On "No Down Payment": Anne said...This is what makes me wonder if Jeffrey Hunter and Patricia Owens'scharacters had even consumated thier marriageThe kid's got a broken radio, Jeff pulls out a screw driver and sets to work.Tony Randall gets smarmy with Jeff's wife and he's a frozen bystander...if Tony was mashing a radio, I think Jeff's character would have sprun into action. March 9, 2013
On "Trooper Hook": Vienna said...Wonderful review ! I haven't seen TROOPER HOOK for a long time but hope it becomes available on DVD. You describe Joel and Barbara's characters so well. An unusual role for Barbara. I guess she chose to do it for that reason. March 11, 2013
Anne said...Thank you for writing about this little gemOne can see this film on the encore west channel now and then and it's astonishingly good. With a budget not enough for a modern office pastry cart, it shows what can be done with excellent writing and acting....and directing. I love how we see the tiny stage from afar, then we see it though Nanches legs, we are right behind him, and we now know he's on their trail...it makes him almost a gonzilla of a threatChildren: let Mr. McCrea and Ms Stanwyck show you how it's done.They are hotter across a dusty feed store than many buck necked couples in love scenes today.March 7, 2013
On "Any Number Can Play": Vienna said...I love this film. Great cast, though I hate seeing Audrey Totter so totally wasted. All Audrey seemed to do was stand around with a glass in one hand and cigarette in the other.I thought Alexis Smith did well ,playing a woman whom I 'm sure was meant to be older than Alexis who was probably about 30 at the time.Great to see Mary Astor though,again, what a small role. And Marjorie Rambeau is always a joy.It could have been a play, with the only sets the gambling club and Gable's house.An unusual role for Gable and he was convincing.March 1, 2013
On Anita Sharp-Bolster: Vienna said...I've just see Anita in THE LONDON BLACKOUT MURDERS and she is so good as another battle-axe character , but with a touch of comedy . Nice tribute. Thanks.http//:dancing lady39.wordpress.com February 2, 2013
On Victor Jory - On Stage and Screen: Vienna said...Thanks for great tribute to Victor Jory whom I like, especially in a couple of films where he isn't the villain! In FIGHTING MAN OF THE PLAINS, Victor does his best to help Randolph Scott and becomes a good friend to Scott's character. Such a contrast to Victor's usual roles. I also liked him in a little B, THE UNKNOWN GUEST where he is the leading manI had no idea Victor and Alexis Smith did two plays together - thanks for the information. Oh to have seen them!January 24, 2013
On And Then There Were None: Ryan said...I bought this years ago on DVD, and it's still my favorite movie version of this story. The cast was perfect, and to tell you the truth, though I love the book, I almost prefer this ending. I think it's the hopeless romantic in me.February 19, 2013
“Claudia” (1943) is a film of rare accomplishment even while cloaked in the ordinary. Its comic premise of a scatterbrained child-bride and her lovingly tolerant husband barely scratches the surface in describing this remarkably deep film, and its deft exploration of love, death, birth, and especially marriage.
This week we’ll be covering both “Claudia” and its sequel, “Claudia and David” (1946). The sequel, unlike most sequels, was every bit as good as the original, so strong in its own storyline that it stands well on its own. Both films sprang from the hit Broadway play, “Claudia”, which sprang from a series of magazine stories, later developed into several novels, by Rose Franken.
Stop here if you don’t want any spoilers. The whole thing is going to be spoilers, spoilers, spoilers. Look! There’s another one! Duck!
“Claudia”, the Broadway play, shot lead Dorothy McGuire to stardom in a show than ran two years and over 700 performances. When Hollywood scooped up the rights, it scooped up Dorothy McGuire as well. Her role was then taken over on stage by Phyllis Thaxter, who recently passed away. Have a look here at my New England Travels blog for Thaxter’s “Claudia” on tour in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Playwright Rose Franken directed the stage show and picked Dorothy McGuire, with only some summer stock under her belt, to play the demanding role of a lead character who is in almost every scene. When she went to Hollywood, McGuire was touted as being part of that new look of young actresses, called natural, to distinguish them from the glamorous screen sirens of the 1920s and 1930s. Jennifer Jones and Ingrid Berman, Martha Scott and Teresa Wright, as well as Phyllis Thaxter, were part of this cadre. Both McGuire and Teresa Wright understudied Martha Scott in "Our Town".
A beauty column written by Sylvia Blythe, syndicated in the Milwaukee Journal, January 18, 1942 picks up on the change:
Naturalness, which at long last brings good looks out from behind a cloak of artifice and affectation, is a style trend of the times… If you shiver with fear that this new look is going to strip you of all pretentions to loveliness, look at Dorothy McGuire. Naturalness won this young actress the coveted theatrical role of the naïve girl-wife in ‘Claudia’, one of this season’s outstanding theatrical hits. Moreover, as a vitamin-fed, pink-scrubbed, lean-limbed, sweater-and-skirt girl, Miss McGuire has captivated Broadway, which usually pays its homage to sophisticated glitter.
Claudia is a young bride married to a slightly older, much more level-headed fellow, played here by Robert Young. He works as an architect in New York, but their home is a rambling hobby farm in Connecticut. They have an elderly German couple working for them, played by Frank Tweddell -- who played the same role on Broadway with Miss McGuire, and by Elsa Janssen, who we last saw as Lou Gehrig’s mama in “The Pride of the Yankees” (1943). You’ll remember her as one of the refugees at Rick’s in “Casablanca” (1943) as well.
Ina Claire plays Dorothy McGuire’s mother. She had a splendid stage career herself, began in vaudeville, performed in the Ziegfeld Follies as a fresh-faced comedienne, perhaps not unlike McGuire’s persona in this film, and starred on Broadway throughout the 1920s. She did only a handful of films, and “Claudia” was her last before spending the rest of her career back on stage which she preferred.
The movie was directed by Edmund Goulding, who worked magic with “The Constant Nymph” (1941) which we discussed here. This movie required the same sensitivity, despite the setting and the characters being much less artistic and fey. Still, Goulding pulled a magical twist on what could have been a really commonplace tale. He takes the characters seriously, and the script, though busy, always moves forward. The acting is superior.
Claudia, more waif than wife at first, hits us like a stiff breeze of constant activity, fast-talking speech that flits from one subject to another, even as Dorothy McGuire flits about her rather large colonial farmhouse. As was typical of Hollywood, the set designers depict what should be a fairly small home with uneven floor boards, low ceilings and small rooms -- has a living room large as a ballroom. The folks from “Holiday Inn” (1942) and “White Christmas” (1954) might put on shows here.
There is only one small touch of genuine New England architecture, when Miss McGuire proudly refers to a door being “the crookedest door in Connecticut.”
McGuire is all energy and little sense, and there are the usual clichés about her not being able to balance the checkbook, and having the bad wifely habit of listening in on other people’s phone conversations. However, there is a huge difference in Claudia compared to other movie scatterbrained wives.
She is forced to grow up.
Claudia is not really stupid or scatterbrained, rather she is undisciplined, coddled by a mother who thinks she’s a hoot, and tolerated by a husband who is charmed by her freshness and gaiety. The character is rather like a child or young teen who says something or does something unexpectedly funny, and wins the attention of all around her. So she tries to repeat the action until she gets the same response. Pretty soon, it gets to be a habit -- not the need for attention, but the desire not to be held accountable for anything she does or says.
Until that moment she very much wants to be taken seriously, and no one does.
McGuire is fascinating in the role. She moves like a fidgety kid, flopping on furniture, running her hands through errant hair that is always falling in her eyes. Her moods are mercurial. She and Robert Young have great chemistry. Their marriage, in so far as it has not been seriously challenged yet, is good. They are sexy, playful, with a lot of touching, tickling, and spontaneous gestures of desire and affection.
Robert Young moves gracefully between the comedy and the drama, always as steady as his character, and much of the depth of the film is due to him and his skill as a wonderfully empathetic actor.
Young is never really exasperated with his young wife, which would be the typical husband’s reaction in other films with comic scenarios of this sort. When she bungles the checkbook he is amused and play-acts frustration to bait her. He holds it over her head that she is a silly child, and to mock her innocence there is some coy conversation when their milk cow needs to be “serviced” to continue to produce milk. He tweaks her for being a mama’s girl, because she has a close relationship to her mother.
But Young, too, has a close relationship with his mother-in-law, also unusual in the movies. The two of them banter like pals.
“YOU talk to her, Mother, you gave birth to her.”
“YOU married her. She’s yours now.”
There are two moments of crisis for the couple, and both are really illustrated through Mr. Young’s reactions. First, the charming British scamp Reginald Gardner, a new neighbor, makes eyes at Miss McGuire. She encourages him because her husband’s teasing, which sounds condescending to her, makes her feel undesirable. She wants to see if she can attract another man.
In a showdown, Gardiner has one of his funniest moments when he quickly slips on a pair of glasses so Young won’t hit him.
When Young confronts his wife, we see the tenor of Young’s attitude change. He is not as angry as he is hurt, as well as disappointed in her because he knows Claudia well, has long seen a pattern that is dangerous. He wants her to grow up, for the sake of their marriage. He asks if she knows she could have destroyed their marriage with this foolishness, and she wants to know why he never tells her she is beautiful or desirable. It is a moment of quiet conversation, one of many scenes in the movie that suddenly take an introspective turn. Both admit they messed up, but remain on tenterhooks.
Robert Young has a lot on his shoulders, and his worry over his wife’s emotional immaturity is compounded by some very bad news he’s been hiding from her.
Her mother is dying.
We find out at the beginning of the film that Ina Claire is going in for x-rays and to see a specialist. She confides in her son-in-law, who is supportive and wants to go with her to the hospital, but she does not yet want to tell her daughter. She’s probably got cancer, but it’s never said aloud, and doesn’t need to be. We’re all reading each other’s minds at this point.
She's worried about how her daughter will handle it. “Claudia has to learn to let go of people she loves. To hold close, but with open hands.”
How the film deals with this death sentence is quite frank and its very lack of melodrama gives the subject a much stronger impact. The news hits Robert Young, and us, like a ton of bricks.
“It means an operation,” Robert Young surmises.
“If I’m lucky,” she answers.
Young’s best moment is when he receives Ina Claire’s phone call about the results of her tests. Look at his expression crumble, his voice begin to shake. He is trying to be emotionless for her sake, and that makes the scene all that more emotional.
Director Goulding, who has framed this happy household in sunny window seats with billowing curtains and farmyard sets, now follows the stricken Robert Young out onto the porch in the half-dark, where Young pulls himself together after the phone call and tries to figure out a way to break the news to his wife. The camera pulls back, and we see she has been in the kitchen, listening on the extension.
Here is where Claudia has to grow up in most brutal way. She must let her mother go in way that will not put any more emotional demands on her mother. She has to let her mother feel free to die.
Not usually the stuff of domestic comedies.
There are subplots to round out the larger issues of life. A visiting Russian soprano wants to buy the farm. Olga Baclanova also came from the Broadway cast, and reminds me of Fanny Brice, with startling lung power as she erupts into high C shrieks. This was her last film role.
The servant couple have a son, who was in prison and came around to steal the egg money. We never see him, and that story is dropped pretty quickly in the film. Robert Young shoots a handgun in the air to frighten the unknown intruder away. He keeps the pistol in his car. We’ve mentioned loaded guns in desk drawers before, but not in the glove box.
There does not seem to be electricity in their house: all the rooms are lit with oil lamps. But they turn on the radio. Hmm.
One small touch I like: Ina Claire is reading the newspaper. It’s The Hartford Courant, still the oldest continuously published newspaper (since 1764) in the United States. She said proudly.
Toward the end of the movie, Elsa Janssen diagnoses Dorothy McGuire as being pregnant, because of McGuire’s latest craving for pickles. A late menstrual period does not occur to either of them, but then only hygiene films dared mention menstruation back in the day. Robert Young insists upon a more scientific diagnosis by the doctor, and he confirms Janssen’s diagnosis.
She should know, after all, she’s the housekeeper.
The joy of having a baby is destroyed for McGuire, now she has learned she’s going to lose her mother.
“What’s the sense of pouring your heart and soul out in what you don’t possess and can never posses?”
Young answers, “Because a loan carries a greater obligation than a gift.”
Another fine moment: When Young insists to his mother-in-law that she will spend her remaining days with them, she bristles at being a charity case and mumbles, “I’d rather die.” Then she realizes the irony, and begins to chuckle.
“Claudia” tackles the full circle of life with surprising poignancy between waves of silliness. It established Dorothy McGuire as a star in her first film, and would lead to two other parings with Robert Young. They played the troubled couple in “The Enchanted Cottage” (1945) discussed here, and would return to the Connecticut farm in the following year.
Come back Thursday for “Claudia and David” (1946).
Meet Me in Nuthatch - A publicity stunt to attract tourists to a small dying town results in the entire community turning the clock back to 1904. It is local Christmas tree farmer Everett Campbell’s idea, after watching the film “Meet Me in St. Louis,” his young daughter’s new favorite movie. What begins as half practical joke and half desperate ploy initiates the rebirth of Nuthatch, Massachusetts. Tourists do come, along with the media. To Everett’s dismay, his campaign to save their community results in also attracting representatives of a chain of theme parks who want to buy Nuthatch 1904. Everett now stands to lose his town in a way he never imagined, and the community is divided on which alternate future to choose. A local drug dealer, the longtime enemy of Everett, may hold their future in his hands unless Everett can pull off his most spectacular, and dangerous, practical joke.
“…a comforting, pleasant read that stays with you even after the last page is turned. After finishing the book, I found myself still musing about the relationships and how they'd changed and progressed. This book was a nice, hot chocolate sort of read.” Grace Krispy, "MotherLode" blog book review.
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