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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

THE LAW AND THE LADY (1951)

Falling somewhere betwixt Wilde, Maugham, Coward & Douglas-Home, playwright Frederick Lonsdale gently plied similar comic angles of Upper Crust Brits, as in ON APPROVAL and THE LAST OF MRS. CHENEY (this one’s original title). APPROVAL has the better gimmick (a trial marriage farce), but CHENEY’s setup nicely recalls Lubitsch’s TROUBLE IN PARADISE/’32 as a romantic pair of unmarried con-artists fleece the rich till a third-wheel romance turns serious. (With a gender switch so it’s two men/one woman.) An Early Talkie with Norma Shearer in ‘29, it was remade in ‘37 on Joan Crawford*, and now (third time’s the charm?) as a rare appropriate post-war vehicle for fast-fading Greer Garson. If only the execution were brighter. Michael Wilding is deft & charming as her confederate, playing butler to their nouveau riche quarry, while newcomer Fernando Lamas already shows his odd repellent arrogance & sexist stance as the unexpected rival. Even with a gabbled ending, it’s amusingly worked out, but producer Edwin H. Knopf, a specialist in classy snooze-fests, directs for the first time in a couple of decades and brings little to the party. One well-composed shot and one imaginative trick edit (a couple of jump cuts!) in the whole pic. Garson has to work thru an unbecoming brunette look, but largely pulls it off, keeping the insufferable noblesse oblige to a minimum. Tolerable stuff.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Someone @ M-G-M must also have noted the parallels, getting TROUBLE’S Samson Raphaelson on that 1937 script.

DOUBLE-BILL: To see what Wilding could do with this sort of thing, try to find Alex Korda’s superb ‘48 version of Oscar Wilde’s AN IDEAL HUSBAND, with Wilding leading a scrumptious cast. An unknown gem, miles ahead of the 1999 adaptation.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Doesn't the title make this sound like a Western? Where the heck was market research?

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