REPEAT PERFORMANCE was the second film on the double bill at this evening's UCLA Festival of Preservation screenings.
REPEAT PERFORMANCE was my kind of movie, a noirish yet warm-hearted fantasy which provided the perfect antidote to the brutality of TRY AND GET ME (1950). In his introduction, Eddie Muller likened the film to an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, also commenting that it was the noir version of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946), with a dash of ALL ABOUT EVE (1950).
For my part, I mentally likened REPEAT PERFORMANCE to GROUNDHOG DAY (1993), with the lead character miraculously able to repeat a moment in time until she gets it right.
Joan Leslie stars as Broadway actress Sheila Page. It's New Year's Eve, and as the film begins, Sheila has just shot her husband, Barney (Louis Hayward), an alcoholic playwright.
Sheila flees her apartment in a nightgown and a fur coat, instinctively turning to the two friends she knows can help her: William Williams (Richard Basehart), a poet, and her producer-director, John Friday (Tom Conway).
As Sheila and William climb the stairs to John's apartment, Sheila laments that she wishes she and William had the past year to live over and make different choices...and when she enters John's apartment, she discovers William has disappeared, she's dressed in last year's New Year's Eve gown, and it is, indeed, one year earlier.
The overjoyed Sheila races home to Barney and the delight of going back to a happy time in their relationship. This time around Sheila vows she won't go to London to do a play, and Barney thus won't meet and fall for playwright Paula Costello (Virginia Field). However, Sheila soon finds that though she can make different choices, perhaps it's not possible to completely trick fate.
This is the type of relatively unknown film which I love to discover at the annual Noir City Festival. It probably played on TV years ago, riddled with commercials and seeming like nothing particularly special. Yet seeing it blown up in a pristine 35mm print, the viewer is transported back in time to a '40s New Year's Eve and...magic happens, in the film and for this viewer.
I've always liked Joan Leslie a great deal, and I enjoyed her enormously in this. She's a charmer, and while she perhaps should have conveyed a bit more shock at her unexpected time travel, the audience greatly enjoys her utter relief at not having killed her husband and the prospect of a "re-do" on a critical year in her life. She's incredibly tolerant of her troubled husband, but we also see how she relies on John and William, which will once again prove to be important as the year goes on.
Tom Conway has become a great favorite due to the FALCON series, and he's perfect as the quietly efficient producer who does everything he can to make Sheila's life easier. It's soon clear he's carrying a bit of a torch for Sheila, and the fact she turns to him when she's in trouble is also significant.
Basehart, in his film debut, is excellent as the poet, and he has some of the film's best moments. He's the only person Sheila tells about reliving the year, and I liked the fact he doesn't question it; in fact, he wants to know if something he had tried had worked the previous year, in order to gauge whether he can do it again successfully in the new year. This leads to a most interesting, and perfect, ending. Once again, it's New Year's Eve, and William and John are there for Sheila.
My one criticism of the film is that while Hayward initially exhibits the charm that drew Sheila to him, and believably conveys his character's frustration at his inability to write another good play, by film's end he's become such a monster that it verges on being over the top. Part of this is how the role is written, and part may have been Hayward's increasingly wild performance.
That said, his unpleasant character certainly explains how Sheila came to shoot him in the first instance and makes his ultimate, shall we say poetic, fate appropriate.
This film has a great sense of mood, straddling the worlds of noir and fantasy, with a touch of the holiday season thrown in. It would be wonderful to have this little-known film join the rotation of New Year's Eve themed movies shown in December on Turner Classic Movies.
UCLA notes that REPEAT PERFORMANCE was the biggest-budgeted picture up to that time from the "Poverty Row" studio Eagle-Lion Films. The movie was directed by Alfred L. Werker, with black and white cinematography by Lew W. O'Connell. The screenplay by Walter Bullock was based on a novel by William O'Farrell. Joan Leslie's fabulous wardrobe was by the great Oleg Cassini. The movie runs 91 minutes.
Southern Californians will have another opportunity to see this film at next month's Noir City Festival in Hollywood. I've felt a warm glow all day thinking of this movie, and I welcome the chance to see it again soon...though I confess I hope I don't have to sit through TRY AND GET ME again in order to do so! :)