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Arroyo & Want Ad Wedding

Ring a Ding Ding

     Turner Classic Movies last week disbursed a number of Screen Directors Playhouse half-hour TV movies throughout its schedule, giving us another host of fun quickies featuring great actors and directors. For Arroyo, Director George Waggner wrote a story that frankly could have been drawn out into a full-length movie. A fat Jack Carson is a self-appointed judge for a western town who metes out justice as two troublemakers enter town.

    A wagon train had been attacked by American Indians and one woman survivor shows up in Arroyo. She is injured and put to bed. Meanwhile, “the Dude” (John Baer) has gotten into an argument with a stranger, Bart (Neville Brand). This Bart was hired by the wagon train to lead it through the Indian country but did not keep his promise. The injured woman (Lola Albright) says she saw her husband killed during the attack, but Bart says the man rode away the night before.

     Carson is his usual tough self as a possibly crooked arm of the law and does a great job playing it cool as we all know western men are apt to do. Baer gives an appropriately emotional performance as Brand provides the plot with its sinister aspect. I have mentioned before that Screen Directors Playhouse episodes never feel rushed but magically seem to squeeze an entire movie in a half hour spot. That rings true here with a story that has its mystery and twists and flash ending. The story is certainly of the quality that could make it a big-screen hit, but audiences in 1955 got to watch it from their own homes instead.

     Next up is Want Ad Wedding, a cute romantic comedy directed by William Seiter. Polly Parker (Sally Forrest) is a “floater” at a department store, a job that involves her moving from department to department doing whatever tasks are needed. When she ends up in advertising, she gets sucked into a scheme dreamt up by her father Col. Jennings Parker (Leon Ames). He has spotted an ad in the paper asking for guests to attend the wedding of two military officers who are strangers in the big city. The colonel proposes to the advertising boss Chet Buchanan (Fred Clark) that the department store sponsor the wedding and provide all aspects of the decoration and clothing.

     In Polly’s efforts to pull of this last-minute wedding with her co-workers, she makes jealous a man who has been after her for a date for some time: clothing salesman Hank Douglas (Richard Webb). Although we only have a half hour to establish this romance, throw some hurdles in front of it, and bring it to a happy ending, Want Ad Wedding does so successfully. I think the actors make it possible through their sympathetic performances that convey their emotions toward one another. Webb is particularly essential in this task as we watch him long for Polly.

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It’s a Great Feeling

Gasser

It's a Great Feeling (1949)

     I’ve never really been sold on Doris Day as an actress; however my vocabulary on the subject is limited. I would not say that It’s a Great Feeling –her third film– really showed her in the best light, but the flick itself is somewhat intriguing. Self reflexive pictures are not much of a rarity, with many titles from the thirties and forties showing us the backstage drama of theater and movie production. This movie, however, takes it to a new level.

     With the exception of some side characters and the producer role, Day is the only character who does not play herself. It’s a Great Feeling depicts the efforts of two actors —Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan— to convince the producer of their picture to hire an unknown actress/singer looking for a break. Besides screen tests, the story involves no actual filming of their feature, “Mademoiselle Fifi”. Instead, the duo try to have producer Arthur Trent (Bill Goodwin) discover Day’s character on his own by planting her as an elevator operator, cabbie, optometrist’s assistant, etc. Each time she comes into contact with the man, however, she flutters her eyes, quivers her smiling lips and emits a bizarre squeaking sound. Trent gradually loses his mind as he cannot understand why he keeps seeing the same woman everywhere he glances and fails to pick her up as a potential actress. Meanwhile Carson and Morgan are unsuccessfully vying for the protagonist’s affections.

     The story is a bit scatter-brained as the trio endeavor to force discovery of the young unknown onto their producer, instead of just offering her up themselves (Carson is directing the picture). The songs are pretty good, made better by Day’s lovely singing voice, but the best entertainment the flick offers is in its cameos. Not only does the film’s director David Butler show up to decline directing “Mademoiselle Fifi,” but so do King Vidor, Michael Curtiz and Raoul Walsh. Because the film is set primarily on the Warner Bros. lot, we are entreated to a variety of the studio’s stars at the time: Ronald Reagan, Gary Cooper, Jane Wyman and the prettiest and youngest Patricia Neal I have ever seen, and the list goes on. I particularly enjoyed Joan Crawford‘s spot during which she starts an uproar that concludes with her slapping both Carson and Morgan. In response to “what was that all about,” she says “I do that in all my pictures.”

Love Crazy

Gasser

Love Crazy (1941)

     Welcome to part two of the accidental trilogy of marriage movie reviews. I managed to watch three movies over two days that all portrayed life after marriage. The first, No More Ladies, was a drama that makes lover-boys rethink their extramarital affairs. Today’s Love Crazy review and tomorrow’s The Palm Beach Story, were made a year apart and take a comedic, albeit sloppy, approach to legalized romance. Coincidentally, all three films get the same mediocre review.

     I always love a William Powell-Myrna Loy movie because the pair have such great comedic chemistry that I do not think I have seen in any other on-screen recurring couple. Unfortunately for Love Crazy, the plot is as harebrained as Powell’s character becomes. After a number of mishaps interrupt Steve and Susan Ireland’s fourth anniversary plans, Powell’s Steve decides to hit the town with neighbor and former girlfriend Isobel (played by Gail Patrick, who also played a mistress in No More Ladies). Loy’s Susan finds out and in a case of mistaken identity lands in the arms of neighbor Ward Willoughby (Jack Carson). Thinking Steve’s interaction with Isobel was confined to the woman’s apartment, Susan leaves and plans a divorce. Steve hatches a plan to behave insane, which will prevent Susan from ending their marriage, but a series of moves by both parties lands Powell in an asylum.

     The movie is marked by plenty of fun Powell moments, such as his hanging by the head from an elevator door and his “freeing” of top hats into a fountain, but the nonsense escalates to the point that one’s head goes spinning. If I were to describe the entire plot it would consume twice as much space as I have already. Love Crazy is more a showcase of Powell and Loy’s comedic genius than of any coherent story line. Ultimately all misunderstandings and Susan’s adamant divorce plans are easily cleared up with a single line from Susan’s mother, which allows for the duration of the flick to spin out of control but being brought back to balance for a quick, easy ending.

     Of the three marriage movies I am reviewing, this one paints the most pleasant picture of wedlock, at least before things get out of control. Susan and Steve clearly love each other even if Susan’s feelings can be easily reversed over unclear circumstances. Love Crazy also serves to illustrate that once a person is declared insane, it is very difficult to prove that one’s actions, even those made in jest, are not more evidence of an ill state of mind. The movie is an entertaining one for its gags but not one that conveys any strong romantic feeling.

Cinematic Shorts: Mildred Pierce

Ring a Ding Ding

Mildred Pierce (1945)

      Mildred Pierce was the first Joan Crawford movie I ever watched, and it truly turned out to be the perfect introduction to the legend. Crawford won her only Best Actress Oscar for what was her first film with Warner Bros. after leaving a lengthy career with MGM. My first reaction to the woman was, “Golly, she’s gorgeous!” Having spent up until two years ago knowing Crawford only as the Faye Dunaway persona in Mommy Dearest I was a bit off base in my expectations.

     Mildred Pierce is also an excellent example of the type of roles for which Crawford was known as well as a mild reflection of her real life. The story follows a woman who pulls herself out of the lower class through a successful restaurant business, much as Crawford was raised by a lower class single mother and made her own success through acting. Crawford’s title character tosses men aside as the film goes along, also similar to the actress’ wanton relationship with men, all while spoiling a daughter who ultimately competes with her for the opposite sex.

     The film came out on the heels of what I consider to be the textbook example of film noir, Double Indemnity. In fact, DI star Barbara Stanwyck angled for the role of Mildred Pierce but lost it when Crawford impressed director Michael Curtiz with a humbling, voluntary screen test. Mildred Pierce certainly has a noir feel, though I did not identify it as that genre when viewing it. The black-and-white film is full of shadows — and murder, of course — among other aspects that can lead to its classification as such.

     I found Mildred Pierce to be a great starter Joan Crawford films, so for anyone who has not witnessed the cinematic icon, I would recommend it.

"I'm sorry I did that... I'd of rather cut off my hand (than slap you)."

  • Mildred Pierce is set to air at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 27, 1:30 a.m. Dec. 1, and 12:45 p.m. Jan. 7 on TCM.

Source: Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine

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