1939 in summation

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clickable index (in order of most to least enjoyable): Ninotchka, Young Mr. Lincoln, Rules of the Game, Union Pacific, Only Angels Have Wings, Bachelor Mother, Le Jour se lève, StagecoachDark Victory, The Roaring Twenties, The Mikado, Wuthering Heights, Gone With the Wind, The Women, The Little Princess, Gunga Din, Midnight, Destry Rides Again, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, Of Mice and Men, Intermezzo, Love Affair, The Four Feathers, Made for Each Other, Drums Along the Mohawk, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Beau Geste, The Rains Came, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Each Dawn I Die, Dodge City, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Gulliver’s Travels, The Hound of the Baskervilles, At the Circus, Babes in Arms, Son of Frankenstein, Jamaica Inn

**I did not get to The Wizard of Oz and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, two movies I’ve seen tens of times apiece, because this whole project is about watching films that, A: I have not seen before, or, B: have seen but didn’t strongly register in my memory. They would both be listed towards the top.

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Gone With the Wind (1939)

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  • directed by Victor Fleming (uncredited: George Cukor and Sam Wood)
  • starring Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Thomas Mitchell, Hattie McDaniel
  • A manipulative woman and a roguish man carry out a love affair during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

“How fickle is woman.”

So somehow I had never seen Gone With the Wind before aside from recently getting sucked into the middle of it on cable one night for a few minutes because it looked too pretty to switch off. More embarrassing and crazy is that it was my first Clark Gable movie. I don’t know how that happened. I didn’t really like his character in this, but it’s not the best role in which to judge him because he didn’t like himself in it either. Likewise, I didn’t much like any particular character in the film—I guess Melanie was the purest and most likable of all–and judging from what all the talent has expressed after the fact, nobody in the cast emerged from the production with 100 percent positive emotions about their experience.

As visually iconic as their portrayals are, the film doesn’t belong to Vivien Leigh or Clark Gable; nor does it belong to its team of directors Victor Fleming, George Cukor, and Sam Wood; and it’s definitely not author Margaret Mitchell’s, whose reclusive streak and stubbornness kept her from having any major involvement. Gone With the Wind was most of all the product of an individual obsessive vision and that was producer David O. Selznick’s. More than any other film I can think of, it consistently came across as just that—an epic-scale, manufactured product that utilizes advancements in technology and an enormous budget in the absence of engaging story and narrative focus. It’s hard to imagine anyone ever saying that Vivien Leigh stole the show or Victor Fleming directed the hell out of that film, because for me the bulk of the work in transporting the viewer was done by production, set, and costume designers, the cinematographer, and the score. Selznick put together an amazing state of the art vehicle, and you’d have to be a complete mess of an actress, actor, or director to have crashed it. Forget how revolutionary it was at the time, some of the scenes watched by me in 2013 gave a feeling like I may have been seeing color for the first time. I know there’s no such thing, but I’d be curious to see an avid lover of this film sit down to a black and white version and see what still holds up.

I didn’t like the film as a love story and I certainly didn’t like it for its length. The main enjoyment I got out of it was a direct result of everything that went into it—the money, a crew and cast of extras in the thousands, and an outright obsession with greatness on the part of Selznick. For years Selznick tortured over turning Mitchell’s novel into the biggest film ever. Casting was a nightmare, finding a director that both fit the film and pleased the cast carried over into filming and was never quite accomplished, the hype and publicity machine was churning for years and years to ensure near-hysteria amongst the public. And it worked. Audiences obviously loved it and history has been very kind.

When I set aside the buzz, though, I uncovered what were for me a lot of problems. It was as bloated as it was dazzling to look at. It did succeed at feeling like a huge statement film, a period at the end of the sentence of a big decade for the industry, along with the superior and more cohesive The Wizard of Oz. 1939 was a great year for quality films, but as far as technological advancements and the development of the modern studio system went, it was all leading uphill to these two monster endeavors. Both films share a director in Fleming and in a way both feature women clutching to escapism, Dorothy subconsciously and Scarlett very much the opposite of that, always quick with the “I’ll worry about it tomorrow” mantra to convince herself that all of the many horrors of the world and crimes of her desires don’t exist.

For her part, Scarlett was a lot like that horse in the end of Part I that Rhett had to put a hood on just so it would keep walking through the carnage. Blind to the world outside of her desires and with a laser-like focus on a life in love with Ashley, Scarlett didn’t allow war, murder, or the man she actually should be with enter into her frame of vision and obstruct the life she knew deep down she’d earned. I don’t know what would have happened to a Scarlett and Ashley union if given a chance to flourish but her desperation and fickle attitude throughout tells me that it’s just one of those things that she would yearn for and then tire of soon after it started.

Vivien Leigh was a great choice for the role. As beautiful, captivating, and believably Southern as she was, though, she had the impossible task of turning (to these modern eyes) a careless and unrepentant slave-owner of a woman into something resembling pleasant. It was a constant battle between restrained 1860’s grace versus loud 1930’s independence for Scarlett and the latter won out most of the time.

Another interesting thing to me was that Rhett struck me as a guy that was floating in and out of the action as a character not at all invested in the story but almost like a fourth-wall-breaking outside party or narrator, appearing only to unveil the messes that Scarlett continually swept under the rug to shove them back in her face. Rhett, aside from his growing admiration for the woman, is an opportunity for Scarlett to talk to herself and to examine the hurt she’s causing. It was an alright performance by Gable, obviously charming and commanding, but I kept thinking that in his relations with Scarlett prior to them actually getting together, he might as well have been a miniature angel standing on her shoulder, giving her a chance to face and express outward her scattered state of mind.

I think that Part I played pretty well, full of jaw-dropping visuals, and I loved the dark and fiery note that it ended on, but what happened during intermission? Why hadn’t I ever heard that Gone With the Wind was two movies far apart in tone and not one long one? Perhaps it should have been obvious to expect a film that had three directors at different points of production to at least play a little uneven. At least in Part I every time I started feeling disconnected, they would go ahead and deliver a crane shot or a sequence that had a punch and elegance I’d never seen before. The moment when we see Scarlett walking through the field of dead and wounded soldiers and it zooms out and seemingly never stops zooming until thousands are revealed was triumphant. The first and one of the only glances of the actual cost of war. Scarlett’s relationship to the war weakened the power, but a shot like that made me feel like the movie was ready to take it seriously even when she wasn’t (something that never really happened). The Atlanta Depot fire was another unbelievable sequence and I loved the film’s use of fire and smoke as backdrops from then on. In Part II, the tone shifts completely and there aren’t enough of those moments of visual brilliance to overshadow the tragic melodramatic occurrences by which Scarlett is plagued. The trash had piled up so high by the time Bonnie dies, that the scene came across as a joke and Rhett’s continued detachment didn’t help matters.

On top of the problems I had with Gone With the Wind as a piece of entertainment that needed serious trimming, I find myself agreeing with a lot of critics that liken the film’s depiction of a South full of content slaves and their compassionate owners to another technical groundbreaker The Birth of a Nation. The KKK was actually featured in one of the film’s final drafts before Selznick thought the better of it. I will always love the aesthetic of the good ol’ South and certain points of its culture, but I resented Gone With the Wind in a way for trying to sell me on an idyllic and carefree idea of something that I know never existed.

Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)

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  • directed by John Ford
  • starring Claudette Colbert, Henry Fonda, Edna May Oliver, John Carradine, Ward Bond
  • A newlywed couple fights off Indian attacks to start a farm in upstate New York.

“It seems impossible that people can work as hard as we did for nothing.”

Drums Along the Mohawk was the last of three John Ford films to be released in 1939. Three a year had basically been his average at this point but in 1939 it was a feat made even more impressive when you watch them and realize they are enormous achievements, all revolutionary in their own way.

Though it pounded along with a lot of the same moods, tones, and visuals as one of his westerns, Drums differed by being set a century earlier in the years leading up to the American Revolution. It was a time when the west referred to western upstate New York, and it was clear that Ford was utilizing a lot of the tools and tricks he developed on Stagecoach—confined and almost claustrophobic interiors, expansive exteriors, and a type iconic imagery that borders on the spiritual–to tell the story of the original undeveloped frontier.

Unfortunately this also meant that, and the source material of turmoil between pioneers and the New York Iroquois (a tribe in the middle of a civil war itself with portions on the American and British sides) lent itself to, yet another whitewashing by Ford who presented an enemy in the Iroquois that burned villages, killed innocents, and, according to the film, were acting from a sort of savage need for chaos instead of what it really was, a tribe rebounding from its own violent displacement at the hands of American settlers. It’s always uncomfortable to see the scale tipped into the utter demonization of American Indians in these films and here it’s even more extreme as, if you judge from the film alone, it might as well have been the Indian tribes that were the main enemy in America’s fight for its independence. The British were present, behind every attack was Caldwell pulling the strings, and we hear a lot about the great battles being fought elsewhere between Cornwallis and Washington, but as far as the combat we see, it was the people of Deerfield versus bloodthirsty Indians.

Drums was Ford’s first color film and the on-location settings looked spectacular. It was striking to see a lot of typical western landscape sequences–carriage rides, horse chases, and wide-open plains–but this time full of life, forests, and water. It put a serene and optimistic glow onto this particular story of survival as opposed to the bleak and dusty edge of the west. In a way it had to lean optimistic because the film, more than an accurate account of a colonial New York town in the midst of conflict, was the simple and universal story of Gil and Lana Martin, two young newlyweds in search of happiness and stability for their family. The performances from Henry Fonda all the way to the supporting characters were all great, contributing to a portrayal of the village and the times that was rich, textured, and best of all, believable. But I’d like to focus on two women in the film because I’m left thinking that in the middle of all of the blood, fire, and gunshots, that it was Lana and Mrs. McKlennar, two similar women at different stages in life, that was the main crux of the narrative.

Mrs. McKlennar, the tough and hardened widow played brilliantly by the feisty Edna May Oliver, did a lot in the way of supporting Lana through the many ordeals they both faced. There was a lot Lana could learn from McKlennar since her husband is the type that’s compelled to duty no matter how dangerous. Someday she may be familiar with being a widow and I think it’s this realization that shifts her identity from displaced city girl to functioning frontierswoman.

The character of Lana also had the benefit of a great and unexpected casting choice in Claudette Colbert. I love it when an actor or actress’ life story mirrors their on-screen journey and Colbert, very much a stickler in terms of her appearance in film, was someone that I would never expect to see get down and dirty, in Technicolor no less. Her Lana Martin was horrified upon arriving in such a crude cabin after such a cushy upbringing in Albany, and I can only imagine that Colbert herself had a few of those moments on set in Utah. She did it, however, and she did it really well. Lana was really the only character going through deep changes on screen and it was a monumental moment in Colbert’s career as far as I see it.

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

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  • directed by Michael Curtiz
  • starring Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Donald Crisp, Henry Daniell
  • A depiction of the love/hate relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex.

“The necessities of a queen must transcend those of a woman.”

Fascinated. I think that’s the word that best describes my state of being throughout the film. I was fascinated by the sheer ambition of the project. I was fascinated watching how the behind the scenes turmoil seasoned what ended up on screen. And I was fascinated by Bette Davis, who was gutsy enough to believe she could hit a grand slam as Elizabeth I, the powerful Queen somewhere around 30 years her senior.

First things first, I’ve so far seen Curtiz adapt to all manner of styles and here he was able to suppress many individual elements of chaos and somehow turn in a film that was cohesive, yet at the same time straddled a few genre borders. The film was an adaptation of the play Elizabeth the Queen by Maxwell Anderson and its story boldly utilized romantic comedy-style plot devices to color the very serious and complex affair between Elizabeth and the Earl at a time when the country of England and the throne was rife with conflict. Why wasn’t the film called Elizabeth the Queen? Because Errol Flynn insisted on his character being present in the title. Why wasn’t it called Curtiz’s next choice, The Knight and the Lady? Because Bette Davis slapped that down. So Curtiz and producers targeted a compromise, something I’m sure they had to do countless times during production.

Davis and Flynn did not like each other, to say the least, and both thought the other had no place being in the film. A slap by her to him early on was said to have been the real, painful thing, and Flynn’s reaction did reveal a bit of authentic surprise and anger. This didn’t need to be a problem at all as half of their relationship is leveraging for power and filled with jealousy and rage. If they could just get through those softer moments when they are obsessed in love then no harm at all, but alas, the huge problem was the fact that this all led to a gaping black hole where the pair’s chemistry should have been. Individually they both showed up to do what they do, but together, I could see on their faces the desperate waiting for Curtiz to call “cut!” Speaking of the director, he typically didn’t care much for his actors’ feelings anyway, so that makes three moving parts, each holding in their head the true and correct way to do things.

Errol Flynn was absolutely the right person for the Earl. His battle scenes and the intricate finale would have felt completely different in another’s hands. He must have been utterly exasperated by his co-star and antagonistic director, yet he portrayed the character’s mix of macho ambition and tenderness with the brand of relaxedness that is trademark Flynn. Olivia de Havilland also fared very well although she was consistently swallowed by Davis’ antics and even the scenery itself. I, along with the script, needed much more de Havilland, and if only the Davis and Flynn show could have taken on another passenger, I think the film would have benefited greatly from having a much more pronounced third wheel.

With all that being said, I was completely fascinated by Davis’ performance and I have a lot of respect for her for taking such a huge chance. 1938 and 1939 were busy years for Bette and, aside from a few great performances, I’m left applauding most of all her wide-ranging choices and the serious work in which she invested herself. This was the biggest of them all and required that she shave her eyebrows and part of her head and act ruthless at times and pathetic at others. Really the best I can say about it was that it came across as extremely campy, not the reaction anybody involved wanted, but an OK compliment in my book. She didn’t have the command necessary to play an elder stateswoman lamenting the days of her youth while at the same time ordering executions and directing military assignments. She went for it 100 percent, and I loved her for it, but it came off as a lot more posturing than it did innate strength.

All of this led to what I saw as a very ambitious spectacle and something enjoyable maybe for the wrong reasons. The star of the film for me was the scoring, set design, and costumes, but the main thread, the incongruous union of Elizabeth and Essex, Davis and Flynn, was something I couldn’t help but gawk at rather than cherish. I never did buy it, but through their relationship on screen and the disparities in age, rank, and who had the upper hand at what time, did make for one hell of an interesting film.

The Rains Came (1939)

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  • directed by Clarence Brown
  • starring Myrna Loy, George Brent, Tyrone Power, Brenda Joyce, Nigel Bruce, Maria Ouspenskaya
  • A Hindu doctor’s affair with a British noblewoman is disrupted by a violent flood.

Lily: Naturally. No one stays in Ranchipur during the monsoon.

Tom: No? Only about five million people.

This production had an enormous budget for the time and a coherent novel by Louis Bromfield to rely on for story (assumedly coherent, I haven’t read it), but what ends up on the screen is uneven to say the least and there’s no way around that for me.

Just in terms of its casting, we have presumably zero Indian actors playing any of the hundred or so Indian extras, including a Russian playing an elderly Indian women and a guy from Cincinnati playing an Indian doctor. There’s also a woman from Montana playing a British woman, one who remarkably spoke with nothing of a British accent. This all led to confusion at times and displeasure at others, but the story they ended up with was even more shaky. The Rains Came brushed up against topics like geographic displacement, playboy alcoholism, and a general concept of responsibility, but the redemption angles of these specific characters were never felt. In the end, it was just a very straightforward love story of two couples with a top-notch disaster scene jammed in the middle.

Although her character’s arc wasn’t carried out in any kind of satisfying way, I will never fault or not enjoy the great Myrna Loy on screen, so she helped. Additionally, I enjoyed Brent, Joyce, and the very quiet and fragile Ouspenskaya. I didn’t know anything about Brenda Joyce, but I am surprised to read that she didn’t have much of a career before or after this. She caught my eye as being very fun and alive in the role of Fern and the camera loved her in this film. Along with the monumental earthquake and flood sequences, these four charismatic performances somehow turned the whole flawed production into a nice, enjoyable viewing experience; this all in spite of whatever it was that Tyrone Power was trying to do. Maybe it wasn’t his fault and the task of portraying an Indian doctor was too ambitious. His choices mainly veered toward the stereotypical and it felt like through the whole movie he was, minute by minute, slowly transforming back into a white man. It was as if everyone forgot what was supposed to be happening for some scenes, especially the ones with Loy before she fell ill. In my opinion, you can tell they knew he wasn’t quite living up to his ethnic persona, because the white version of his character started sentences with things like, “I’m Indian, so…,” or “It’s not just because I’m Indian that I’ll advise…” Strange.

The Rains Came, the winner of the first-ever visual effects Oscar, is rightfully best known for its flood and earthquake scene and yes, it was intense, appropriately violent, and huge in scope. It wasn’t flawless as some of the seams began to show, especially among the interspersed cuts of the raging tide overcoming the hundreds of citizens the size of ants, but overall I have to say the large budget showed—there were effects in this film that were rarely if ever seen up until 1939 and the settings they were able to create were convincing and gorgeous. Come to think of it, it might have been one of the first examples of that brand of filmmaking that spends so much effort and money on its heart-pounding visuals, that it misses the target completely on character, story, and emotion. So next time I’m banging my head on the table during a Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich movie, save for a few of their titles of course (Bad Boys and Independence Day will always make me pump my fist and Armageddon will always make me cry), I now know who to thank for that formula.

The Rules of the Game – La Règle du jeu (1939)

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  • directed by Jean Renoir
  • starring Nora Gregor, Marcel Dalio, Paulette Dubost, Roland Toutain, Jean Renoir, Mila Parély, Julien Carette, Gaston Modot, Pierre Magnier
  • An assorted cast of characters—the rich and their poor servants—meet up at a French chateau.

“I want to disappear down a hole, so I no longer have to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong.”

It’s daunting to sit down and watch a film like this for the first time and then have to record my impressions. I did a bit of reading on it beforehand, so I knew basically what Renoir was going for—to construct a microcosm of a French society that he saw at the time as “dancing on a volcano.” But the film is so dense and its compositions so busy, that I’ll need to watch it a few more times to begin to absorb it all. I’ve been reading a ton of film rankings since I started this endeavor and I can say that it’s a rare ‘best film ever’ list that you’re reading if you don’t see The Rules of the Game in the top five and now I realize why.

The film is all things at once, endlessly deep yet comically shallow. Coming off of La Grande Illusion and La Béte Humaine, Renoir was interested in moving away from realism, so this one falls about halfway away from that side of the spectrum towards poetry. Its sequences, especially the brutal hunt and the chaotic fallout from the costume pageant, feel every bit as loose and spacious as they do meticulously designed and choreographed. It is the ultimate judgment on a French society that hadn’t yet acknowledged the dark cloud advancing over Europe in 1939, while at the same time carrying the main message that no man is able to judge another. “The terrible thing in this world is that everyone has his reasons,” is a notable line from The Rules of the Game, and the film’s characters swear by it as a philosophy. What a ballsy thing to have written at the dawn of WWII.

A lot of the films I have watched so far can be classified as passive experiences. I can enjoy those films, obviously, but there’s a cap to the level of investment. Somebody like Hitchcock on the other hand has many tricks up his sleeve of bringing the viewer into the film and having them feel a part of the drama or terror.  Renoir achieves the same here by his masterful employment of deep staging, which put equal emphasis on what was happening behind the main conversation, and then at certain times went even further behind that. You’d miss out on a lot of character interactions and even some advancing of individual arcs by just watching the piece of the screen other films have taught should be the main focus. Complicating matters further, there is no main character in the film and you’d think yourself crazy trying to come up with the one person whose mission and worldview is the one Renoir deems chief. Part of me thinks that a knowledge of the French language would have severely impacted my experience, not necessarily for the better, because I was quite enjoying having my eyes tied to the subtitles yet having to dart around to all of the other various attractions. Not only were there different levels visually to keep up with, but I then had to contend with Renoir’s beautiful dialogue, which served the characters and story well while flashing the added symbolism, referring to the country and world at large.

The film’s story and characters are every bit as multi-faceted as its compositions. “Everyone has his reasons,” and here Renoir has given the residents and servants at the estate the reason of love and the avoidance of boredom for everything they do. The residents and guests of La Colinière are comprised of a husband and wife at the center, with admirers, mistresses, and lost loves surrounding them. The group of servants at the house have the same dynamic at play, again both classes on the same footing, with Lisette, Schumacher, and Marceau’s love triangle providing the drama (and hilarity).

Christine and Robert are bored in their marriage and their outside romantic interests are currently not very exciting either. There was the funny scene where, hoping for the result of spontaneously running off with André, Christine admits that she loves him. Instead of an impulsive ‘let’s get out of here,’ response, André takes a more reasonable approach of making sure that their ducks are in a row and the foundation properly set. She then runs into Octave less than a minute later. He asks if she still loves him (still!), to which she replies, “Oh I don’t know anymore.” That’s the brand of love on which this film fixates. It isn’t love ‘til death do us part; it isn’t even love for next week. It’s the attempt at capturing that one bright spark in the very beginning, falling under its spell, and foolishly thinking it gets even better from there.

“Love as it exists in society, is merely the mingling of two whims and the contact of two skins,” says Robert’s mistress Genevieve at one point. Octave falls under the same spell with Christine in the conservatory, yet is capable of snapping out of it by having to physically remove himself to get his hat and at the slightest of warnings from Lisette. Anti-commitment. Frivolity. Excess. There’s a lot to chew on in terms of what the film says about love, but like the characters’ own views and behaviors, I don’t think it dives too deep on that particular note. It seems most of all to be the device Renoir used to have these tangled characters get together and serve his grander vision.

By the end, I was frankly exhausted by the depth of it all, yet hours later I’m still bouncing it around my head. The way I’ve been thinking back on it seems to be in line with how Renoir intended—in sort of an abstract, larger than life way. On repeat viewings maybe I’ll get down in the mud with the characters and parse what’s happening on a more micro level, but this time I was just happy to bathe in the general gloomy disillusionment of it all. I was also continually amazed that no matter how dark Renoir’s inspirations for the story were, and as twisted as his character’s actions got, there was a great effervescence to what ended up on screen. Dancing on a volcano, indeed.

Bachelor Mother (1939)

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  • directed by Garson Kanin
  • starring Ginger Rogers, David Niven, Charles Coburn, Frank Albertson, Ferike Boros, E. E. Clive
  • A fun-loving shop girl is mistaken for the mother of an abandoned baby.

Polly: Oh don’t leave me alone. I won’t know what to say to these people.

David Merlin: Just say no to the men and the women won’t talk to you anyway.

The very funny and enjoyable Bachelor Mother was comparable to Bringing Up Baby in terms of its sheer defiance in the face of realism or believability, which says something because that film centered on two live leopards and a dead dinosaur. But that’s the essence of an effective screwball comedy. In this case, the story of Polly and her new unexpected son, John, ticked forward only as a result of either a misunderstanding or because one character simply refused to listen to or believe what the other was saying. It’s the one thing that I find most irritating about screwball comedies—the fact that the entirety of the story hangs by a thread and all it takes is one semi-reasonable reaction from a character–to say “wait a minute what the hell are all you guys talking about”– and the whole yarn falls apart and ceases to exist.

There’s no denying though that a good screwball comedy full of confident and charismatic performances and better than average writing can overcome all of the nonsense. With Bachelor Mother, once you get over the hurdle of accepting that a woman can gain a baby just by walking down the street and then have personal circumstances align in such a way that she is now forced to keep it, then you’re free to enjoy what was a feel-good movie with strong comedic performances from the entire cast.

During the holiday season, Polly Parrish gets laid off of her job manning the Donald Duck toy counter in Merlin’s department store, one of a few creative details that added a lot of whimsy to the film. Donald Duck was just five years old at this point and had only appeared in a handful of animated shorts. I was curious, thinking that the heavy featuring of his toy line was just a promotional aspect of the RKO-Disney distribution deal that was in place, but one of his statuettes actually ends up playing a brilliantly conceived key role in the film’s conclusion. Anyway, as the story goes, she is within arms length of an abandoned baby as the orphanage’s doors swing open and the facility doesn’t believe it isn’t hers. One official takes it upon himself to get her job back for her so she can keep supporting “her child.” When this works and she grabs herself a raise in the process, obviously there’s no way out of mothering this strange baby forever.

Rogers was very funny and charming here and she gave Polly a kind of snarky and edgy attitude, which was put to good use while having to accept her lifestyle being revamped in such a ridiculous, extreme way. If that isn’t enough, then of course they couldn’t resist shoehorning in two dance sequences, showing off Rogers’ greatest skill. One of the best parts of Bachelor Mother for me was that Rogers was surrounded by a group of supporting characters that were given rounded personalities outside of the film’s main thread. There were a lot of brief comical side moments, wedged between dialogue or elsewhere, that gave the feeling that the characters—the butler, Polly’s coworker Mary, the landlady, her son, Freddie, and J.B. Merlin–were actual people dealing with their own issues on top of being dragged into this baby mess. Considering all these great and hilarious performances, I’m left most impressed by what Niven was able to do as David Merlin, a guy who had no business existing in the confines of this story at all and was forced into the forefront by silly excuse after excuse. As a former employer that wanted nothing to do with Polly baby drama, he sure did casually wander into the middle of it a lot.

I felt the same about Niven’s performance that I did for the movie on the whole, which is that I’m going to ignore all of these weak attempts at dot-connecting, because everything else is working so well. That’s the bottom line on Bachelor Mother, and my feelings about the screwball comedy philosophy in general. I can and did enjoy a film like Midnight, but after a certain point the B.S. element started to overshadow what was working. Bringing Up Baby, the most absurd film of them all, worked because silliness was only one of a few different levels in which it was operating—there were gender identity issues being explored and onscreen chemistry happening at its highest level. Bachelor Mother wasn’t even smart enough to touch on the dark side of its own premise—child abandonment—but the writing was sharp, the comedy worked, it was all in perfect balance, and then there was probably it’s most valuable aspect–it had Ginger Rogers and David Niven in it.