There’s a pejorative tinge in saying a film is ‘nice.’ But here’s a film that’s nice in a good way; and in a smart way. Writing & helming in the wake of his MIRACLE ON 34th STREET success*, George Seaton dared to stay small with what first looks like an all too tidy tale of retired philosophy prof Edmund Gwenn giving up on life until he opens his home, heart & intellect to a young couple stiffed by the post-WWII housing shortage. SHE: Jeanne Crain; pregnant, motor-mouthed, resourceful / HE: William Holden; G.I. Bill Chem Major, guilt-ridden by a lack of income, feeling he’s falling behind. Seaton knows that we know what’s coming and smoothly plays out the whole curmudgeon-warms-up tropes in act one; much helped by expert playing from leads & support. And the film keeps making sharp moves, using much of the second act to highlight the frustrations of war brides losing contact with husbands challenged & changed by college experiences; then shifting to personal tragedy in the third act (without going maudlin) so Holden can work his manly sensitivity angle. (Solid & handsome as they come, Holden had a flair for showing the messy inside of a breakdown.) The first act theme (life is worth living) returns in a coda (served dry, with a twist) and only Seaton’s square megging keeps this from being a top pick. (See him fumble a comic set piece for Holden & Gwenn.*) But still plenty good enough. In fact, it’s downright nice.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Production head Darryl F. Zanuck took an inexplicable disliking to MIRACLE and thought he’d give Seaton a lesson opening this quintessential Christmas picture in June! Then the damn thing ran and ran; right thru the holiday season.
DOUBLE-BILL: *The overworked gag has Holden & Gwenn struggle to assemble a baby’s wash tub from ‘easy’ DIY instructions. You’ll find pretty much the same gag from Preston Sturges (same year/same studio), but with far better comic results, for Rex Harrison and a home recording machine in UNFAITHFULLY YOURS/’48.
LINK: The Victorian parlor song that runs thru the film, Michael Balfe’s I DREAMT I DWELT IN MARBLE HALLS, would have been part of everyone’s musical DNA at the time. Now, not so much. Here’s an early (w/ piano accompaniment) and later (orchestrated) link to recordings by Dame Joan Sutherland. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0FE6LlBWbQ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yebOy5Ne6bQ