The Van Johnson Blogathon: Easy to Wed (1946)

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Hi, everyone! I couldn’t be happier to keep trucking along with continuous blog posts through the end of the month by participating in incredible blogathons like this one! I’d like to start out, as always, by thanking our gracious host, Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood. I’m still in the process of becoming a major Van Johnson fan, so this gave me the perfect chance to check out another film of his that I hadn’t seen before. I couldn’t think of many stars more deserving of some extra attention in a tribute like this one, I hope the blogathon is a great success, and I hope that I can keep discovering more films starring this iconic actor to enjoy! I’d also like to wish Van Johnson himself the happiest of birthdays today, and I can’t wait to read everyone else’s entries about such a wonderful person!

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Theatrical poster for Easy to Wed (1946).

I have to admit that I was fairly hesitant to watch Easy to Wed (1946), as I had a very disappointing experience back in June watching a different remake of one of my favorite films that also starred Van Johnson, In the Good Old Summertime (1949). However, I knew that I wanted to pay tribute to Van by reviewing something new to me, and the fact that this film also stars Esther Williams (one of my favorite actresses of all time) sweetened the pot and made this opportunity too enticing to pass up. As you might imagine, the film is a line for line remake of the classic 1930s screwball comedy Libeled Lady (1936). In Easy to Wed (1946), and essentially in the original film as well, the newspaper The Morning Star publishes a false story in which heiress Connie Allenbury (Esther Williams) steals another woman’s husband. With the assistance of father JP Allenbury (Cecil Kellaway), Connie sues for libel, hoping to earn $2 million and sink the paper in the process. The Star’s business manager Warren Haggerty (Keenan Wynn), who seems to often ditch his personal life for the sake of the newspaper that he works for, leaves his bride Gladys Benton (Lucille Ball) at the altar in order to fix the situation. Of course Gladys is none too happy about this, but somehow gets tangled up in Warren’s scheme to put womanizer and former employee of the paper Bill Chandler (Van Johnson) on the case, marry him to Gladys, and have Bill romance Connie at their hotel in Mexico City in order to turn the artificial story calling Connie a husband-stealer into the real McCoy. But will the underhanded plot work, or will complications arise and lead to the gang finding another way to get the Star out of the jam that it’s in?

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Van Johnson, Ethel Smith, and Esther Williams performing “Boneca de Pixe” in a scene from Easy to Wed (1946).

This is a change of pace in many respects for our man of the hour, Van Johnson. Easy to Wed (1946) attempted to force the star into two things that he definitely wasn’t: a philanderer and anything but all-American. When William Powell took on the role of Bill Chandler in the original film Libeled Lady (1936), he was a debonair man of the world whom the audience could easily believe as a ladies’ man. I’m sure that audiences were stunned by this personality change in Van Johnson just as I was, but he makes the part his own in ways that I would never have thought possible. While the four stars of Libeled Lady (1936) fight it out for screen time, it’s clear that Johnson earned top billing in Easy to Wed (1946) for a reason, and he dominates the film without seeming like he’s stealing the spotlight from any of his costars. Even more impressive were his Latin singing and dancing numbers with Esther Williams, which was out of both stars’ comfort zones, especially Williams as it was her first time singing at all in a film. The Spanish reprise of “Acérate Más” was by far the more critically acclaimed of their two compositions, but the one that delighted me and caught my attention the most was the Portuguese song “Boneca de Pixe” (also known as “Boneca de Piche”). The tune was based on a Portuguese fable and was originally performed by Carmen Miranda with different Latin male singers in recordings as early as 1938. Miranda herself taught Johnson and Williams how to sing the song, and her teaching certainly paid off with a performance that was absolutely marvelous despite how much it derailed the plot. Nowadays, the number would likely receive a scathing review and perhaps even be accused of whitewashing or cultural appropriation, but I feel that I have to give credit to both actors where it’s due, as the song seems incredibly difficult to master and I understand that Portuguese is one of the harder languages to learn.

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Esther Williams, Van Johnson, and Lucille Ball in a publicity still for Easy to Wed (1946).

Easy to Wed (1946) was Johnson and Williams’ second film together after Thrill of a Romance (1943), and the two were looking forward to working together again, but not all was well between the members of the cast. According to Williams’ autobiography Million Dollar Mermaid (1999), an offscreen rivalry began between Esther Williams and Lucille Ball while the two actresses were getting their hair styled on set. Lucy accused Esther of stealing her husband of six years, Desi Arnaz, and Esther claims that the redhead did this often to other leading ladies that she knew, as she was “wildly jealous” and considered every woman a “natural enemy to her”. To quote Esther further, “Desi called several times asking me for a date, even though he was already married. I told him that I was in love with Ben Gage [her husband of fourteen years] and had no interest in anyone else. I told that to Lucy, too, and added that even if I had not been in love, I wasn’t interested in her silly Latin singer. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the right thing to say either. The fact that I didn’t find Desi attractive made her cry.” Regardless of how the actresses clashed, Lucy gave a standout performance in the film as well as Van and Esther. Jean Harlow’s shoes were in my opinion the most challenging to fill in the remake, and Lucy recreates Harlow’s brashiness in the part of Gladys without disrespecting her and making the dialogue that she originally spoke seem trashy. Even Van Johnson himself added in his own autobiography that her portrayal “reveals the embryo of her Lucy Ricardo role in the later I Love Lucy television series”. Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Keenan Wynn, who rounded out the leading cast. With the exception of Esther, I was most excited to see him in the film as I’m a great fan of his work, and Keenan doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. As a man who was often corraled into supporting or even throwaway parts, I was overjoyed to see the actor battle it out with the best of them in a leading role, and I only wish that he could have snagged more screen time in this type of movie more often. I mentioned last month when I reviewed In the Good Old Summertime (1949) that there were a lot of components to it that should have made me enjoy that film, but somehow I ended up not enjoying it at all. Surprisingly this time around, the opposite turned out to be the case. There are so many reasons why this picture should not work, but everything comes together seamlessly, and while it’s not the pinnacle of filmmaking, I’m incredibly pleased to say that I loved Easy to Wed (1946) and would highly recommend it to any Van Johnson fan looking for a fun film of his to watch on what would have been his 101st birthday!

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The Cary Grant Blogathon: My Analysis of That Touch of Mink (1962)

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Here I am, back at it again with another blogathon! The year is winding down, but luckily fans of Old Hollywood never run out of fascinating stars and films to write about. Today I’m going to talk about Cary Grant, thanks to the host of this spectacular blogathon, Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. I’m so grateful to be able to write about such an interesting film in Grant’s career, so without further ado, on with the post!

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Cary Grant and Doris Day in a theatrical poster for That Touch of Mink (1962).

I’ll be honest here; I signed up for this blogathon a little late in the game, and had to look up the filmography of ever so suave Cary Grant in order to find a film to discuss. My first and only rule that I kept in my mind as I scrolled through his career that spanned over three decades was that I didn’t want to write about one of his later films. In general, I just never cared for the films that he made in the fifties and sixties in comparison to some of his charming pictures of yesteryear, and as I’ve seen more of his later films than his earlier ones, I thought I might learn a thing or two in the process. Of course, as you might have guessed from the title, everything changed once I learned that That Touch of Mink (1962) was available. I had seen the film once before and absolutely adored it, and with such a scandalous plot (for the time, anyway), and a wonderful cast of characters, I knew that I was sold. So here I am, embarking on this journey of analyzing Cary Grant’s fourth-to-last film. If there ever was a romantic comedy from the sexual revolution of the sixties that showed just how dead the Hayes Code was by that time, this film was it. It’s primarily a Doris Day vehicle as she was the number one box office draw at the time, though she surrendered top billing to costar Grant due to his distinguished career. Day plays Cathy Timberlake, an unemployed and unmarried woman who gets sexually accosted by nearly every man she meets, which I’ll admit ruins my childhood a little considering how attached I’ve been (like anybody) to her wholesome, motherly onscreen image. Creepiest of all of her suitors is unemployment agent Everett Beasley, played by John Astin in another out of character role that separates itself entirely from his usual lovable, goofy parts.

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Grant and Day goofing around in That Touch of Mink (1962).

On her way to a job interview, Cathy gets splashed by the limousine of wealthy businessman Phillip Shayne (played by Cary Grant, of course), who makes every effort to find and repay her for any damage done aside from actually meeting her himself, instead sending his financial adviser Roger, who is fed up with how wonderfully he’s been treated by Shayne and his company. It’s clear that he wants to resent his employer and everything he stands for, and wants to go back to teach at his alma mater, but everyone is so kind to him that he just can’t leave. He decides to rally with Cathy and her irritation at Shayne for not making amends with her in person, and urges her to storm directly to his office and complain. She attempts to do so, but her instant attraction to him causes her to forget all of her grievances, and Shayne’s mutual attraction to her leads him to wine and dine her, traveling all across the country to the best restaurants, baseball games, and even a United Nations conference for which he gives a compelling address. At the end of all of their adventures, Shayne propositions Cathy and offers to take her to Bermuda and then around the globe, and though it isn’t explicitly mentioned considering the times, it’s obvious that he expects sex and states that he has no intention of marrying her. This leaves it up to Cathy to make a life-changing decision, giving up her virtue for a shot at happiness or taking the advice of Roger and her best friend Connie (Audrey Meadows) and forgetting about Shayne for good.

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Grant and Day in a promotional image for That Touch of Mink (1962).

Despite disliking the final result of the film, Cary Grant had a great deal to do with its production, including casting Audrey Meadows as Cathy’s friend and roommate after seeing the actress on the hit television show The Honeymooners (1955-1956). For a scene that took place in his character’s library, he brought books and trinkets from his own home and decorated the set with them. According to his costar Doris Day it made the set more pleasant and made Grant feel more relaxed, giving his performance “that peculiarly natural, suave quality that is the hallmark of his pictures”, though she also mentioned in her autobiography that “Of all the people I performed with, I got to know Cary Grant least of all. He is a completely private person, totally reserved, and there is no way into him. Our relationship on That Touch of Mink (1962) was amicable but devoid of give-and-take. Not that he wasn’t friendly and polite — he certainly was. But distant, very distant. But very professional — maybe the most professional, exacting actor I ever worked with. In the scenes we played, he concerned himself with every little detail: clothes, sets, production values, the works. Cary even got involved in helping to choose the kind of mink I was slated to wear in the film.” In addition, he even personally called a raincoat company after seeing a coat that he felt would suit Doris Day in the picture, but owner Norman Zeiler brushed him off, not believing that Grant was really on the phone. He told the actor that if he wanted to see his collection, he would have to come up himself, and that’s exactly what he did, undoubtedly shocking everyone in proximity in the process.

All in all I find this to be a charming film with quite a few laugh out loud moments. I don’t understand why Cary Grant disliked it so much aside from the fact that it was likely a very controversial picture for its time, despite being the fourth highest grossing film of the year. I think this movie really defines what it means to be a classic romantic comedy, as it seamlessly blends both genres and every performance given, even in the supporting roles, is delightful and memorable, especially those of Doris Day and the slimy character portrayed by John Astin. Unfortunately I found Cary Grant’s role to blend in with his usual rich and debonair sort of type, but the comedic aspects of the part went off without a hitch, and his entire rendition of the role seemed effortless as a result. I loved this film the first time that I watched it so long ago, I adored it even more this time, and I’m sure that I’ll watch this film again and again any time I’m looking for a good laugh and a film that reflects an interesting period in cinema’s history.