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Saturday, October 4, 2014

SUSAN SLEPT HERE (1954)

This decidedly uncomfortable romantic-comedy skirts unknowingly(?) close to LOLITA territory, putting 22 yr-old Debbie Reynolds on the lap of 51 yr-old Dick Powell. (She’s supposed to be 17 and gets away with it; he’s supposed to be 35 and doesn’t.) The film never really finds its way past an idiotic set up that parks Debbie’s shrieking juvenile delinquent at Powell’s pad for the holidays. The hope is to keep Reynolds out of juvey jail and gin up some fresh subject matter for Powell’s stale Hollywood scripter. Naturally, they bicker away until realizing they’re meant for each other. Creepy as it sounds, much of the writing & playing is better than you expect, without the dumb misunderstandings that usually keep these things in motion. An early feature credit from cartoonist-turned-feature-director Frank Tashlin, it largely avoids the stop/start rhythm of his later gag-studded efforts, restricting his visual games (for better & worse) to the occasional odd camera placement for comic emphasis. For the record, Glenda Farrell, as Powell’s unmarried, middle-aged secretary, gets off a pip of a line on giving motherly advise: ‘I happen to have typed STELLA DALLAS.’ More like that could have overridden a lot of discomfort.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Reynolds’ home studio, M-G-M, must have liked this RKO production, giving her a similar follow up in THE TENDER TRAP/’55. Wan stuff, except for its smash one-shot credit sequence with star Frank Sinatra swinging the title track. But it helps explain the career arc of this film’s little remembered sidekick, Alvy Moore. Destined as second choice to David Wayne and Jerry Lewis at the time, TRAP has the higher profile Wayne in the same spot Moore gets in this less prestigious pic. And you can watch Moore in Jerry Lewis mode in 5 AGAINST THE HOUSE/’55 which even has Kerwin Matthews in the Dean Martin slot. Ironic that SUSAN helmer, Tashlin, was something of a mentor to Lewis which could explain the unusual attention he gives Moore in what may be his best screen perf. (Too bad Tashlin didn’t spend just as much time trying to tone down Ms. Reynolds.)

DOUBLE-BILL: For a noir take on blocked Hollywood screenwriters who bring home sweet young things, try Nicholas Ray/Humphrey Bogart’s scalding IN A LONELY PLACE/’50.

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