Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Cafe Society (1939)

CAFE SOCIETY is a romantic comedy about a wealthy woman (Madeleine Carroll) who marries a poor reporter (Fred MacMurray) to win a bet -- then realizes maybe she'd like to stay married for keeps.

The plot of CAFE SOCIETY reminded me a bit of Carroll's ON THE AVENUE (1937): frivolous super-rich girl falls for an average Joe, who hasn't noticed a pretty young singer (Shirley Ross, in this case) has been pining for him for years. The film is fairly typical of the genre, but that's not a bad thing; indeed, there is great pleasure in the familiar formula of rich girl, average guy, swank nightclubs, gorgeous gowns (by Edith Head), and memorable character actors. The romantic comedy of the '30s and '40s just might be my favorite genre, although musicals and Westerns are favorites as well.

The leads have good chemistry. Carroll's character in this is a bit exasperating, as she struggles with bratty behavior for much of the movie, but she does what she can with the part as it's written. I suppose if her character weren't such a pill, the movie's conflict would have been over much sooner! MacMurray was always very appealing as the strong-willed romantic lead. His character here somewhat calls to mind his part in 1935's HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE.

Claude Gillingwater is wonderful as Carroll's cagey, plainspoken grandfather. Jessie Ralph also has a couple nice scenes as a matron exasperated with her gossip columnist son, played by the ever-reliable Allyn Joslyn. Paul Hurst, Lillian Yarbo, Charles Trowbridge, and Edward Gargan are in the cast; Gargan, of course, plays a policeman. He was in roughly two dozen films in 1939!

The movie's opening credits sequence is particularly good, with upbeat band music playing as the credits appear on a nightclub table. The soundtrack includes two Frank Loesser songs, including "Kiss Me With Your Eyes," sung by Shirley Ross.

CAFE SOCIETY is one of four films teaming MacMurray and Carroll which were directed by Edward H. Griffith. The other films were HONEYMOON IN BALI (1939), VIRGINIA (1941), and ONE NIGHT IN LISBON (1941). (MacMurray and Carroll were teamed a final time in AN INNOCENT AFFAIR, also known as DON'T TRUST YOUR HUSBAND, in 1948.) Other Griffith films reviewed here previously are ANOTHER LANGUAGE (1933), NO MORE LADIES (1935), LADIES IN LOVE (1936), CAFE METROPOLE (1937), and THE SKY'S THE LIMIT (1943). Griffith retired from directing in 1946, and passed away in Laguna Beach, California, in 1975 at the age of 86.

Virginia Van Upp wrote the screenplays for all four MacMurray-Carroll-Griffith films, including CAFE SOCIETY. Van Upp specialized in light romantic comedies. Her other credits included THE IMPATIENT YEARS (1944), TOGETHER AGAIN (1944), COVER GIRL (1945), SHE WOULDN'T SAY YES (1945), and HERE COMES THE GROOM (1951).

CAFE SOCIETY is not available on DVD or video. It's a Paramount film, so perhaps we'll see it turn up on Turner Classic Movies, as they have a deal to show more Paramount films in the coming months.

My sincere thanks to Carrie for making it possible for me to see this film.


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