Monday, September 27, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Embraceable You (1948)

EMBRACEABLE YOU, shown on TCM earlier today as part of an eight-film tribute to actor Dane Clark, was an unexpected treasure: a moving, romantic tearjerker anchored by Clark's sensitive performance.

Eddie Novoc (Clark) has a job as a driver for mobster Sig Ketch (Richard Rober). One night while driving Ketch -- who, unbeknownst to Eddie, has just committed a murder -- Eddie accidentally hits Marie Willens (Geraldine Brooks).

Guilt-stricken Eddie sees a story about Marie in the paper and goes to visit her in the hospital, pretending to be a family friend. Detective Ferria (Wallace Ford) puts two and two together and deduces that Eddie hit Marie and may be involved in the murder. Ferria doesn't have evidence to lock Eddie up, but he gives Eddie some shocking news: Marie has suffered an inoperable aneurysm as a result of the accident and is likely to die soon. Ferria makes it clear to Eddie that he'd better take care of Marie, who is in dire financial straits, or Ferria will make Eddie's life miserable.

Marie's own life isn't in great shape: she's lost her job and she has no home and no family. She's also unaware of her precarious health. Eddie has no money but moves heaven and earth to provide for Marie and make her happy, falling in love with her in the process. Eddie and Marie are two unhappy souls, brought together by tragedy, who find something special together.

The film had its clunky moments, some of which are simply because of how times have changed. The entire concept of a chain-smoking doctor (Douglas Kennedy) sharing a patient's confidential medical information with near strangers, as well as discharging a dying patient from the hospital while withholding the truth of her condition...well, it might have been a bit far-fetched back in 1948, but it's really hard to fathom now.

Far-fetched or not, Clark's performance as Eddie makes the viewer more than willing to suspend disbelief and simply sit back and watch. His face is so expressive, it doesn't matter that Eddie isn't a man of many words. At some moments Clark just about broke my heart and certainly started the waterworks flowing. Offhand I can't think of another '40s performance by an actor quite like it.

I wasn't sure what to make of Geraldine Brooks' character at first; she starts out as a tough girl -- another chain smoker in a hospital! -- hoping to milk an insurance company to pay for her injuries. Brooks' performance was almost as interesting as Clark's; the glowing Marie of the final scenes bears no resemblance at all to the beaten-down Marie of the film's early moments.

Whatever flaws the film may have were forgiven by me because I cared so much about the lead characters and became emotionally invested in their relationship. It was a special movie which I'll be watching again.

Geraldine Brooks made just a handful of films in the late '40s before mostly turning to working in television. Her films included CRY WOLF (1947) with Errol Flynn, POSSESSED (1947) with Joan Crawford, and THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949) with Joan Bennett and James Mason. After a brief first marriage, she married screenwriter Budd Schulberg (ON THE WATERFRONT) in 1964. She was just 51 when she passed away.

Lina Romay, who plays Marie's former coworker Libby, sang with Xavier Cugat's orchestra; her first film was my favorite Fred Astaire movie, YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942). She is now 88. (Update: According to this Lina Romay website, her "professional" birthdate was a little off and she is now actually 91. The site has lovely photos.)

The supporting cast included S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall, in a relatively understated performance, and Philip Van Zandt as a theatrical agent who at first seems like a slimy ladies' man but turns out to be a nice guy.

EMBRACEABLE YOU is one of a couple late '40s Warner Bros. films which uses a Gershwin song as its title and main theme; the other that comes to mind is THE MAN I LOVE (1947). I wonder if there are more? The achingly lovely music playing over the opening credits helps draw the viewer in from the very beginning of the movie.

This film was directed by Felix Jacoves. It runs 80 minutes.

This film is not available on VHS or DVD, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The print shown on TCM had an awkward jump or two, particularly in a scene where Eddie and Marie's taxi is being tailed by mobsters; I'm not certain if a tiny bit was dropped from the print or it was just a couple-second blip.

The trailer is here.

This is one of those little movies of the '40s which is largely unknown today yet deserves a wider audience. Recommended.

Update: Here's a wonderful review from Moira at Skeins of Thought, who responded to the film very much as I did.

6 Comments:

Blogger Ginger Ingenue said...

Darn, I wish I would have watched it! I knew it was Dane Clark day, and thought about dvr-ing this one, and watching the one with Ida Lupino (instead I took a nap).

Plus it had Wallace Ford?? Nuts. I love Wallace Ford!

Thank you for the excellent review.

I'll have to keep a close watch on the schedule; hopefully TCM will re-air it.

1:48 AM  
Blogger Carrie Liz said...

Oh dear! Through a bit of miscalculation, I also missed this one. It sounds like something wonderful.

8:02 PM  
Blogger mel said...

Here is a short, tentative list of movies with Gershwin compositions as their titles:

Delicious (1931)
Strike Up The Band (1940)
Lady Be Good (1941)
Rhapsody In Blue (1945)
The Man I Love (1947)
An American In Paris (1951)
That Certain Feeling (1956)
Funny Face (1957)

There are probably a good few more. Of course, this list does not include the many movies using Gershwin's music but don't have one of his compositions as the title.

2:29 AM  
Blogger Moira Finnie said...

Laura, I'm so delighted to see that we both saw this film and had similar reactions. It is uncanny how such a little, forgotten film can stay with you for some time, despite its limitations. Dane Clark Day on TCM was a wonderful idea, particularly since it gave me a chance to see this unheralded actor give his all in a variety of obscure films. Thanks so much for posting this.

Have you had a chance to see Deep Valley (1947) or Moonrise(1948)?

5:11 AM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Completely new to me and definitely one to look out for. Thank you for excellent review.
It is amazing all the film titles using Gershwin songs.

11:44 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you can track it down and enjoy it, Vienna! It's really special. I'm happy that TCM will be showing it in a few weeks for the first time in quite a while.

Best wishes,
Laura

12:11 AM  

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