Whitsuntide Cakes and Ale
In Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House, Mr. Blandings (Cary Grant), a business man who buys a country place instead of making do with his New York home, is easy prey for the twisters of the countryside. They turn to their own account his romantic feelings about what he unblushingly calls his dream house; and Mrs. Blandings (Myrna Loy) – full of charm, sympathy and costly ideas – unwittingly helps them. Melvyn Douglas as Bill, their lawyer friend, foretells disaster everywhere, though unluckily, his advice is either given too late or never taken; and for every dollar Blandings intends to spend, ten slip down the drain. His story is futile, but often very funny.
It begins with Melvyn Douglas describing in the style of a news reporter the marvels of city life, the ease of travel there, and New York’s startling varieties of weather – which is all good satire. However, in showing us the Blandings home life in New York, the director (H.C. Potter) becomes heavy-handed and relies on outworn and tiresome slapstick; but once the Blandings fall among the wolves of the countryside, all is well – for us. First, a real estate man, accurately sizing them up, sells them a pup, a ramshackle building of which each of Mr. Blandings’ many surveyors – hired after the deal – says immediately and without further comment: “Tear it down.” Even the workmen see them as gullible cranks. One comic old man drills about two hundred feet down for water, at several dollars a foot; while only a few yards off, another blasts away some rock and floods the whole site. These workmen are never surprised; but the Blandings are shocked, and continue being shocked unto the very end.
Because it is sometimes heavy and slow, and above all has a cosy finish, Mr. Blandings misses being that rare product – a genuine film satire, with a bulldog bite. Satire is a mental purge, whose nature is too offensive for the men who finance films. The wish for big profits prevents their offending anyone. The script-writer of Mr. Blandings, however, and behind him the author of the original novel, have few fears of this kind and tread on a large number of American toes, laying waste most of the popular ideas about country dream houses. Sad that the end hasn’t the courage of the beginning.
Robert Montgomery in June Bride is a reporter on a glossy magazine, edited by Bette Davis, whom years before he had jilted. The story, into which is interwoven their bickering love affair, concerns a trip by the entire magazine staff to report an Indiana wedding. But “report” is perhaps the wrong word; for the Brinker family, whose daughter’s wedding it is, have to fit as nearly as possible the picture the readers of Miss Davis’s magazine have of them; so their home is rebuilt, their knick-knacks hidden, and perhaps a stone or two of weight teased from the waist-line of Mrs. Binker. And then the bride-to-be elopes with a former flame! Even “Home Life” – they really call it that – seems floored; but everything ends well. A good deal of somewhat mean joking arises from the impact of cynical New Yorkers on the Brinkers, and there is unhappily some sickly sentiment. But at its best the film is slick and funny.
In The Window, Tommy, an ordinary small boy, invents such vivid and untruthful stories that when, by chance, on a stifling summer night, he witnesses a murder, no one believes his account of it. His mother even tries to make him apologize to the murderers, a Mr. And Mrs. Kellerson. However, when Tommy has to spend the night alone in the tenement, the Kellersons decide to rid themselves of him; but after an exciting chase across roofs and through a disused rotting warehouse, Tommy outwits them and proves that for once he really has been telling the truth.
Natural is the word for all these characters, especially for Tommy (Bobby Driscoll). His parents (Barbara Hale and Arthur Kennedy) are really like ordinary parents; and the Kellersons are sinister without exaggeration. Especially good is Mr. Kellerson’s mixture of cruelty and interest when, on the night Tommy is alone, he traps him into opening his bedroom door. Ted Tetzlaff’s direction (most of it on the spot, on location as film people day) is sensitive, and there are unusual shots: one of Tommy and a policeman peering at one another across a huge desk; another of the flapping clothes which entice Tommy up to the Kellerson’s balcony to catch the night breeze, and incidentally to see the murder; and lastly to the murder itself, which seen through a slit in a blind becomes a mere flurry of shadows and legs. This excellent little work is Tetzlaff’s second film. I look forward to his third.
It seems to me that much of Emlyn Williams’ The Last Days of Dolwyn has the real voice of Wales. And this despite an unreal plot, and some studio scenery which looks absurd against genuine shots of the Welsh countryside. However, what really matters here is the impact on a small community of a plan to turn their valley into a reservoir and move them to a suburb, in Liverpool! Community – that’s the subject – and for the most part the villagers ring wholly true. Dame Edith Evans is splendid as the elderly slow-tongued widow, Merri, numbed by the idea of leaving her valley. Emlyn Williams as Rob, the boy who returns to get his own back on the village which scorned him as a child, is excellent – until melodrama spoils the part. Do see this film. The best of it is as fresh as spring water.
This article was first published in June 1949 for the Federation of the Women’s Institute magazine “Home & Country”, Home Counties Edition, Volume 31, Number 6, and priced threepence.
Peter’s piece appears on page 120.