Monday, September 05, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Darling, How Could You! (1951)

DARLING, HOW COULD YOU! is the story of the awkward reunion of a doctor and his wife with children they haven't seen in years, circa 1900.

The film is based on a J.M. Barrie play, ALICE SIT-BY-THE-FIRE; the screenplay was by Lesser Samuels and novelist Dodie Smith, author of the books I CAPTURE THE CASTLE and ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS.

Dr. Mark Gray (John Lund) and his wife Alice (Joan Fontaine) have spent five years serving in Panama during the construction of the Panama Canal. Mark's mother has cared for Amy (Mona Freeman) and Cosmo (David Stollery), as well as baby Molly (Maureen Lynn Reimer), who was born in Panama but sent home to New York for her safety. The death of the children's grandmother prompts their parents to return home at last, but after the years of separation, the reunion is strained.

Mark immediately seems to have a knack with the children, but Alice, expecting instant love from the children simply because she's their mother, has a harder time. Alice must also contend with jealousy from Baby Molly's nursemaid, who has become extremely attached to the infant.

For the most part this is a sweet and enjoyable film, although the third act silliness, when Amy is convinced her mother is carrying on with another man, goes on way too long. The film has an engaging cast and some moments of real loveliness, particularly the very last scene, and I found it worth the investment of time.

It's a bit hard to understand, particularly in this day and age, a couple willingly being separated from their children for such a significant period of time, but in those days of slow travel perhaps long absences were a bit more understandable. There's also some sympathy in that the parents were in the service of a noble cause, caring for workers with dangerous jungle diseases.

Fontaine and Lund are charming, and one of the nicest aspects of the film is their loving relationship. Fontaine seems to be having a good time as the perplexed, doting mother, and the underrated Lund is in top form as the dashing doctor, loving husband, and understanding father. The scene where he navigates the initial reunion with his son Cosmo, who prefers to be called Charles, is particularly appealing.

Mona Freeman was around 24 when she played Amy, yet she convincingly plays a 15-year-old, even though she'd already been playing teenagers for several years. Freeman had a long run as funny, dramatic teens, in films such as TOGETHER AGAIN (1944), filmed when she was about 18, and DEAR RUTH (1947), made when she was 20 or 21. She was for the most part retired as of 1962, having married her second husband the previous year, which proved to be a long, successful union. Miss Freeman turned 85 this summer.

David Stollery, who plays Cosmo (aka Charles), was 10 years old in this. He's quite amusing as the little brother who thinks he's too old to be hugged. Stollery later was a star of Disney's MICKEY MOUSE club serials SPIN AND MARTY (playing Marty) and ANNETTE.

The supporting cast includes Virginia Farmer, Angela Clarke, and Mary Murphy. Peter Hansen (whose name is misspelled Hanson in posters), who plays Dr. Steve Clark, would go on to play attorney Lee Baldwin for many years on GENERAL HOSPITAL.

The film was directed by Mitchell Leisen. It was filmed in black and white by Daniel L. Fapp. Costumes were by Edith Head. The running time is 96 minutes.

This film is not available on VHS or DVD. It can be seen, along with some other Paramount films of the early '50s, via Netflix Watch Instantly streaming.


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