A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Monday, January 4, 2016

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (Alfred Hitchcock, 1941)

If Hitchcock's name were not attached to this movie, would we remember it at all today? Perhaps as one of the last films of Carole Lombard -- it was the last released before her death in January 1942, though the posthumously released To Be or Not to Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942) was the last one she completed filming. Or perhaps as one of the lesser examples of the romantic/screwball  comedy genre that flourished in the 1930s and '40s. But even hardcore Hitchcockians find it difficult to fit it into the director's canon. Hitchcock had said he wanted to work with Lombard, and when Lombard liked Norman Krasna's story and screenplay, the teaming was put into play. Lombard and Robert Montgomery play Ann and David Smith, who discover that their three-year-old marriage is invalid, owing to a legal technicality. Complications ensue, especially when David doesn't rush into remarriage as quickly as Ann likes. She kicks him out of the apartment, and then his law partner, Jeff Custer (Gene Raymond), makes a play for her affections. Lombard is very much at home in this kind of comedy, but Montgomery is surprisingly good at it too. The weak link is Raymond, who has the kind of role, the "other man" patsy, at which actors like Ralph Bellamy in The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey, 1937) and His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940) and John Howard in The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940) excelled. Raymond plays his part with a pinched, rather prissy manner that hardly sits well with the fact that he's supposed to have been the best fullback at the University of Alabama. In fact, the character seems to have been coded as latently gay: Witness Lombard's reaction when Ann learns that he decorated his own very tasteful apartment. Much of the film skirts around matters forbidden by the Production Code, including whether the now-unmarried Smiths should sleep together, which a director like Lubitsch or Hawks would have treated with more wit and finesse than Hitchcock does. This was only his third film made in Hollywood, and it was his first with a completely American setting; the first two, Rebecca (1940) and Foreign Correspondent (1940), were set in Europe and England. His unfamiliarity with American idiom shows up particularly in his treatment of Jeff and his parents (Philip Merivale and Lucile Watson), proper Southerners who are shocked at the suggestion that Ann has been sleeping with David. But whenever Hitchcock is working with Lombard and Montgomery, especially using Lombard's great gift for uninhibited physical comedy, the movie comes to fitful life.