I first saw Claudette Colbert and John Wayne in WITHOUT RESERVATIONS (1946) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as a young teen, circa 1977. It's as fun now as it was back then, a breezy, lighthearted romance with some engaging leads, witty dialogue, clever cameo appearances, and lovely theme music in "I'll Buy That Dream."
Claudette Colbert plays author Christopher "Kit" Madden, whose bestseller is about to be filmed. As Kit boards a Hollywood-bound train, she learns that the casting of Cary Grant as the lead has fallen through, but on the train Kit spots a Marine pilot, Rusty Thomas (John Wayne), who would be perfect in the starring role.
Kit sticks with Rusty and his buddy Deke (Don DeFore) without telling them who she is, as Rusty wasn't impressed with her book. As Kit, Rusty, and Deke have a series of misadventures on their way to California, Kit and Rusty become mightily attracted to one another...
Wayne and Colbert are a delightful team. Wayne has a couple great scenes deconstructing Kit's book, which is written from a "progressive" point of view. The dialogue in one of these scenes remains highly relevant today, as Rusty talks about the pioneer spirit and the first American settlers who "didn't have insurance" but looked at the difficult challenges of a new land with gratitude. Rusty expresses the kind of sunny, optimistic American spirit which a few too many people these days seem to have lost, finding it preferable to complain about our nation than appreciate our many blessings.
In a funnier scene Rusty explains to Kit what's wrong with her dragging out a romance between her lead characters for 400 pages. The pairing of the genteel yet game for anything Colbert with the more rough-hewn Wayne reminds me a bit of the winning combination of Colbert and Fred MacMurray in NO TIME FOR LOVE (1943). Wayne and Colbert definitely had an appealing chemistry.
The supporting cast includes the energetic Dona Drake, recently seen in 1949's THE GIRL FROM JONES BEACH. This time around she's a temptress who goes after Wayne and DeFore when they stop at her family's New Mexico ranch. Anne Triola, Thurston Hall, and Frank Puglia are also in the cast, with bit parts played by Griff Barnett and Ian Wolfe. Look hard at Paul Gill, the actor Kit dates in Hollywood -- it's Raymond Burr!
WITHOUT RESERVATIONS was directed by Mervyn LeRoy, apparently on loan-out from MGM. LeRoy is one of several fun cameo appearances in the film; I mention him because viewers may not know it's really LeRoy when they see the movie. I won't mention the other cameos so as to preserve the surprise.
Claudette's wardrobe was designed by former longtime MGM costume designer Adrian.
This film is available on DVD as a single title release or as part of the 6-film John Wayne Film Collection.
It's also been released on VHS.
WITHOUT RESERVATIONS can be seen as part of the library on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available for viewing here.