Archive for the ‘Una O’Connor’ Category

Strawberry Blond

21 Nov

Strawberry Blond – directed by Raoul Walsh. Period Comedy. A bad-tempered dentist falls afoul of a beautiful woman and a con man. 97 minutes Black and White 1941.


A Whitman’s Sampler of 1910: beer halls, high button shoes, brass bands, barber shop quartets, and Irish wildness.

Perc Westmore did Rita Hayworth’s makeup and discovered that her hair was so abundant that she could never wear a wig. But he dyed it to make her the title character, which she carries off beautifully. This is her second A-film, having just made Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings. She is very young. She is flabbergasteringly beautiful. She is perfect as the phony flirt and even better as the rolling-pin wife of Jack Carson.

James Wong Howe upgraded every film he filmed, and you can see it in this one, which otherwise might have been a Fox Betty Grable musical. He colors scenes with shadow, the play of leaves across a face, and this gives them a romantic importance which they actually inherently possess and need.

For as with all of Raoul Walsh’s films, the love story grounds the project. Walsh tells the story imaginatively and crisply, as usual, and his actors are on the mark – free and liberal in their choices. It is entirely without the crass Irish sentimentality you find in Ford and McCrary. Walsh was great with actors. He did not watch their scenes; he only listened to them off-stage. The great stage director George S. Kaufman did the same. If the truth was heard, it would be seen. The result is the actors shine. And this is Walsh’s favorite picture.

It is James Cagney’s film, and he abounds; scarcely a scene he does not appear in. He was after a change of pace, and balked fiercely about doing this, until Hal Wallis and Jack Warner offered him 10% of the profits and brought in the Epstein brothers to rewrite it. It had been a stage play and then Gary Cooper’s only flop. They switched the milieu from the Midwest to New York City, where, of course, Cagney belonged.

Cagney is a curious actor. He acting personality is one who wants to be ahead of the game. This means that he is not actually a responsive actor, since he always has his fear for the possible in mind. His definition of acting was: “Look ‘em in the eye and tell the truth” – which is fine if you are a machine gun. So I find it hard to acknowledge his talent; I do but I find it hard to. His headlong “personality” worked well here, since he plays a man consistently duped. He was high-waisted, long legged, and short, and carried himself  step-dancing tall at all times, which is nice. His scenes with Alan Hale as his Irish blarney drunk father are scrumptious. Hale is just terrific in the part, and Cagney plays along with him almost bursting out laughing at Hale’s inventiveness.

But it is Olivia de Havilland who carries the film. She is full of mischief, sweet, pretty, and real. Raoul Walsh’s acknowledgement of the truth of her love is the waking moment always. James Wong Howe films her like the bonbon she is, full of flavor, rich, molded to a shape, and toothsome. The passage of feeling across her face validates this charming comedy, and carries its value as an entertainment right to this day.


The Bells Of Saint Mary’s

05 Jun

The Bells Of Saint Mary’s – Directed by Leon McCarey. Pious Comedy. A new priest comes to a school run by a long entrenched nun. 126 minutes Black and White 1945.

* * * *

This widely popular film delivered two superstars into vestments. The story which surrounds them is an Irish stew into which a liter of treacle has been dumped. It is supported by marvelous performances by certain character actors, namely Henry Travers who is richly internalized as the greedy landlord, and by Una O’Connor who is the wily and knowing rectory housekeeper, very funny in the opening scene. Ingrid Bergman’s husband did not want her to do it, because it was a sequel to Going My Way, but she hoped to learn something from McCarey and to work in comedy. One wonders what she learned. She brings to it an impeccable complexion and a wonderful glow, but seeing how little she is called upon to do, it is no wonder she steered towards Roberto Rossellini just as soon as her contract with Selznick expired. She has a brilliantly played exposition scene, in which the camera mercifully never takes its eye off her as she receives bad news that gets worse, and from the actors’ point of view the film is worth sitting through for this alone. The imperturbable Bing Crosby plays opposite her, but the trouble is that there is no temperamental or even philosophical difference between the two to make up a drama, for both of them are too inherently nice to present an opposition, so the “conflict” between them we must take on faith. Crosby is really a marvelous actor, and well suited to Bergman because she like he is naturalness incarnate. He has large eyes, a fine endowment for an actor, and the ability to play small. The entire film shines with the artificiality of the sound stage, and whole bunches of Hollywood children, who in that era, all play their parts as if they were drunk. Ya just can’t buy it. Bergman sings a song in Swedish and plays the piano, which she knew how to do, and Crosby does several renditions, which, of course, he knew how to do. It won some Oscars. Watch it at a risk to your waistline. So much sweetening will make you look like one of the bells.





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