankless  "the third part of a triangle" roles. But Mr. Bellamy - an utterly sympathetic actor - gives a charming performance, and his dance number with Irene, for which he had to practice a lot, is one of the (many) high points of the film.

Lucy and Dan trying a step or two...

Surprise, surprise! I love this film, and every time I watch it I discover a new facetious detail and an Irene qoute comes to mind: "It is difficult to make people laugh, but it is infinitely worthwhile. You have lengthened their lives, or you have made them happier, and that is important in itself."(The Sydney Morning Herald, June 1938) If this is true - and I have no reason to doubt Miss Dunne - I certainly owe Irene!

one of my favorite publicities
 Some last words about the core of this blog - the one and only Miss Dunne. I'm convinced that Irene could have managed a career without any comedy ventures. She already had her place in Hollywood, and could have gone on solely with melodrama and musical, but I certainly like how the comedies broadened her image. This new genre offered her the opportunity to show some more facets: her sense of humor, youthful lightness, this delighful playfulness and last not least the simple fact that she was indeed a dish. The days of philandering on-screen husbands and lovers are gone by now - no more fighting for men but with relish fighting with them. And sex appeal, humor, warmth, the most wonderful throaty laugh and the steady impression that this woman is up to something make quite a nice armory in the battle of sexes.

Good night!

Monday, May 30, 2011

High, Wide And Handsome

Our handsome couple - Irene and Randolph Scott 

Release date 07.21.1937

"Can I forget you? Or will my heart remind me that once we walked in a moonlit dream?...
Will the glory of your nearness fade, as moonlight fades in the vail of rain?
Can I forget you, when everything reminds me how much I want you back again."

Today is an evening of entertainment for the little Western Pennsylvania town, because a medicine show visits the community. While Sally Watterson (Irene) sings her father (Raymond Walburn) tries to sell his universal remedy to the inhabitants; that their wagon catches fire is an unintentional enrichment to the spectacle and leaves Sally and her father stranded. Fortunately handsome farmer Peter Cortland (Randolph Scott) is at hand, and he and his grandmother (Elizabeth Patterson) take the homeless, "wagonless" folks in. Well, to build a new home on wheels needs some time, at least enough for Sally and Peter to fall in love.

The medicine show

Peter, who in his spare time drills for oil, exactly hits a well on their wedding day and the festive gathering is completely drained by an oily rain. Something similar happens to Sally and Peter’s marriage – preoccupied with the petroleum boom which spreads over the land, Peter neglects his wife. All gets worse when the farmers under the guidance of Peter try to boycott the railroad company that blackmailed them into immense freight rates to get their oil to the refineries. Looking for another way of transportation Peter has the idea to build a pipeline, an enormous project, which not only costs him his whole time but the hill where he and Sally wanted to erect their future home. That´s the last straw for Sally and she runs away with a Carnival show… follows a lot of action!

Sally enjoying the pleasures of a real home...

Romance, oil boom, David versus Goliath fight, carnival shows, saloons and shanty bars, barn dances, pipeline construction, marriage troubles, fist-fights, not to mention a couple of beautiful Kern numbers – those are busy 145 minutes. In less capable hands this could have been a disaster of a film but as things are "High, Wide And Handsome" was in just the right hands. In an interview, Irene described director Rouben Mamoulian as a sort of detail fanatic, and this definitely paid off. One beautiful visual tidbit follows the other, and the way how we are thrown into the story – with a close-up of singing Irene – is certainly a treat. How Mamoulian uses the lighting or the effect of showing us a detail at first and then slowly moving back and thus giving way for the whole scenery is worthwhile a closer look. Unfortunately this movie is only available in a blurry print, and I’d love to watch this in a cleared up version and on a real big screen. Mamoulian’s craftsmanship of direction is equally competent and winningly completed and supported by our leads.

Irene and Rouben Mamoulian (with jacket) waiting for the perfect cloud constellation.
In the film that's a very, very short scene but the clouds in the background are simply beautiful!

Not exactly youngsters anymore – both Irene and Randolph Scott were in their late thirties in 1937 – they pull off a touching "young love" and make a very handsome, tender couple. Initially this production was planned with Cary Cooper in the male lead but Randolph Scott took over at short notice. Though I’d appreciate an association of Irene with Cary Cooper because of name dropping reasons, I certainly don’t miss him here. Mr. Scott gives a fine performance and he and Irene complement each other nicely. Irene, who didn’t like that film very much due to several reasons one of them being that her mother died during production, needed the distance of some decades to reconsider her judgment on "High, Wide And Handsome", and to some degree appreciate the film and Randolph Scott’s performance: "I saw it on television here some weeks ago and I didn´t think it was half as bad as I remembered it…But Randy Scott was so much better than I remember him being." (full interview) I hope this new point of view included herself because Irene’s breezy performance is darn joyful to watch. She was indeed too mature for the role – in the last analysis, only counting the years, Irene was too mature for many of her films  - but it simply doesn’t matter.

And here, they are again!

And of course, it’s the combination Dunne-Kern again. Only after I worked on the theatre page for my Irene Dunne website, and hence listened to a lot of the music of that time in the original versions, I fully understood how beautiful Kern’s songs are for Irene’s voice. Her classical educated voice, which sometimes was – and still is for some people – unfamiliar singing "popular" music, shows all its advantages in Kern’s compositions. Especially beautiful is "The Folks Who Live On The Hill" ending with some impressive high notes and deservedly the best known song from "High, Wide And Handsome." Irene obviously loved singing, and to encounter this pure, direct joy coming from a performer whose forte is based on an ultimate, intelligent soberness and rationality is always a wonderfully striking moment.(Here are those songs, and don't miss Irene's live version of "The Folks Who Live On The Hill" in the misc. section of the same page) 

Irene on the set of "High, Wide And Handsome"

Well, a varied story, skillful direction, captivating performances – including the supporting cast, which offers such names as Charles Bickford and young Dorothy Lamour – and Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein in charge of the score, who could ask for anything more? The whole certainly sums up to a gladdening, though sadly underrated piece of entertainment, and shouldn’t be missed.