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Sunday, June 4, 2017


You know the drill: small-town spinster teacher never realizes how many lives she’s affected over the years. (IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE/’46 is like a guy version of the same idea, with wife & kids in the mix. Miss Dove even stops a panic run on the local bank for those who missed the Capra.) Henry Koster megs in his becalmed non-interventionist front-and-center CinemaScope style (he was livelier back in the ‘30s) and a light comic tone keeps things from getting too sticky. Along with some oddly stiff acting; as if English were everyone’s second language. But halfway in, you notice that Jennifer Jones’s Miss Dove is less severe disciplinarian/truth-teller, more vinegary, unyielding and needlessly rude; hiding 'the Terrible’ Miss Dove’s soft spot under a cruel comic edge. She's like a female Clifton Webb, the phenomenally popular cranky, know-it-all at 20th/Fox (where this was made). Webb, who came late to film, after decades on stage, made an unlikely leading-man. Fey, fussy, yet a top studio grosser, often as Dad to batches of children. Easy to see how this might have been developed for him. (Same dialogue; different clothes.) To some extent, it works well enough with Jones, these Most-Memorable-Teacher things always do. (Though perhaps not in Germany! - see bonus poster)

The trouble is that Jones has nothing like the sheer technique Webb built up over decades headlining B’way revues. (Romberg, Berlin, Porter & Kern all wrote for him.) So where Webb was tart, stylized, precise; Jones gives mannerisms by rote. She soon went back to glamorous suffering and returned the Clifton Webb act to Clifton Webb.*

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Until Webb retired and left Richard Haydn as a reasonable facsimile in THE SOUND OF MUSIC/’65.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Watch close to see the student population go from lily white to integrated over the decades. First a Jewish kid (with a matzo ball making mom) then during the final assembly, look fast for a black kid. Progress.

DOUBLE-BILL: Webb’s at his strict sweet-and-sour funniest in CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN/’50 . . . OR: For a more traditional spinster teacher number, see Claudette Colbert, John Payne & director Henry King take much of the curse off the format in REMEMBER THE DAY/'41.

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