Friday, December 10, 2010

It Had to Be You (1947)

I just watched It Had to Be You starring Ginger Rogers and Cornel Wilde, and I found it…puzzling. I kind of liked the movie. I felt like it had a lot of the elements of a fun film, I just didn’t always like how those elements were put together.

First off: Ginger. I am usually a big fan of hers so it surprised me to find her character of a flighty, babbling society girl rather annoying. I mean, I still like Ginger but she just seemed a little one-dimensional in this. Maybe that was what the movie called for, though, because it obviously doesn’t take itself too seriously. Amanda Cooper at A Noodle In a Haystack wrote a post about this film about a year ago, and I revisited it once I got the chance to finally see the film. For the most part, I concur with her thoughts. She writes:

Ginger used her “ingenue” voice for this one. She used to quite often when she was playing younger women, and it always frustrates me (to varying extents, depending on the movie). I don't think she needed it to seem young and fresh. Victoria could have been a much more interesting character if she had been allowed the depth of Ginger's real voice. Nevertheless, this is one movie where the ingenue voice doesn't bother me too much. I think if Rogers had been allowed (or maybe told?) to play Victoria as a more intelligent, mature woman, the potential of the movie would have been more fully realized.

I agree 100% with everything Amanda says in this paragraph, except for the fact that Ginger’s “ingenue” voice isn’t as annoying here. Obviously, I kind of thought it was. I like her observation that the character would’ve had more depth (yes, comedies can have depth!) if she was played differently. One of the things I really like about Ginger is her unique, REAL voice. Many actresses of the era had soft and mousy voices, stagey accents, or a shrill and high-pitched way of speaking. Thus Ginger’s natural voice (I don’t know how to describe it—kind of a tough, earthy drawl, maybe) is very refreshing and relatable. The fact that she attempts to speak in this film in the soft, breathy voice makes me feel like she was trying to be like all those other actresses. But she could’ve just done it because it seemed to fit the character or merely because the director told her to! In any case, I like her better with out it.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way…let’s get into the plot (which will include LOTS OF SPOILERS, so consider yourself warned.)

When the Indian popped up it had me scratching my head (figuratively speaking) trying to figure out what was going on. My mind was going something like this: “Is she dreaming? Is this a fantasy ? Oh, anytime now this will start making sense. He’s just a guy playing a joke on her, right? Hmm, nope, IMDb doesn’t say anything about it being a fantasy. Must not be. It’ll make sense here eventually…” You get the idea. I generally have trouble with suspension of belief type things and fantasy in general (though if it’s comedy, I find it a lot more agreeable. Bewitched, anyone?) so it’s not really a surprise that I didn’t grasp on sooner. The plot is pretty simple and that’s not what confused me. It was just a “where is this going” type of thing. And this does have a weird plot.

Cornel Wilde was fabulous in this as George McKesson. He seemed to be having so much fun with the part and his role alone is reason enough to watch this film. Notice that I only say as George McKesson, though—not as Johnny Blaine, even though Wilde played both characters. That’s because, quite frankly, I found Blaine to be sooo dull and boring. It was like a different person…well he was, (or was he?) but I mean a different actor…wow this is confusing. It seemed that all the things that Victoria liked about him were because either it was what George did or because they were just supposed to be together because they played kissing games at her five-year-old birthday party. Huh? I know… It didn’t really make a lot of sense. If she liked George why didn’t she just marry him. Oh, but I guess she couldn’t because he was some sort of spirit/cupid? But then at the end it was like she did marry George because of the moccasins…right? Or was that just Johnny with those? Because Johnny is kind of stuck-up and George is just fun. He and Victoria need to be together. The movie should’ve been more a story about them, without Johnny. And Victoria needs to get a hold of herself. What was it that suddenly just before the end made Johnny turn around and forgive her? So many questions…

I realize this probably makes no sense. And that’s because it didn’t make a lot of sense to me, either. But the movie was still fun. I guess I just tend to over critique things. :) Cornel Wilde is great (best part of the movie) before he turns into the stuffed-shirt fireman, and Ginger isn’t as bad as I say. I’m just not used to seeing her in this type of role. It’s actually a pretty fun film. Just confusing. And yes, it is a fantasy. There are also some really fun scenes: including the one where they are playing gin, just about any scene with George, the dinner party, at the baseball game…lots of fabulous scenes.

Now that the initial shock of what’s-going-one-here has passed and I am completely prepared to not take the movie too seriously, I think this is one that I could definitely rewatch with pleasure.

Wow, I wrote a lot more here than I planned on. Also check out Amanda’s review. I promise it makes more sense than this one.

Quote from the film: "You can buy a lot of honor for three million dollars."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas In Connecticut (1945)

You may have heard about the 12 Days of Christmas Movies that Sally from Flying Down to Hollywood is hosting. If not, head over to her blog for more info on it.  

For my movie I chose Christmas In Connecticut, a 1945 film starring Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet (you may recognize him from Casablanca), Reginald Gardiner, and S.Z. Sakall (he was in Casablanca, too!). And this film just happens to be the one featured in the badge Sally made for the event (above).

It had been a while since I saw this movie, and I remembered it as a terrific and fun holiday/screwball comedy. It was all that, but sometimes I have a tendency to mentally overbuild movies I haven’t seen in a while. Sometimes I think the best way to view a movie is with no preconceived notions or expectations. Still, this is a very enjoyable movie that clips along at a steady pace and keeps the audience interested. 

The plot is really quite a clever one: Elizabeth Lane (Stanwyck), author of a successful feature in Smart Housekeeping magazine is roped into hosting a war hero (Morgan) at her Connecticut farmhouse with her family for the holidays. The only problem is…Elizabeth doesn’t have a farmhouse…or a family. And in real life, she knows nothing about the cooking and housekeeping topics she is so famous for writing about.

This was a great scene. I love how they are all hovering over. And isn’t
Stanwyck’s outfit adorable?

Though the plot is entertaining, and the script sufficient, what really keeps this film ticking is the great character actors and moments of screwball situation zaniness. It’s especially fun to see Elizabeth attempt to adapt to all the domestic activities that she is supposed to be such an expert on—from flipping flapjacks to trying to bathe a baby, Stanwyck is great as always. Dennis Morgan is perhaps one of the weaker links in the film, however (at least in my opinion). His role is basically to just stand around looking handsome in his uniform and [*SPOILER ALERT*] fall in love with Elizabeth from the moment he sets his eyes on her. I know this movie isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, but he just strikes me as a bit of a cad to run after a woman that he thinks is married. But maybe I’m just over-thinking things. I do give his character props for being cute with the baby. That was pretty adorable. While we’re talking about spoilers, what happened to Reginald Gardiner’s character at the end? Am I the only one who felt kind of sorry for him? [*End of spoiler*] The rest of the cast (even minor characters) are spot on, though, and this film has some really, really funny lines and sequences in it.

Holiday Cheer: 2/10 Although this takes place around Christmas, that is just the backdrop. A tree is trimmed and a carol is sung, but that’s not the main focus.

Feel-Good feeling: 6/10 The cozy New England setting and pure escapism of this comedy definitely give it some feel-good factor. It’s not really a warm-and-fuzzy type of film, though.

Overall, this is a a lovely screwball comedy that just happens to take place at Christmas. If you haven’t seen it, I would definitely check it out. Make some popcorn, grab your family, and enjoy this amusing and delightful flick.

P.S. An interesting trivia fact about this film that I did not know (thanks, IMDb) is that this farmhouse set was the same one used in Bringing Up Baby (1938).
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