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Saturday, February 10, 2018

THE TOY WIFE (1938)

The only film with Luise Rainer solo-billed above-the-title, but hardly a promotion. Instead, near career sabotage with her misconceived character pursued by 'Featured Players' Melvyn Douglas & Robert Young rather than A-list stars, and journeyman director Richard Thorpe ill-matched to an oft-filmed French play. (FROU-FROU by CARMEN librettists Meilhac & Hal√©vy.*) In antebellum New Orleans society, Rainer’s just returned from France with older sister Barbara O’Neil (next year’s mother to Scarlett O’Hara) to find a proper husband. Frivolous & flirtatious, more irritating than enchanting, her infantile impetuosity inexplicably tempting to Young (irresponsible; debonair) and Douglas (solid; sobersided). Guided to the safe choice by older sis O’Neil (who’d also fancied Douglas), Rainer proves too immature to raise their son or run the house leaving O’Neil to move in and take over all but the most conjugal of wifely duties. It all unravels with desertion, social disgrace, a duel, three deaths . . . and is perfectly dreadful on every level. Especially Rainer, at her most insufferable, gazing ever upward rather than catching the eye of fellow players.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: The best reason to watch is to compare & contrast production standards @ lively Warner Bros. vs stodgy M-G-M in handling similar elements the same year in JEZEBEL; admittedly, with Bette Davis, Henry Fonda & director William Wyler all near the top of their game. Another Southern Plantation tale, so be advised that ‘Darkies’ are on hand to sing, dance & pray to ‘De Lord’ in regrettable period fashion. (Less 1830s than 1930s.) Though only WIFE has the gall to name one of the house slaves ‘Pickaninny.’ Yikes!

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *What are the odds? Augustin Daly, who presented FROU-FROU on B’way, wrote an unrelated play titled JEZEBEL.

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