Friday, October 29, 2010

Tonight's Movie: What a Woman (1943)

WHAT A WOMAN is a fun romantic comedy with Rosalind Russell in her patented career woman role and Brian Aherne in a charming turn as a magazine reporter.

Agent Carol Ainsley (Russell) decides to turn Professor Michael Cobb (Willard Parker), the unknown author of a runaway bestseller, into an actor to star in the film version of his novel. It's an uphill job coaching the shy, dry professor into being an actor, but Carol is up to the task. Matters are complicated when Mike falls in love with Carol, who is aghast.

Reporter Henry Pepper (Aherne), who is writing a profile of Carol and seems to be constantly underfoot, regularly offers wry commentary on the goings-on. His astute observations of Carol and her motivations hit her uncomfortably close to home. And why is Henry always around, anyway, when he wrote a profile of Carol's father after interviewing him for only an hour?

This was the third '40s film teaming Russell and Aherne, following HIRED WIFE (1940) and MY SISTER EILEEN (1942). Aherne is really delightful as "Mr. Pepper," who always turns up at critical moments yet always seems completely relaxed, frequently lounging back in a chair with a hat over his eyes. He's great fun to watch.

Viewers who like Russell's typical romantic comedy roles of the '40s will enjoy this too -- it's pretty much the part she played over and over, a woman preoccupied with her career who is undone by love by the final reel. I'm a Russell fan so I had a good time watching her. The writers push her character to the point of being unsympathetic near the end, as she repeatedly interrupts her father's birthday celebration and also fails to be honest with Mike for fear he'll quit the film. Fortunately Carol redeems herself immediately after these scenes, in a fun sequence.

Unfortunately, I found Willard Parker an absolute dud as the author turned actor -- dull and unattractive. I wasn't sure where I'd seen him before, and it turns out he played Kathryn Grayson's fiance, Tex, in KISS ME KATE (1953). It made it all the easier to root for Brian Aherne, but the movie would have been better if an appealing actor had been cast in the role. I'm not sure what the producers were thinking casting Parker.

This film was directed by Irving Cummings. It was shot in black and white and runs 94 minutes.

Ann Savage has a small role as an actress hired to film a test with Mike. Shelley Winters is credited with a bit part.

There are a great many familiar faces in the supporting cast, including Alan Dinehart, Edward Fielding, Norma Varden, Doris Lloyd, Grady Sutton, Douglas Wood, Nella Walker, Irving Bacon, Mary Forbes, Byron Foulger, Bess Flowers, Ann Shoemaker, and Russell Hicks. (Fun trivia: over two decades later, Varden and Lloyd each played small roles in THE SOUND OF MUSIC: Varden was Frau Schmidt, the housekeeper, and Lloyd was Baroness Ebberfeld at the party.)

A note on the title: although several sources, including IMDb, list the title as WHAT A WOMAN!, the film's actual title as given during the opening credits omits the exclamation mark.

WHAT A WOMAN is not available on DVD or VHS. It was recently shown on Turner Classic Movies.

The trailer is here.


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