John Wayne in a Woman’s Picture?

 DATELINE: Duke Takes on Shane’s Girlfriend

not a chance Witless Comedy.

Well, at least John Wayne is not yet in women’s lingerie in 1943. A Lady Takes a Chance is not exactly High Noon. We hate to say it, but don’t leave this film to chance. Just leave it alone.

Jean Arthur was a big star, and John Wayne wanted to be a big star. Despite his accolades and sensational performance in Stagecoach, Duke Wayne needed to cross-over to become super big. So, he even drives a car.

Someone at the studio figured that he needed to widen his audience to include adult women who admired working-class heroine Jean Arthur, the everyday spunky girl of America.

How would John Wayne do with spunky women? You have an early answer here. He treats them like horses. If we recall our Hollywood history: they shoot horses, don’t they?

Among the pallid jokes is to have Duke don an apron, or to watch Jean Arthur try to sleep uncomfortably under the prairie stars.

Yes, this was a time when you went west on a bus. Jean Arthur must ultimately choose between bookish Hans Conreid, paunchy Grady Sutton, or virile John Wayne! Some choice.

Someone failed to plug this movie. Pull the plug, please.

This early misuse of John Wayne is absolutely fascinating as a studio-system miscalculation. Or was it? Then again, we like disaster movies too. We wanted to see Phil Silvers (Sergeant Bilko) with the classic military cowboy.

The only other time we saw John Wayne in a woman’s comedy, he did a guest star role in the 1970s on Maude with the high-shootin’ Bea Arthur. It was a real showdown. Yeah, he outdrew that Golden Girl of cynical womanhood.

Jean Arthur is the queen bee/big star here, hypocritical with her multiple boyfriends in New York, but indignant that Duke Wayne has a few girlfriends from the rodeo circuit. She treated Alan Ladd just as badly in her next Western, Shane, as Brandon de Wilde’s mother.

If producers were aiming for frothy, as in beer suds, most of it stuck to Jean Arthur’s upper lip. Literally.

Devilish Fun with Charles Coburn

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

 Devilish fun

A cheesy porn film with a similar title has done a grave disservice to a chestnut movie way ahead of its time.

The Devil and Miss Jones would be called dramedy decades later, but it is a charming romantic comedy film of 1941. It is too often confused with the notorious The Devil in Miss Jones. What a shame.

We were stunned by the pairing of crotchety old Charles Coburn as a billionaire without a conscience and a shoe salesgirl in the form of Jean Arthur. It seems the department store chain is having union organizers burning the owner in effigy. Coburn, a recluse with billions, is offended and decides to go undercover to deal with the morons personally.

So many TV shows have played off the concept of an undercover boss, but this film is not a reality ripoff. It is a well-honed film from the classic period. Its politics and satiric approach are timeless.

On top of that, we were stunned in the opening credits with names like Edmund Gwenn, Spring Byington, William Demarest, Robert Cummings, and S.Z. Sakall. It is a who’s who of brilliant character actors from the great studio era.

The opening and the closing scenes make the entire film worth the viewing.

The film even uses some of the Citizen Kane set, thanks to genius set designer William Cameron Menzies. And, Sam Wood directs comedy deftly. Heretofore, we associated him with social dramas that extracted stunning performances out of child actors.

In the final analysis the movie is not revolutionary or one of the great films, but it is something special despite its hoary sexism toward women. Yet, star Jean Arthur has spunk and is clearly engineering the road to independent women in business.

Dapper Oldster Charles Coburn’s Great Films

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP!

 Image

Charles Coburn with Monroe and Grant

After success in The Devil and Miss Jones in 1941, two unlikely actors found themselves paired up again.

Charles Coburn came to acting at age 60 and continued to play salacious millionaires and dotty grandfathers for the next twenty years. He chased Marilyn Monroe around in two movies and took all the comedic roles that Charles Laughton couldn’t play.

Jean Arthur was a nasal and twangy leading lady that seemed to go against the grain of glamour queens. In this film she does one scene with a mouthful of toothpaste. Her last major role was as the love interest of Alan Ladd in Shane.

But during World War II, the two actors seemed a most romantic couple, playing off each other as only May and December can. They usually had better chemistry than the leading men Arthur faced (Robert Cummings, Joel MacRae).

In The More the Merrier, a George Stevens film, the set piece is Jean Arthur’s apartment in Washington, D.C., when accommodations were hard to find. She takes in an old millionaire who subleases to a good-looking inventor (MacRae). He wants to play matchmaker, but he may be the best boon companion for Miss Arthur. They are a charming team.

Their shared flat is tiny enough with paper-thin walls to make for a curiously sophisticated arrangement for the pre-war crowd.

Coburn provides enough winks and nods, as well as pratfalls, to win his place as the pinup boy for the senior set. Seventy years later, he still dresses up the image of growing old.

The movie was later remade (Walk, Don’t Run) as Cary Grant’s last film (playing Charles Coburn, no less). Grant studied Coburn and  both costarred with Marilyn in Monkey Business.

You can never get enough of a good thing.