Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Forgotten Film Tuesday: ONE TOUCH OF VENUS (1948) starring Robert Walker, Ava Gardner, Eve Arden and Tom Conway
Today is Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film Tuesday. Please check over at Todd Mason's blog SWEET FREEDOM to see what other overlooked films bloggers are talking about today.
ONE TOUCH OF VENUS is a film that lived better in memory than it did in 'actuality'.Still, it was fun to watch again and there's no getting around the fact that the main 'love' song, Speak Low, When You Speak Love, is a helluva tune. If you haven't seen this, I recommend it when you have 90 minutes or so with nothing else to do and you're not in the mood for intellectual probing, are a fan of Ava Gardner and ready for a light-hearted romance with a bit of music.
If you've seen this, I'd love to know what you think. It might help to humor my slightly disconcerting disappointment with a film that has music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Ogden Nash. I mean, really, how dare I even quibble?
The less than distinguised direction is by William A. Seiter and the screenplay is by Harry Kurnitz and Frank Tashlin based on a book by S.J. Perleman and Ogden Nash based on a novel by F. Ansley (The Tinted Venus). See what I mean? Anything with S.J. Perleman and Ogden Nash anywhere in the vicinity couldn't help but be great. Or so one would think.
So why am I writing about ONE TOUCH OF VENUS anyway? Well, because I'd planned to and watched it last night since I hadn't seen it in years and years. It really is a harmless bit of fluff and occasionally that's all anyone wants from a movie.
Besides, as everyone knows, memory is tricky.
The gist: Eddie Hatch, a generally hapless and ineffectual department store window dresser (Robert Walker) drinks a martini left behind by his aging playboy of a boss (Tom Conway) and while arranging the curtains draped around a statue of Venus (The Anatolian Venus according to the screenplay) drops his inhibitions and kisses the statue on the lips.
The marble statue of Venus Goddess of Love (Ava Gardner) comes immediately to life and wreaks havoc on poor Eddie who can barely keep up with the frenetic plot.
Problem One for Eddie prior to The Kiss: His skulking girlfriend Gloria (Olga San Juan) who has marriage on the brain and apparently nothing much else. She and Eddie both work at Savory Department Store and it appears she's been chasing him for a while, but he, at least, is smart enough to know or suspect that, perhaps, Gloria might not make the best wife for him. I give him credit for that. Though at the same time, he is too wimpy to break it off with Gloria completely.
Problem Two for Eddie after The Kiss: For reasons that cannot be explained, Venus fixes her ardor on Eddie and falls in love with him. He, as might be expected, is at first shocked, perplexed and prone to bouts of hysteria especially when, later, he is suspected of having stolen the statue because...
Problem Three for Eddie: While Venus is 'alive' the statue is, of course - gone. Disappeared from the pedestal on which she'd been placed by Eddie's boss in preparation for a splashy news conference revealing the newest and most expensive acquisition to his 'art' collection which is displayed in a 'gallery' at the store.
Problem Four for Eddie: His boss, the aging Lothario Whitfield Savory (!) played wonderfully by Tom Conway who, visually, is the epitome of all aging Lotharios - believes that Eddie has, somehow, made off with the Venus. His secretary and general factotum Molly Stewart, the equally wonderful, long-suffering, wise-cracking Eve Arden doesn't believe Eddie did it. She is in love with her boss (of course) but channels her affection into being the perfect ultra-reliable, if often grouchy assistant WITH glasses.
Problem Five for Eddie: Venus is very beautiful and very persistent. Eventually she gets under Eddie's skin and off they go to the park to dance the night away even while being chased by detectives hired by Savory to arrest Eddie. (I didn't know you could hire detectives to arrest anyone, but apparently, in this movie, you can.)
Not so much a problem for Eddie as for his friend, the amiable Joe Grant: Joe (the stolid crooner Dick Haymes) is actually in love with Gloria (Eddie's girl). But since he is Eddie's close friend, has done nothing about it until a song he and Gloria both hear playing on the night air - the haunting, Speak Low, When You Speak Love - sung (dubbed) by Ava Gardner from the balcony of Savory's Department Store - gets under their skin...uh, skins. The song appears to have some sort of spell-casting ability and Joe makes the move on Gloria. (He too, joins in the singing.)
Problem for Gloria: She is confused.
Problem for Joe Grant: He is played Dick Haymes. I mean, Haymes just has zero screen presence. He has a beautiful voice, a crooner's voice, yes, but better heard than seen, in my view. He just did not know how to move in front of a camera.
Problem for Eddie: He is dragged off to jail.
Problem for Venus: To persuade Savory to have Eddy released from jail, she must put up with his not so subtle amorous attentions. ("Call me Whitfield...") He has no clue that the beautiful woman in his arms is Venus come to life. She is just someone he saw sleeping in one of the department store beds (in the 'model apartment of the future') whom he decided he must have even if it costs him all the jewels, designer clothing and other feminine inducements in the store. Money is no object in Whitfield's quest for 'love'.
Problem for Molly Stewart: She is forced to stand by as her boss makes yet another gigantic fool of himself over a younger woman.
Problem for Whitfield Savory: Molly has finally had enough. She quits rather than be a party to his duplicity. He calls her (instead of the jail) from his apartment (with Venus sitting nearby sipping a martini), pretending to have Eddie released. Molly tells him this is the dirtiest trick he's ever pulled and she's quitting, effective immediately. Whitfield rushes off into the night clutching a corsage and bottle of champagne and the next time you see them, Whitfield and Molly are married and planning a trip to Niagara Falls. "We're going over in a barrel." Molly tells the press.
In truth, the scenes with Conway and Eve Arden are the most fun in the film. Well, she's a scene stealer from way back, for sure. I also like Conway's smirky litle playboy smile in this - it works for him.
Problem for Eddie: By the time he's released from jail and rushes back to the department store, Venus has been turned back (by Jupiter, presumably) into a marble statue. "You didn't even say, goodbye." he says, staring wistfully at her marble countenance.
But not to worry: Along comes Savory's newest employee, a girl named Venus Jones who, remarkably, is the exact image of - you guessed it - the Anatolian Venus.
All ends well. Even for Gloria and Joe who were last seen together dancing and kissing in the park.
My favorite scene: The one where Venus (back at the department store being primped and dressed), Gloria (doing the hair dressing and general primping) and Molly (kibitzing) sing a little ditty about falling in love. "It's Him," I think the song is called. A fun scene.
I liked the department store set which is of the old fashioned, all encompassing stores of the past full of everything and anything tastefully displayed, including a model 'home of the future' and even, Savory's own personal art gallery. Not to mention, his penthouse apartment (with balcony) atop the building. Talk about 'living above the store.'
I was bemused by the set of the 'city park' which resembled no park I'd ever been in with live music, waltzing couples and quaint little bridges over water. Well, actually, when I was a kid, there was a park across the street which had 'swing' dancing every Friday night. But no 'live' music, no waltzing and no bridges.
Though the gowns were by Orry Kelly - ordinarily no slouch in the fashion department - I didn't think much of Venus' costumes. In fact, I felt that part of the problem in the film is the odd way that Ava Gardner is photographed. Never once did I feel she was being 'shot' to look special. I mean, here she is, Venus Goddess of Love and all. She wasn't lit very well either. As I said, odd. In fact no one was really photographed to their best advantage. Possibly because they were all just a bit too old for their parts. Well, maybe except Ava.
Robert Walker is a strange sort of duck. He has scenes where he moves along in a klutzy fashion well suited to his role as Eddie Hatch and then there are scenes in which he moves like a guy in full command of his body. And what a strange body it is - high square shoulders to the point of stiffness, he often looks as if he has a hanger stuck inside his jacket. He is gangly and awkward looking except when he isn't. A singer and dancer he is NOT. There's just something about him that's a little off.
He's supposed to be endearingly cute in this movie - but he absolutely isn't. Maybe he just got through playing that guy with the wife problem in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN? Nah, that was later, in 1951.
I kind of like Robert Walker, don't get me wrong, I just think he was probably not right for this part.
Boy would I have loved to have seen a young Cary Grant in the role of Eddie Hatch or even, come to think of it, Danny Kaye.
Now THAT would have really been fun.
ONE TOUCH OF VENUS is not a bad film, really, it's just that it has the components to have been so much better.
My second favorite moment: The beginning - as the opening credits unfold you think you're seeing a set of Mt. Olympus but once the lettering fades, out pops Eddie from behind what proves to be a store display. A nice visual joke.