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Saturday, September 5, 2015

THE HAPPY TIME (1952)

Charles Boyer is genial pater to a household of horny French-Canadian Huguenots in this puberty-fixated coming-of-age memoir. Based on the stories of Robert Fontaine (and Samuel Taylor’s hit B’way adaptation), there’s a great basic idea to this slice of 1920s nostalgia in positioning these guilt-free French-Canadians against their puritanical Ottawa neighbors. It makes the merest suggestion of gonad-influenced behavior cataclysmically disruptive to outsiders, but warmly approved at home. If only script & execution were worthy of the situations. As the father, Boyer is more or less perfection, even putting over a Father-and-Son talk about sex, lust & love. No small thing. But director Richard Fleischer, just off his great low-budget noir THE NARROW MARGIN/’52, is almost completely out of his element, pushing a good cast toward constant overplaying. (As if they expected an added laugh track.) And it's not only B’way holdover Kurt Kasznar, the dipsomaniac sibling who lives across the street, playing to the back of the house, but also Marcel Dalio’s Grand-père & Louis Jourdan’s philandering wine merchant brother. (BTW: In real life, Dalio was a year younger than Boyer.) The women at home (Mom & her pretty new helper) aren't too interesting, and former Disney star Bobby Driscoll is a bit stiff as the pubescent teen (pun intended), but they're still fun to watch. So too the film in spite of its gaucheries.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Even without Dmitri Tiomkin’s overactive score, this feels like a musical waiting for song cues. Sure enough, Kander & Ebb did the honors in a failed late ‘60s version that earned a Tony Award for Robert Goulet, now playing a traveling photographer, in the Louis Jourdan spot. It’s one of those frustrating musicals that almost works.

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