Saturday, June 18, 2011

Grant and Rodgers are Good In An Otherwise Labored Film

Ginger Rodgers was perhaps best known for her partnership over a span of almost twenty years, and ten films with Fred Astaire. But she also had a very successful, Oscar-winning solo career. Cary Grant was a very suave, English actor known for his roles in "North by Northwest" and "Arsenic and Old Lace". Together, they have a very natural chemistry, but this film, an R.K.O. film from 1942, is not the best vehicle to showcase that chemistry. For me, it was lost somewhere in the very busy film.

Rodgers stars as Kathie O'Hara, a.k.a Katherine Butt-Smith (pronounced like 'Butte'...this becomes a somewhat monotonous running joke in the film), a.k.a. Baroness Katherine Von Luber, an American burlesque performer who marries an Austrian Baron, Baron Franz Von Luber, in hopes of climbing the social ladder. Enter reporter Patrick O'Toole (Grant) who begins to suspect the Baron of having ties to Adolf Hitler in a pre-World War Two Europe. He begins his investigation by traveling to Europe, in a quest to follow the Baron to break the biggest story of his career. Gradually, his intentions are swayed. He begins to fall in love with the Baroness. Eventually, when she learns of her husband's involvement with the Nazis, now under the name of Kathie O'Hara, she fakes her own death in order to flee Europe and return to the United States with O'Toole. With their inside knowledge (the Baron is fifth in line behind Hitler), once in Paris, O'Hara and O'Toole are used as spies for the allied party, and go to the airwaves to discredit Von Luber and the Nazis. This story has a heart. It has potential. But ultimately, it falls flat.

The film on the whole didn't work for me, but through no fault of the actors. Rodgers and Grant compliment each other quite well. They both have a sarcastic sense of humor, and can easily take barbs from one another. Rodgers was a beautiful woman, a very in demand actress at the time this film was made, and Grant was a very good looking actor. So in those senses, the film was excellent. The idea of the film was excellent as well, but where it failed for me was in the execution. Once it was written on the page, it became the sort of muddled mess that made it to the screen. We have the one main story, which is an American woman marrying an Austrian Baron to climb the social ladder. Then we have a love story, between the two leads. There's an act of betrayal, of sacrifice, name it. While some films can execute such a multilayer-ed story, this one wasn't so lucky. The film tried in earnest to meld all of its components. But it became very uneven and choppy as a result.

Films made about the Nazis that were actually filmed during Hitler's reign have always been strange to me. This film was made in 1942, at the height of the Third Reich, and Hitler's onslaught of Europe. In this day and age, a film that would take a so called "industry" and make fun, or in any way try to discredit it, would undoubtedly be subject to an attempt at being shelved and never seeing the light of day by those looking to uphold their reputation. I can only guess, but with the power and influence that Hitler had during this period, a film such as this, that was defamatory in any way, probably wasn't even allowed to be shown.

While I didn't enjoy this film very much, I did enjoy the aforementioned chemistry between Grant and Rodgers. They seemed very comfortable with each other on screen. Beyond that, this film failed on multiple levels for me. If I were to put a rating on it, I would give it two out of four stars. It's not unbearable to watch, but after I finished it, I couldn't help but say "I'm glad it's over." It's certainly not my favorite film that I've seen recently, but it's worth watching for the acting and the two leads.

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