Birthdays

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Joan Fontaine (1917-2013)
Constance Bennett (1904-1965)
Catherine Deneuve (71)
Curly Howard (1903-1952)
Annette Funicello (1942-2013)

New From Warner Archive: Olivia deHavilland Goes Screwball in Government Girl (1943)



As a screwball comedy, Government Girl misses the mark, but while the laughs never come when they seem to be prompted, I was never bored watching this film. It's not exactly good, it definitely isn't bad, or even so bad it's good. Perhaps the best description is odd.

Olivia de Havilland is Elizabeth "Smokey" Allard, a secretary working for the US in packed-to-the-gills World War II era Washington. Assigned to an ambitious munitions manufacturer (Sonny Tufts) with plenty of business savvy, but no knack for handling government red tape, she helps him navigate D.C. politics and falls in love. Given the lackluster, and sometimes unpleasantly aggressive attitudes of her other suitors, you can't blame her.

Smokey also tries to find a private room for her perky roommate May (Anne Shirley) and her new husband, a sergeant who she married on his leave, and tries to manage the slights of Agnes Moorehead as a breezily snooty D.C. hostess. In fact, there's rarely a moment that she isn't blasting full speed ahead to solve some kind of a problem.

The cast is decent, several rungs above serviceable, but they often seem to be acting in different films. Most noticeable is the lack of chemistry between de Havilland and Tufts. It's hard to believe they have much interest in each other, let alone feel blossoming love. Moorehead comes off the best, cozily comfortable in her deliciously rude role. She elevates everyone around her in her brief scenes.

It's easy to spot the scenes that are supposed to be hilarious. There's a wild motorcycle ride and a drunk scene so wacky you wonder how it even came to be. I don't recall laughing much at either, but I loved both of them. The pacing was weird, and there was no magic to the execution, but the actors are uniformly goofy, as if they all came from the same insane asylum. There's palpable energy here, if misdirected, and it was fascinating to watch.

I enjoyed the way Government Girl explored the challenges of life in D.C. in the early days of the war. The city was full of young women working temporarily for the war effort. They filled every available room, preened for the few eligible bachelors in town and scrambled for steak, stockings and other wartime rarities. All of these issues are played for humor and hit the mark more often than not.

I'm not a big fan of de Havilland, I respect her more than I like her, but her missteps in Government Girl almost made me adore her. I've read that she desperately did not want to make this film. She had been fighting for stronger roles and this part on loan-out to RKO did not meet her standards. In fact, she would not make another film for two years as she fought to be released from her Warner Bros. contract.

I didn't know that when I watched the movie, but in hindsight, I'm guessing that the weird vibe I kept catching from her was resentment. Maybe she overplays and flails around because she actually couldn't handle this kind of comedy, but I wonder if some of the off-kilter quality of her performance comes from boiling anger. Perhaps that's why even though she isn't particularly funny, de Havilland is strangely appealing in this role. The fire in the real woman was colliding with the frothy intent of her character.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Birthdays

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Edna Purviance (1895-1958)

Birthdays

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Rex Ingram (1895-1969)
Charley Chase (1893-1940)
Olive Thomas (1894-1920)
Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973)
Bela Lugosi (1882-1956)

Quote of the Week

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Looking at yourself in a mirror isn’t exactly a study of life.

-Lauren Bacall

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Birthdays

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Miriam Hopkins (1902-1972)
Evelyn Venable (1913-1993)
Melina Mercouri (1920-1994)

Classic Links

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Starting in November, several items once belonging to Joan Fontaine will be auctioned. My heart broke a little when I read that her Academy Award would be among them--ABC News

This piece about German actor Udo Kier is one of the most fascinating actor profiles I've ever read. What fun it would be to thrift and gab with these two--Sunset Gun

Laura has written several amazing posts about her experiences at the Lone Pine Film Festival. It sounds like a lovely event: very warm and intimate. This is just an overview of the festival, I highly recommend checking out the rest of the posts on her site--Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

Raquelle shares some great photos of a pair of Hollywood-themed exhibits she recently took in at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston--Out of the Past

Take a look at the stunning line-up for Hollywood's Hispanic Heritage Blogathon. What a great idea. There's so much to learn here!--Once Upon a Screen

And as a part of that blogathon, the Nitrate Diva shares 6 reasons why you should watch the Spanish language version of Dracula. I also love this version of the film, and aside from Lugosi's performance, I prefer it to the English version--The Nitrate Diva

I think we all know I don't need  anything new to read, but this book featuring proofs from classic Hollywood sounds fascinating--Dear Old Hollywood

These pics of Marlon Brando with his grandma are so sweet--Life

I usually love old VHS covers, but this one irks me. Where the heck is Audrey?--VHS Cover Junkie
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