Thursday, May 13, 2010

Short Cuts 4

In the Meantime Darling. 1944. Directed by Otto Preminger.
Twentieth Century Fox.

I have a friend in Berkshire, England, a retired colonel who married late in life. He told me once that he kept holding out -- hoping that Jeanne Crain might turn up. She did not.

While a boy, he was shuttled around the countryside to keep him from harm’s way during World War II. Jeanne, meanwhile, was applying her craft to making films, one of which is this, a quasi-comedy with a “support the war effort” message.

The Crain character comes to a boarding house outside a military camp where wives are billeted while their husbands train for war. Jeanne is rich, spoiled and does obnoxious things. She does not fit in. She ruffles feathers in this nest of comely young ladies, wives trying to survive the crises of clogged sinks and cramped living quarters (and forebodings of early widowhood, perhaps).

Jeanne’s character is a problem and must, of course, be brought to see the light. Thank God, the cat lady’s nemesis is on hand; a mature character and a mature actress: Jane Randolph. As hotelkeeper/housemother she brings some semblance of stability and guidance for the wives. Slowly, the Crain character learns about the better good and does her part -- to be honest, I lost track after a while and started thinking about State Fair. Casting Jeanne Crain against type was not a good idea.

Except for Ms. Randolph, the women are all pretty boring. The men are worse -- and also stupid. Even the skilled hand of Otto Preminger and the presence of Eugene Pallette and Clarence Muse cannot help this script or this lot. Jeanne’s husband is played by one Frank Latimore (be thankful there were not two). Comic relief by Stanley Prager is not funny.

It is axiomatic that, at the time, the better elements of the male acting legion were off to war. What remained was “either too young or too old, either too gray or too grassy green.” But could they not have done better? This is definitely not one for the ages. Nor “for the duration” I might add -- for those who remember that phrase, omnipresent in the early forties.

Minus the supposed comedic accoutrements, it was all done before and much better. The War Against Mrs. Hadley was released two years earlier and Meantime is like unto its predecessor in message only. It is but a shadow of the substance. Mrs. Hadley had the great Fay Bainter, Sara Algood, Spring Byington, Connie Gilchrist and Edward Arnold. But that is a Short Cut for another day.

Pick of the litter: Jane Randolph

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