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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

THE TUNNEL OF LOVE (1958)

Barely adapted from one of those ‘smart,’ B’way comedies designed for the ‘tired-businessman,’ it’s a toss-up which is flatter, the wise-cracking, slightly smutty dialogue or the soundstage studio lighting. Tom Ewell starred in the original New York theater production, giving a near-reprise of his 7 YEAR ITCH characterization. In this story, he goes a’straying not with the girl upstairs, but with a lady from the adoption agency who's there to check him & his wife out as possible parents. It's a moral slip his errant, hard-drinking neighbor (Gig Young) strongly approves of. In his first time out directing something he’s not also starring in, Gene Kelly seems terrified to alter any of the set-in-cement stage business,* which leaves an underused Doris Day to overplay wildly as the blindsided wife and Richard Widmark (in the Ewell role) reciting ‘asides’ without quite breaking the fourth wall. Dreary stuff. If you do stick it out, there’s a bit of relief in the third act when Elizabeth Wilson, the sole holdover from the stage cast, shows up. She plays the second adoption agency investigator, and while her timing, energy & slightly heightened acting moxie can’t exactly redeem the script, it does show how this might have lasted for a strong run of 417 perfs.

DOUBLE-BILL: Billy Wilder’s THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH/’55 also looks stifling & stale, but the great man brings a gleeful conviction to the coarse comedy, capturing Tom Ewell (and, of course, Marilyn Monroe) in signature roles.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The film was a dreadful bomb, but Kelly must have pleased co-scripter/producer Joseph Fields since he hired Gene on his next B’way show, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s FLOWER DRUM SONG. Then the 1961 film gig went to Henry Koster.

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