Jean Arthur

A Foreign Affair (1948)

A Foreign Affair 1948

In the aftermath of World War II, American Congresswoman Phoebe Frost (Jean Arthur) is sent to Germany to evaluate the morale of American troops still in the area. When she arrives, she comes bearing a homemade chocolate cake for Captain John Pringle (John Lund), a gift from his fiancee. Before long, she’s being whisked off on a tour of the city, during which she’s appalled to see American servicemen cavorting with German women. In fact, when she’s mistaken for a German woman by a couple of  American servicemen, they take her out for drinks at a club where singer Erika von Schluetow (Marlene Dietrich) is performing.

While at the club, Phoebe learns that Erika was reportedly the girlfriend of a prominent Nazi leader who is now being protected by her American soldier boyfriend. She also sees a very familiar-looking cake being passed around the club. Unbeknownst to her, John is Erika’s secret boyfriend and he had traded his cake on the black market for a new mattress for her. Once Phoebe is able to prove Erika had ties to Nazi officials, she orders Erika’s apartment to be monitored constantly to find out who her boyfriend is and, still oblivious to who the person responsible is, assigns John to the task.

Following an awkward encounter outside of Erika’s apartment, in which she confronts John for keeping her waiting while Phoebe watches on, Phoebe drags John along to look up files on Erika. To prevent her from finding Erika’s files, John tries to convince Phoebe he’s in love with her. When he kisses her, she really does fall in love with him and John, still willing to protect Erika, even agrees to marry Phoebe to prevent her from investigating. Meanwhile, Colonel Rufus J. Plummer (Millard Mitchell) is aware of John’s relationship with Erika and wants him to keep seeing her in the hopes she will lead them to other Nazi officials.

From a historical standpoint, A Foreign Affair an absolutely fascinating movie to watch. It’s a movie dealing with Nazis and post-WWII Germany that was written and directed by a man who left Germany when the Nazi Party rose to power, stars an actress who despised the Nazis so much she renounced her German citizenship. It’s a role Dietrich absolutely despised, given how her character’s willingness to associate with known Nazis was in direct conflict with her own views. In fact, there’s a scene where Dietrich wears a gown she wore while performing for American troops during the war. It’s also a movie that was released shortly after the end of the war and was actually filmed in Berlin.

Even without the historical significance, it’s simply a good movie. A Foreign Affair is pure, unadulterated Billy Wilder — full of biting wit, razor-sharp dialogue, and a good amount of cynicism. In addition to Billy Wilder’s brilliant writing and direction, Jean Arthur is perfect as the uptight and repressed Phoebe. Although Dietrich hated this role, she worked very well with Billy Wilder and over 10 years later, he’d direct her again in one of her best performances in Witness for the Prosecution. It’s just a wonderful film. I’ve yet to be completely disappointed by a Billy Wilder movie.

Too Many Husbands (1940)

Too Many Husbands PosterWhen Bill Cardew (Fred MacMurray) is lost at sea, he is presumed to be dead.  Bill’s wife Vicky (Jean Arthur) takes comfort in the arms of Bill’s friend and business partner Henry Lowndes (Melvyn Douglas) and they get married six months after Bill’s disappearance.  The only problem is that Bill isn’t dead — he’s been living on a deserted island and finally makes it home again about a year later.

Needless to say, Vicky and Henry are stunned to hear the news that Bill is still alive and Bill is equally shocked to hear Vicky and Bill are now married.  Now the big question is, which man does Vicky want to be married to?  Bill and Henry begin to vie for her affections, which Vicky adores.  Not only does she love all the attention she’s getting, she encourages them to keep it up.

One night, Bill and Henry discover that Vicky had told each of them she has decided she wants to be with him.  To teach her a lesson, they decide to go have fun together and leave her at home alone.  Only Vicky gets so worried about where they are, she calls the police and accidentally admits to having more than one husband.  The police show up to arrest Henry and Bill and the matter of whose Vicky’s husband is brought to the courts.

The judge rules Bill is still her husband, but Henry isn’t willing to give up the fight for Vicky’s affections.  After their day in court, Bill and Vicky go out to dinner, where they run into Henry.  Henry tries to dance with Vicky and he and Bill are competitive at first, but the three of them wind up dancing together.

Too Many Husbands starts out promisingly, but it doesn’t take long for the premise to become stale and the characters only become less likeable as the movie progresses.  In the end, Bill was the only character I still liked.  Vicky enjoyed pitting Bill and Henry against each other far too much for me to have any sympathy for her or to find her antics funny. And the fact that Henry still wanted to pursue Vicky after the court ruling just left me saying, “No, really, you need to give it up now.”  With its great cast, I had somewhat high hopes for Too Many Husbands, but it left me unsatisfied.  But at least Jean Arthur got to wear some pretty marvelous costumes in it so those were nice to look at.

What’s on TCM: March 2012

Happy March, everybody!  There are plenty of things I’m looking forward to on TCM this month!  First of all, there’s the tail end of 31 Days of Oscars.  The end of 31 Days of Oscars means the return of Silent Sunday Nights, and it’s back with some excellent silents.  Lovers of pre-codes should definitely keep an eye on the schedule this month because I noticed quite a few pre-codes mixed in there.  Starting this month, Drew Barrymore will take over Alec Baldwin’s co-hosting duties for The Essentials.  Karl Malden is the star of the month and I haven’t seen very many of his movies, so this is a good chance for me to see more of his work.  Every Monday night this month will feature films from the British new wave era, which is something I’m very eager to see.  So, let’s get on to all my highlights for the month:

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Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

When Bonnie Lee’s (Jean Arthur) boat docks in Barranca, she gets off the boat thinking she’ll just be in town for the night.  But when she meets American pilots Joe (Noah Beery, Jr.) and Les (Allyn Joslyn), she’s happy to meet some fellow Americans and starts spending the evening with them.  The three of them stop into a bar, but then an order comes in that one of them has to fly out with some mail.  It’s very foggy that night, but their boss Geoff Carter (Cary Grant) is trying to land a mail delivery contract for his airline and has to stay on schedule for six months.  It’s decided that Joe must make the trip, but once he gets a ways out, they decide that it’s too dangerous for him to continue and is ordered to turn around.  When he gets back, he can’t see the runway to land.  Carter orders him to stay up until the fog clears, but he doesn’t listen and tries to land anyway.  He hits a tree on his way down, crashes, and dies.

Bonnie is deeply affected by Joe’s sudden death and is rather disturbed by the cold, distant attitude Carter seems to have about the incident.  But when some of the other pilots explain that they understand the risks of the job and that casualties are just a fact of life to them, she softens up toward Carter.  The two of them have a wonderful night together, drinking, singing, and playing the piano.  She even starts to fall in love with him!  Carter is attracted to her, too, but he’s had a bad experience with a woman that’s put him off the idea of love.  Plus he doesn’t want to give up flying and knows a lot of women couldn’t handle being married to a pilot.  Their evening is suddenly interrupted when Carter has to leave to deliver that mail.  Bonnie’s next boat is due to leave before he’d be back, but she decides at the last minute to skip the boat and stay in town for another week.  Carter is very surprised to find her waiting when he gets back, but not in a good way.  Bonnie feels stupid for having stayed, but she sticks around anyway.

But Carter is in for an even bigger surprise when Bat MacPherson (Richard Barthelmess) and his wife Judy (Rita Hayworth) suddenly arrive.  Bat’s come to town under an assumed name because he’s had a bad reputation in the flying world ever since he bailed out of a plane and left his mechanic to die.  The mechanic that died happened to be fellow pilot Kid’s (Thomas Mitchell) brother.  Carter immediately recognizes him and is hesitant to hire him at first.  The other pilots don’t want him there, but they really need the help and Bat is assigned to the most dangerous flights.  Not only that, but it turns out Bat’s wife Judy is the same woman who broke Carter’s heart.  Meanwhile, even though Carter had hurt Bonnie earlier, she continues to fall in love with him.  But after seeing one of his flights nearly go horribly wrong, she really begins to question whether or not she could handle being married to a pilot.  Then the time comes time to make the final delivery to get that mail contract.  Carter had planned to make the treacherous flight himself, but before he can leave, Bonnie accidentally shoots him in the arm and he can’t go.

Bat and Kid make the trip in his place.  When they realize they can’t fly as high as they need to, they’re told to turn around.  But on the way back, a bird hits the windshield and breaks Kid’s neck.  The plane also catches on fire and Kid tells Bat to go ahead and parachute out of the plane.  But this time, Bat is determined to not leave his companion and the two go down with the plane.  Kid doesn’t make it, but Bat survives and earns the respect of his fellow pilots.  By then, Bonnie is ready to catch her boat and move on.  When she goes to say goodbye to Carter, he gets word that the weather is clearing and he starts rushing to make that mail delivery.  But before he leaves, he tells Bonnie they should flip a coin to decide if she stays or not.  She doesn’t want to decide anything so glibly, but then she realizes he’s flipping a two-headed coin.

Even though adventure movies aren’t typically among my favorite movies, I really enjoyed Only Angels Have Wings.  I really liked that it managed to find a balance between being an action film and a romance without feeling like two different movies got stuck together.  And the best part is that both parts are carried out equally well.  Plus the cast is fantastic!  Of course, I like Cary Grant in just about anything, but I really loved him and Jean Arthur together here.  I mostly know Richard Barthelmess from his silent films and a handful of his pre-codes, so it was nice to see him in this.  This was one of Rita Hayworth’s first substantial roles.  She doesn’t have a particularly big part, but she made herself noticeable and this movie really helped her career.  And to top it all off, it’s got superb direction from Howard Hawks!  All in all, an excellent movie.

My Top 100, 80-71

It’s Friday again, which means it’s time to count down ten more of my favorite movies!  All I really have to say about this bunch of movies is that almost all of my favorite types of movies are represented here.  Silents, musicals, foreign, film noir, drama, comedy, they’re all there.  The only way this week’s bunch could be more ‘me’ is if I had worked in some offbeat B-movie in there somewhere.  Now, onto number 80…

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TCM Day in Review: 2/14/10

Yesterday was most certainly been the most five-star day on TCM this month!  Yesterday afternoon, I was able to watch: The More the Merrier, The Devil and Miss Jones, The Lady Eve, and Ball of Fire.  And those are only the ones I saw.  I skipped Notorious, High Society, and most of A Foreign Affair since those were all on quite early and I’d seen them all before.  I also caught Casablanca and The African Queen, but since I don’t have anything particularly unique to say about either one of those, I’m just going to skip writing about them.  Plus this entry is going to be long enough as it is without those two movies.

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