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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

THAT HAGEN GIRL (1947)

Shirley Temple, in her late-teen phase, plays a small town girl with a gossip-worthy past that only heats up when Ronald Reagan, her putative father, comes home after the war. He’s back to take over the law practice of his late mentor and hasn’t a clue that the whole town thinks Temple is his illegitimate love-child. The story chugs along in ways both simplistic & obvious as the school term winds down and romantic rivalries play out, leading to a few too many (and too convenient) last act revelations & resolutions. Some more than a little creepy. (The filmmakers seem aware of this, winding things up in a brisk, smooch-free manner.) But director Peter Godfrey unlocks an intriguing subversive streak in the material, upturning the Capra model of honest small town decency to emphasize the petty slights, willful miscommunications & suffocating atmosphere which he gets just right. For the first hour or so, it’s pretty effective before plot contrivances and some very easily refuted gossip push any legitimate issues raised into tidy boxes. In a sidebar, Reagan has an oddly chaste romantic encounter with a sympathetic schoolteacher, nicely played by Lois Maxwell, James Bond’s future Miss Moneypenny. And look for a very funny turn by a young Conrad Janis, a tv regular for decades, as an obnoxious student.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: A snarky film book from the ‘70s listed this harmless pic as one of the 50 Worst Films of All Time, along with LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD/’61; IVAN THE TERRIBLE/’44 and BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA/’74. No further comment necessary.

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