sovay: (Morell: quizzical)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2016-05-05 05:08 pm
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Did you ever spend a week at the Prudence Club for Women Only?

I don't know what I was expecting from a movie called Seven Sweethearts (1942). It was directed by Frank Borzage and co-starred Van Heflin, so I decided to give it a whirl. I'd had a really bad night. It opened with a waltz sung by an offstage chorus and a credited list of "The Seven Sweethearts . . . The Seven Sweethearts' Boy Friend . . . The Seven Sweethearts' Other Boy Friends . . . The Seven Sweethearts' Father" and then we got a scrolling poem in Burma-Shave couplets about Dutch immigration to the United States. "To this great land / Of jive and juleps / The Dutch once came / To plant their tulips . . ." I respect Heflin's acerbic photojournalist immensely for arriving on the scene in "Little Delft, Michigan" and finding the communal rehearsal of Edvard Grieg's Morgenstemning too twee for words, but unfortunately that's the father of his future beloved leading the soundtrack on oboe—resist the old-world charms of S.Z. Sakall's cuckoo-clock hotel as he might, Heflin's fallen into a register of whimsy I didn't think would exist until the advent of indie filmmaking. The hotelier has seven beautiful daughters, all with boys' names, who are supposed to get married off in birth order; the Viennese musician on the top floor goes around muttering artistically to himself and hasn't paid his rent in a year; the honeymooning couple down the hall communicate with one another in romantically bad poetry. The rooms have no keys and the newspaper is never printed when it rains. One of the daughters serenades a stunned Heflin with operetta trills of impromptu Mozart and two white fantail pigeons flutter down to her balcony like extras from a Disney cartoon. I don't blame him for scratching his head like he's trying to find his phrenological area of reality check: "What goes on here? Everybody on the staff looks like Miss America and the proprietor plays oboe." Zero prizes for guessing if he'll soften by the finale, but at least the daughter he ends up with is the snarky one with a temper as short as his own. She's played by Kathryn Grayson, so the singing is a staple feature, though the fantail pigeons appear to be an aberration. The plot between these two points is pure shenanigans, involving the machinations of the theater-mad eldest sister, the youngest sister's torn family loyalties, the five frustrated boyfriends of the sisters in between, misunderstandings, New York City, and a lot of Dutch national pride. Oh, and the movie's a musical, in case the opening waltz and Grayson's presence didn't sufficiently warn you. It's all diegetic music, but there's a lot of it, including a professional-caliber church choir and a production number about tulips. Did I mention that Heflin's reporter is in town originally to cover the tulip festival? It's really not a bad movie, but clog-dancing Jesus, is it silly. Van Heflin has a staggering case of side-eye the whole way through and I couldn't blame him.

He's a credible romantic lead, incidentally, but I can't help wondering how he got the part—it's the kind of cynic-to-sap material that any pretty face on the MGM lot could have handled without strain. The fun in Heflin's case is getting to see what a character actor does with a conventional part. He's not a pretty face, for starters. He finds his own strengths in the role. His dry voice reinforces the character's cynical edge, which a surfeit of love and tulips never quite succeeds in sanding off; his knack for vulnerability means that while it's in the script that his native New Yorker is utterly confounded by the rural sweetness of Little Delft, it's from Heflin's off-rhythm delivery and tight reflexive smile that we suspect that even in his natural habitat the reporter isn't totally the smooth operator he'd like us to believe. His story about advising a famous theatrical producer—whose name changes halfway through from Oscar to Max—is such obvious impress-the-girls flummery, it's just his bad luck that the oldest sister believes it. He can't really dance, but I never thought I'd even see him try. I wish I could recommend the movie for him, but I'd rather point out that TCM is runnng Act of Violence (1948) at a wincingly early hour on Saturday morning. If he ever got a romantic part with substance, I'd like to see that. As for Frank Borzage, if he put in the studio time in order to make stranger pictures like Moonrise (1948), I'm happy for the pay-off, but I can't see much of his weird lyricism here.

That was more than I thought I had to say about any movie which features a song by the title of "Little Tingle-Tangle Toes." This excursion brought to you by my bemused backers at Patreon.
gwynnega: (lordpeter mswyrr)

[personal profile] gwynnega 2016-05-06 12:19 am (UTC)(link)
Van Heflin has a staggering case of side-eye the whole way through and I couldn't blame him.

I'd be tempted to watch just to see this phenomenon!

I will try to remember to record Act of Violence.

(Anonymous) 2016-05-20 08:15 pm (UTC)(link)
I loved Act of Violence. I was especially pleased that it featured my beloved local Glendale train station!
gwynnega: (coffee poisoninjest)

[personal profile] gwynnega 2016-05-20 08:15 pm (UTC)(link)
I loved Act of Violence. I was especially pleased that it featured my beloved local Glendale train station!
gwynnega: (coffee poisoninjest)

[personal profile] gwynnega 2016-05-20 08:22 pm (UTC)(link)
Yes! It was very recognizable.

[identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com 2016-05-06 05:11 pm (UTC)(link)
"...resist the old-world charms of S.Z. Sakall's cuckoo-clock hotel as he might, Heflin's fallen into a register of whimsy I didn't think would exist until the advent of indie filmmaking. "

Dude, you made me literally laugh out loud.