Friday, December 31, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Unfinished Business (1941)

UNFINISHED BUSINESS is a pleasant romantic comedy-drama teaming two of my very favorite actors, Robert Montgomery and Irene Dunne.

Nancy (Dunne) is tired of small-town living in Messina, Ohio. After her younger sister marries, Nancy hops a train for the big city; on board she meets Steve Duncan (Preston Foster). Playboy Steve romances Nancy, but forgets her as soon as they're off the train. Innocent Nancy carries a torch for Steve but eventually becomes friends with and marries Steve's charming brother Tommy (Montgomery).

Hard-living Tommy reforms and happily settles down with Nancy, only to be shattered when he learns of Nancy's previous infatuation with his older brother. Where will it all end? One guess only!

The film could have been stronger; among other things it needed a crisper pace and more fluid development of Tommy and Nancy's feelings for one another. It almost feels as though there was a scene or two left on the cutting-room floor. Nancy's reluctance to iron things out with the apologetic Tommy near the end is a bit hard to buy.

That said, Dunne and/or Montgomery are on the screen for most of the film's running time, and they count for a great deal. In my opinion they were two of the most intelligent and sincere actors to grace the screen, and they're always good company even when the material isn't quite at their level.

Eugene Pallette is amusing as Tommy's plainspoken butler. Esther Dale plays Tommy and Steve's Aunt Mathilda. The cast also includes Dick Foran, Walter Catlett, Samuel S. Hinds, and Kathryn Adams. The minister in the first scene is played by Neal Dodd, a real-life minister who also played a minister in numerous films.

After UNFINISHED BUSINESS was released in the summer of 1941, Robert Montgomery was off the screen for a few years for service in WWII. He returned to the screen in one of the finest of all WWII films, John Ford's THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), in which he not only starred (with John Wayne and Donna Reed), but served as Ford's uncredited co-director. Peter Bogdanovich wrote a short appreciation of that film which I recently came across.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS was directed by Gregory LaCava, who had directed Dunne in SYMPHONY OF SIX MILLION (1932) nearly a decade earlier.

The film runs 96 minutes.

This movie has not had a release on VHS or DVD. It's available on YouTube, albeit with Spanish subtitles, and there are also copies available from out-of-print dealers on the Internet.

November 2013 Update: I had a wonderful opportunity to see this film on a big screen at UCLA; here are some additional thoughts on a very good movie which I liked even better the second time around.

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