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Sunday, October 2, 2016

THE BIG HANGOVER (1950)

A specialist in glossy relationship comedies for B’way & Hollywood, Norman Krasna would occasionally direct his scripts. His first try, PRINCESS O’ROURKE/‘43, is a modest charmer, but this second attempt is D.O.A., a strange, sour sort of comedy with an anti-discrimination message tucked in for importance. (In its social concerns, it’s got Dore Schary, new co-head of M-G-M, written all over it.) Here’s the comedy part: Van Johnson, new man at a clubby, high-end law firm, has returned from the war with an alcohol problem . . . he’s allergic to the stuff. Recovering from battlefield wounds in a monastery that blew up, he nearly drowned in the friars’ brandy reserves and now goes blotto from any sort of spirits. But in his new job, he’s caught the sympathetic eye of Elizabeth Taylor, daughter of the law firm head, and she takes him on as a personal project. Krasna doesn’t do much with this painfully unfunny set-up, and makes things worse with spatially inert staging and stop-and-start pacing from his entire cast. As if no one wanted to pick up their cue to deliver the next deathless witticism. Here’s the message part: the firm’s working for a client who wants to keep a perfectly acceptable Asian doctor (and his pregnant wife) out of a new & costly housing complex. Johnson looks jusifiably pained throughout, while Taylor has yet to find an adult acting manner (she’d locate it over her next two films, FATHER OF THE BRIDE/’50 and A PLACE IN THE SUN/’51). Slim pickings all ‘round, other than figuring out who’s the mystery man playing Taylor’s dad. He’s Percy Waram, a B’way regular with scores of stage credits, but very few film appearances. A most uncomfortable film actor, he must have been a stand-in for an unavailable William Powell who’d play Taylor’s dad in another dud, his M-G-M swansong, THE GIRL WHO HAD EVERYTHING/’53.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The film’s hardly a success, but Johnson’s alcoholic WWII vet in BRIGADOON/’54 cuts much closer to the bone (even with minimal screen time) than he does here.

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