Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Pierre of the Plains (1942)

PIERRE OF THE PLAINS is a good-natured, entertaining MGM programmer. There's nothing particularly special about it, but viewers such as myself who enjoy a fast-paced "B" movie with an appealing cast will find it an amusing way to spend 68 minutes.

John Carroll plays the title character, a happy-go-lucky French Canadian prone to singing "Saskatchewan" at the drop of a hat. He's also somewhat likely to find himself mixed up with the law when he attempts to help others, although Sgt. Dugan (Patrick McVey) and Inspector Cannody (Frederick Worlock) of the Mounties recognize Pierre isn't really a bad guy.

Pierre is attracted to Moose Hill business owner Daisy (Ruth Hussey), who's engaged to oily Jap Durkin (Bruce Cabot). Daisy seems to recognize Jap's not really the man for her, but Pierre is often away, and she hates to play solitaire alone on cold winter nights. Relationships are clarified when Daisy's brother Val (Phil Brown) is charged with the murder of Clerou (Sheldon Leonard).

Mixed in to the story are wealthy Mr. Wellsby (Henry Travers) and his lovely daughter Celia (Evelyn Ankers), who hire Pierre to be their guide on a fishing trip.

There's not much more to this short movie, which is based on a novel by Gilbert Parker and a subsequent play by Edgar Selwyn. The story was previously filmed in 1914.

The film has a nice outdoorsy feel, thanks to a combination of the MGM backlot and some location shooting; IMDb says filming took place in Sonora, although it seems that most or all of the location shots were filmed with doubles. It's particularly obvious in a fishing sequence with Carroll and Ankers.

The film has a hybrid setting somewhat reminiscent of a Roy Rogers movie, combining characters traveling on horseback, and sometimes living as if it were the 19th century, with the modern 1940s, in which characters drive cars and use telephones.

Carroll, seen by MGM as a wartime replacement for Clark Gable, is a bit stiff in some of his films, but he's loose and engaging in this; he seems to be genuinely having a good time. Pierre can be a bit of a goofball, but Carroll also lets us see the smart, attractive man underneath the exuberant exterior. The New York Times, in an otherwise tepid review, praised the "lackadaisical performance of John Carroll as a humorous, tongue-twisted, French-Canadian scalawag who compensates for his many breaches of the public peace by the charm with which he talks himself out of punishment," saying Carroll's "Pierre is a pleasantly irresponsible fellow in these heavy times."

Carroll does his own singing, as he also did in LADY BE GOOD (1941) the previous year.

Hussey had also appeared with Carroll in SUSAN AND GOD (1940) and would later reteam with him in BEDSIDE MANNER (1945). Hussey herself was one of MGM's potential Myrna Loy replacements, and indeed she sometimes looks and sounds very much like Loy. However, Hussey's own innate talent and appealing personality show through in her films, and this little movie is no exception.

PIERRE OF THE PLAINS was directed by George B. Seitz, who directed many MGM "B" movies, notably the Andy Hardy series, as well as "A" grade pictures such as Robert Montgomery's YELLOW JACK (1938).

PIERRE OF THE PLAINS isn't available on video or DVD, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies.


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