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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

THE MAN I MARRIED (1940)

Once Warner Bros. broke Hollywood’s unofficial non-alignment barrier with CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY/’39, other major studios quickly chimed in . . . rather cautiously @ 20th/Fox to judge by this bare-bones programmer. Francis Lederer, the lunkheaded Nazi dupe of CONFESSIONS, now plays a well-educated German-national dupe who takes his American wife (Joan Bennett) and kid to The Fatherland with plans to either sell or take over the family business. The real point of the film is to let Bennett play wandering American political näif and have her eyes opened to what’s really going on under Hitler with the help of Lloyd Nolan’s friendly, well connected foreign bureau reporter. Under the hand of jack-of-all-trades helmer Irving Pichel, the presentation is pretty flat, a style-free look that has the advantage of letting the stock shots & newsreel footage match up smoothly. Anna Sten, a famous flop back when Sam Goldwyn tried to set her up as the new Garbo, is very effective, and darn scary, as Third Reich true-believer & romantic rival to Bennett while Otto Kruger, as Lederer’s sadder-but-wiser old man, is a bit much. The main interest really lies in the film’s place as a historical touchstone of the times. Watching in hindsight, that proves more than compelling enough.

DOUBLE-BILL: Only two years on, Leo McCarey looked positively tone-deaf using this plot as template for his appalling ONCE UPON A HONEYMOON/’42 rom-com. And an A-list cast with Ginger Rogers, Cary Grant & Walter Slezak in for Bennet, Nolan & Lederer only makes things worse.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Bennett became unspeakably gorgeous switching from blonde to brunette shortly before this film. One close-up catches her looking uncannily like Vivien Leigh, doubly screwy since Bennett was David O. Selznick’s back-up choice for Scarlett O’Hara and also because her co-star, Francis Lederer, looks so much like Leigh’s new husband, Laurence Olivier, in ruffian mode as seen in WUTHERING HEIGHTS/’39.

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