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Monday, August 11, 2014

I TAKE THIS WOMAN (1940)

In six years and a dozen pics, M-G-M never did figure out what to do with impassively gorgeous Hedy Lamarr. Photographically, impossible to fault; dramatically, impossible to ignite. In the first of three tries with Spencer Tracy, they meet-cute by suicide! (He stops her from jumping off a transatlantic ship.) It’s not quite love at first sight, closer to ‘like at first sight.’ But he’s a Lower East Side welfare doctor; she’s a fashionable Upper East Side divorcĂ©e; and the rest of the film, an increasingly desperate hunt for a storyline. (Look fast for 7th-billed Jack Carson. Part of a missing story thread, you can spot him in the background for a single dubbed line of dialogue.) All we get is Tracy trying on the manners of society doctor, and the suicide of an underwritten supporting character. Charles MacArthur gets credit for ‘original’ story, whatever that may have been, and Tracy is charmingly low-key, but nothing makes much sense under W. S. Van Dyke’s lax megging. Though he does seem disturbingly pleased with the racially appalling ‘Darkie’ act he gets out of Willie Best’s ‘Sambo,’ quivering with excitement for a slice of Hedy’s birthday cake. Even those with a high tolerance for period stereotypes may cringe. And the whole shebang ends with a load of the purist CapraCorn hooey. Even Frank Capra might have blanched.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Much of what passes for story in here was lifted from the second half of M-G-M’s very own THE CITADEL/’38, a memorable, if uneven pic.

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