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Sunday, July 22, 2012

H. M. PULHAM. ESQ. (1941)

After getting Pulitzer’d with THE LATE GEORGE APLEY, John P. Marquand* revisited the theme of stuffy Boston Brahmins vs. progressive New Yorkers via the compromised life choices Mr. H. M. Pulham settles for. Appropriately, King Vidor’s film adaptation plays the same road-not-taken tune, but not to its benefit. The concessions begin with the cast. Robert Young isn’t a bad choice for Pulham, the too-easily led scion of a rich Boston family who leaves his heart in New York with Hedy Lamarr, falling back on a comfortable match of convenience with Ruth Hussey, but he hasn’t the star wattage to make us care about all those missed chances. You certainly could make a fascinating film about a man who wound up living the slightly dulled life he was destined for (see Updike, Cheever, New Englanders in general?), but this isn’t it. Vidor keeps pointing us toward interesting scenes & character turns that never materialize (was the budget trimmed at the last minute?), like Pulham’s troublesome kid sister (Bonita Granville) or his vaguely radical best pal, a young & skinny Van Heflin. Best is Hedy Lamarr who, just this once, gets to play a role not so far from the smart, independent woman she was in real life.** The plot whittles her down for a cop-out ‘happy’ ending, but it’s still her best perf.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: *Hard to believe this is the same J. P. Marquand who wrote the MR. MOTO books that grew into all those delightfully eccentric little ‘B’ pics with Peter Lorre/’37-‘39. Or, stick with the relucantly happy marriage topic with Ernst Lubitsch's HEAVEN CAN WAIT/'43.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: **Did Hedy Lamarr invent WiFi? Check out the scientific side of the great Hollywood beauty in HEDY’S FOLLY by Pulitzer Prize winning historian Richard Rhodes.

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