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Monday, March 11, 2013

PRIMROSE PATH (1940)

In PRIVATE WORLDS/’35, Hollywood’s first full-bore psychiatric photoplay, writer/director Gregory La Cava’s gave his sanatorium patients diagnoses & suggested treatments that seem painfully naive to modern audiences. Yet, behind the office doors, the underlying relationships & situations between the rival doctors are strikingly subtle & sophisticated. And beautifully observed in the off-hand manner he developed, much as did Leo McCarey, from his early days working in the knockabout traditions of silent slapstick. They like to just sit back and let things happen. And something similar goes on in this astonishing mess of sympathy, condescension & melodrama among lower-class strivers in a little fishing town. The story, a sort of ANNA CHRISTIE, once-removed rip-off, has Joel McCrea as the good-natured chump who runs a seaside diner and falls for Ginger Rogers’ runaway kid, not knowing about her tart of a mother & drunken dad. The settings and relationships are undoubtedly heartfelt, but the whole cast overplays the flaws & lovable tics of all these regular Joes & Jills. None more so than Marjorie Rambeau as the Happy Hooker Mom, and she got an Oscar® nom for her troubles. Rogers gets off to a very broad start with her teen tomboy act (a characterization that worked much better for comedy in THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR/’42), but eventually settles down. If they wanted to dole out honors, they should have gone to Queenie Vassar who makes a notable film debut at 70 as the mean, two-faced, embittered Granny. A termagant-for-all-seasons, this shaft of pure malevolence is as unexpected as it is convincing. Where did La Cava pull it up from? (03/10/13)

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