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Thursday, November 13, 2014

MAGNIFICENT DOLL (1946)

Much derided Founding Fathers fiction about Aaron Burr & the Madisons (James & Dolly) via Pop historical novelist Irving Stone, of LUST FOR LIFE’s Van Gogh and AGONY & ECSTACY‘s Michelangelo. As a prettified Dolly, the early White House hostess-with-the-mostest, Ginger Rogers hurried her post-war decline while director Frank Borzage did nothing to halt his. Yet the film is quite watchable, at least on its own terms as fanciful, romantic hooey. Surprisingly, the prologue, which should fit Borzage like a glove, charting the progress of Dolly’s loveless marriage to Stephen McNally’s devoted Quaker, is the worst thing in the film, with Ginger wildly overplaying her cold-to-the-touch bride. But the plot perks up once Burr & Madison enter the scene as adversaries in love & politics even as Borzage’s direction stays flat & impersonal. David Niven & Burgess Meredith are both unusually well cast; Niven showing a frightening edge as the ambitious, unstable Burr; Meredith finding good use for his typically ripe line readings. How else would the Father of the Constitution talk? Rogers finds a comfort zone once she hits her own age, though little can be done with the patriotic wallapalooza of a speech she’s got to deliver at the end. Viewed with historical blinders, it’s fairly tasty hooey, just don’t take a test based on it.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The casting director must have been wearing those historical blinders, casting a short guy as Jefferson and a tall one as Hamilton.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Gore Vidal’s BURR, one of the great historical novels, covers much of this territory in grand, ironic style.

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