Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Skylark (1941)

SKYLARK is a bittersweet marital-divorce comedy which blends elegant wit with poignance, as a couple's marriage flounders after their fifth anniversary.

Tony (Ray Milland) has become a workaholic, although his business success has provided his wife Lydia (Claudette Colbert) with a beautiful home and lifestyle. Lydia meets the charming Jim (Brian Aherne) on her fifth wedding anniversary, and she allows Jim to fan the smouldering embers of her frustrations with her marriage into a full-scale brush fire. Lydia walks out on her marriage, leaving behind a confused and sad husband.

Tony tries to convince Lydia to reconcile, but she heads to Reno and a quickie divorce. Lydia and Jim become constant companions, and it seems that Lydia and Tony's lives will permanently take separate directions. Or will they?

This is a rather unusual film. It's executed with style by the three leads; sophisticated '40s comedy just doesn't come any better than Milland, Colbert, and Aherne. There are many good lines and funny scenes...however, the film has an unsettling undercurrent. There's a little too much pain and not enough champagne bubbles in the mix.

Aherne's Jim is absolutely charming...but looking beyond his witty repartee, the blunt truth is he's a home-wrecker who preys upon Lydia's unhappiness and rather gleefully sets out to have her for himself.

There's no doubt that Tony and Lydia need to do some work on their relationship, but Lydia is far too ready to bail on her marriage, especially given that she has a husband who still loves her and wants to make amends. In this respect the movie reminded me of MR. AND MRS. SMITH (1941) -- the husband might have done something foolish, but the wife reacts out of all proportion and doesn't know when to quit. Of course, if Lydia didn't carry on as she does, we'd have no conflict and thus no movie...but it makes for frustrating viewing at times.

Lydia is somewhat redeemed for her cavalier treatment of Tony when she finally breaks down near the end of the film, and viewers have a peek at the depth of her true feelings and remorse. The final moments of the film are all one could wish for.

It's an absorbing film with three actors I thoroughly enjoy, but I did wish it had a lighter tone. Perhaps the best description is that the film is a "dramedy," a dramatic story with comedy on the side.

The movie has all the right bells and whistles for a film of this type: attractive set design (the terrace of Tony and Lydia's home is beautiful), gowns by Irene, and an excellent supporting cast, with Walter Abel being particularly noteworthy as Tony's best friend. Mona Maris plays Abel's wife, while Grant Mitchell and Binnie Barnes are unpleasant clients of Tony's firm. Ernest Cossart plays Tony and Lydia's butler.

One of the best scenes in the film finds a diverse group of people listening to Tony and Lydia argue on a subway and then adding their two cents. The subway actors include Hobart Cavanaugh, Warren Hymer, Minerva Urecal, Leon Belasco, Edward Fielding, May Boley, and Virginia Sale.

Another good scene finds a cook and a waitress at a hamburger stand listening raptly as Jim romances Lydia. Keith Richards and Patricia Farr play the cook and the waitress.

SKYLARK was directed by Mark Sandrich, who directed several Astaire-Rogers films, not to mention the Christmas classic HOLIDAY INN (1942). Sandrich was just 43 when he died in 1945. His son, Jay Sandrich, is a longtime director of TV comedies (THE COSBY SHOW).

This black and white film runs 92 minutes.

Unfortunately this Paramount film has not been released on DVD or VHS and is rather hard to find. Perhaps one day we'll be fortunate enough to have a second Claudette Colbert DVD collection released with films such as this and ARISE, MY LOVE (1940).

2014 Update: SKYLARK is now available on DVD from the Universal Vault Collection.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older