Sunday, October 25, 2015

Over 21

publicity with Alexander Knox

Release date 08.08.1945

"Over twenty-one, you don't absorb anymore... you simply don't absorb a thing."

Deciding that he needs to know about the war first hand to be able to write about it and to know what will be the the challenges of the post-war world, Max Wharton (Alexander Knox) editor of the liberal newspaper New York Bulletin, resigns from his post and enlists in the army. His wife Polly (Irene), herself a successful novelist and screen-writer, joins him at Tetley Fields officer's school in Florida.

 arriving at Tetley Fields...

Max has to live in the army barracks but rented a dilapidated bungalow for Polly where she gets her own share of simple living conditions and rationing. The former tenant told her that allegedly after the age of twenty-one folks have difficulties to learn anything new, and indeed Max, already in his late thirties, has a hard time to remember the different army manuals and to get through officer's school. 

helping Max with his army manuals...

As if this wouldn't be enough, Robert Gow (Charles Coburn), the Bulletin's publisher threatens to sell the newspaper if Max doesn't return; obviously the newspaper is failing without its editor. Polly tries to keep all this trouble away from Max to give him the chance to concentrate on his officer's exam.
 She even writes a series of editorials under Max's name taking up his ideas of a post-war world of international cooperation - of course without the knowledge of Max and Robert. 

Polly at work...

and one of the results...

However, graduation day comes and Max discovers that his wife was not only "... like all those other gals with their fellas"...

publicity with Charles Coburn and Alexander Knox

"Over 21" is my favorite of Irene's "war films." Based on a successful Broadway play by Ruth Gordon, it comes in as a sophisticated and witty piece but touches a couple of serious topics underneath. 
 It's about war at the home front and about a couple dealing with this challenge in their very own way. The Whartons are surely not "average" people - both are professionally very successful, their background is not "small town" but very metropolitan. When Max tells Polly that he enlisted he reaches her in Hollywood where she's working on the adaptation of her latest novel. 

 the Whartons in front of their humble abode...

Obviously Mrs. Wharton isn't used to homework of any kind (her fruitless attempt to explain how to bake an apple pie is one of the movie's highlights) but she mixes easily with the other tenants. 

Polly and the other gals...

Like she knows how to write, the other wives know how to handle a pot and a baking pan and each skill has its place in this world. World War II has a democratic effect: people who probably never would have crossed each other's path in times of peace, meet and help each other, even if Polly is clearly not one of "all those other gals with their fellas" - just look at her nifty wardrobe! 

Well, that's the jumpsuit for an informal cocktail hour...

The serious issues are mainly dealing with the post-war world ("Over 21" was released in August 1945) with the focus on the idea of international cooperation illustrated by the editorial "The World and Apple Pie" which is still  very much up-to-date.
 Irene felt that she "aped" Ruth Gordon's mannerisms after catching her performance of "Over 21" on tour in Los Angeles. If so, that's irrelevant watching Dunne's performance nowadays. What I see is a perfect starring vehicle for Irene Dunne: a witty script asking for a sophisticated actress who combines comedy timing with seriousness. That "Polly" allows Irene to be really sexy (for the last time) on screen is another thing I love about this film and la Dunne's performance. 

looker Dunne!

Alexander Knox is not exactly her league but he does well and together they manage a pleasant, very simpatico couple (their relationship shown here is almost at the brink of being overly idealistic), but it's clearly an Irene Dunne film. 

Obviously the Whartons are really  fond of each other...

Overall it's a solid production with an once again great supporting cast headed by Charles Coburn; Charles Vidor's direction never denies this film's stagy origin and its air of a chamber play. 
 This serious but lighthearted picture is one of my favorites of this late period of Irene's career. Certainly not in the top ten list but nonetheless a fav.