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Sunday, May 30, 2010

ONCE UPON A HONEYMOON (1942)


At his best, Leo McCarey made movies in his signature unforced style that appear to come together of their own volition. You can watch them repeatedly, and still end up scratching your head wondering how he did it. This is not one of those magical films. It’s a painfully tone-deaf WWII romantic-comedy about a social climbing gal from Flatbush (Ginger Rogers) who marries a Baron (Walter Slezak) unaware that he’s a top Nazi agent. Their honeymoon itinerary takes them country-by-country thru the early Blitzkrieg invasions. Cary Grant is a reporter on their trail who opens her eyes and falls for her. The possibilities are obvious, but so are the obstacles . . . and McCarey hits every one of them. The nadir comes as Cary & Ginger pitch woo in a Concentration Camp while cantorial prayers sound behind them. No doubt, the fairy tale title was meant as a sop to ward off criticism, but the bizarre situations grow so appallingly tasteless that no response seems possible. Hard to believe that McCarey’s last pic could have been the superb LOVE AFFAIR/’39 or that his follow-up was GOING MY WAY/’43.

NOTE: Rogers fanciers should study a scene where Cary & Ginger hit the vodka. He gets drunk first, but she grows drunk right on camera. Just as a technical study, it’s pretty amazing.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: A romantic-comedy in Nazi-occupied Europe made as the events were unfolding? Impossible? Not for Ernst Lubitsch in TO BE OR NOT TO BE/’42.

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