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Friday, July 21, 2017

THE NEXT VOICE YOU HEAR . . . (1950)

Purposefully plain, this little religious number might be too piously modest to fit in with the evangelical offerings now playing under-the-urban-radar at Bible-Belt bijoux. But the tune would be familiar. The idea, a can’t-miss amusement, is seriously meant, all about the effects on everyday people (literally Mr. & Mrs. Smith) when God hacks the broadcast airwaves for a week’s worth of radio addresses. On it’s own terms, it’s not badly done, thanks to Charles Schnee’s purposefully flat, well-ordered script and William Wellman’s purposefully unimaginative megging. (Not a big stretch for Wellman at the time.) We spend most of the time with a typical Norman Rockwell kind of family (see poster): James Whitmore doing his minor-league Spencer Tracy thing; Nancy (Davis) Reagan, the pregnant little wren of a wife who shows spunk by sneaking an extra slice of buttered Wonder Bread after breakfast; cute growing boy with paper route, Gary Gray, who gets the best bit in the pic pantomiming Dad’s daily battle with the old clunker. (Other attempts at comic ‘humanizing’ are less congenial.) The real surprise is just how Old Testament this particular Lord is, scaring his flock back to their preferred house of worship, then leaving them on their own to think things over. (And resting on the Seventh Day, don’tcha know.) The film, something of a mission statement from Dore Schary on his way to ousting Louis B. Mayer as M-G-M production head, finesses it’s way around choosing a Voice of G_d, but it might well have been Dubbed by D_re. As the old Hollywood saying would have it: If you want to send a message, call Western Union . . . or Dore Schary. He lasted five years.

DOUBLE-BILL: Swap out Ectoplasmic Lord for Heartthrob Space Alien and you’re damn close to THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL/’51, out the following year and looking better than ever.

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