This swanky-smooth Woman’s Weepie, yet another ENOCH ARDEN iteration/variation, finds Claudette Colbert’s pregnant WWI widow marrying kindly boss George Brent without quite being able to love him. Twenty years on, with a second son by Brent and the first unaware of his true parentage, a distinguished Austrian chemist in questionable health limps into her life as a new specialist at her husband’s company. It’s . . . her husband!; the first one! But so changed, she doesn’t recognize him. Ah, but he recognizes her. And, as it’s now 1939, the son he never knew he had (Richard Long) wants to dash off to Canada, join the RAF in England, and probably get killed just as the father he never knew he had did! Er . . . didn’t. (I’m so confused.) Jolted at the thought of losing her boy, the last link to her ‘late’ spouse, Colbert starts making mental connections. It all sounds a bit ridiculous, hell, it is a bit ridiculous, but it was an enormous hit at the time (Welles’ biggest) and you can still see why. The prologue with Welles & Colbert as newlyweds is awkward stuff; she looks stiff, he looks like the Pillsbury Lieutenant Doughboy. But Welles comes alive as an actor when he returns as the physically ruined, displaced Austrian, bringing along an adorable war victim in debuting Natalie Wood. And what a second entrance Colbert makes on his reintroduction, coming down the stairs in a knock-out black outfit by Jean Louis, on loan from Columbia.* In fact, all the tech work is unusually lux for an indie (Independent Pictures): a Max Steiner score; Joe Valentine lensing; art design by a just Oscar’d Wiard Ihnen. It’s the most stylish work ever by journeyman megger Irving Pichel. Check out his shot sequence as Welles hunts up his runaway son at the station before he can catch his train. Even the over-lit, over-dressed manse for Brent & Colbert comes off as a witty jab at stuffy M-G-M with Brent gamely offering a game of golf, a swim, tennis or a ride to his boys. He’s got the worst part in the pic, but he’s Father of the Year.
READ ALL ABOUT IT: *Costume designer Jean Louis also got to dress Rita Hayworth as GILDA/’46 this year. One of the greats, he deserves more attention. Check out his cheeky interview with John Kobal in his classic Hollywood collection 'People Will Talk.'
DOUBLE-BILL: Welles stayed with Independent Pictures for his follow up, THE STRANGER/’46, his biggest commercial success as writer/star/director hyphenate. (And playing a character who’s like an evil doppelgänger of his role here.) Ironically, these two big hits were released thru RKO, the company that dumped him after KANE/’41 & AMBERSONS/’42 flopped. And there, in a nutshell, was Orson Welles’ dilemma.