DESIRE ME (1947), an MGM film which might be best known for not having a credited director, is an odd, misguided, yet watchable film recently released by the Warner Archive.
Paul Aubert (Robert Mitchum), a prisoner of war in a Nazi camp, shares detailed stories of his idyllic married life with Marise (Greer Garson) with fellow prisoner Jean (Richard Hart of GREEN DOLPHIN STREET).
Paul and Jean attempt to escape, but only Jean makes it...and he's clearly happy about that fact. Jean shows up at Marise's isolated cottage on the coast in Brittany and tells her he saw Paul die -- then immediately tries to take Paul's place. The lonely Marise can't seem to push Jean away, though she mourns her lost love, Paul.
Marise, feeling pity for Jean and glad to be needed by someone again, eventually agrees to marry him. And then Paul returns to town, very much alive...
DESIRE ME has the makings of an interesting story, but it never quite gels. In the first place, there's way too much Richard Hart and way too little Robert Mitchum. Mitchum is relegated to a supporting role, with the viewer wondering when he's going to finally show up! Mitchum is the person the audience wants to root for, but the first two-thirds of the 91-minute film centers on Marise and Paul's rival, Jean. There are a few romantic shots of Paul and Marise shown in flashback, but the viewer knows little of their romance other than what Jean incessantly repeats he'd heard from Paul.
Hart's character, Jean, could have been written so that his love for Marise was touching, if misguided, but instead Jean comes off as a creepy, increasingly evil stalker, though the only one to suspect Jean's true nature seems to be the village priest (George Zucco). Hart's rather wild-eyed performance could be said to be appropriate for such a character, but his performance is over the top, at times approaching a mustache-twirling villain out of an old school melodrama.
One also has to wonder a little about Paul. With all respect for the fact that Paul was trying to keep his spirits up in a terrible situation as a prisoner of war, the level of detail he shared with another man about his married life was rather strange. However, Marise using Paul's "sharing" her as an excuse for Jean's behavior was strange too.
Much of the problem must be attributed to the script by Casey Robinson, Zoe Akins, and Marguerite Roberts, which was based on a play by Leonhard Frank titled KARL AND ANNA. Speaking of which, this is Hollywood Europe of the '40s where no one has the right accents, but it was a bit odd to be told Garson and Mitchum were from Paris and Brittany, respectively! If the lead characters were changed from "Karl and Anna," why wasn't the setting further changed to something a little more believable, perhaps the British coastline, so that Garson's accent, at least, would make sense?
George Cukor and Mervyn LeRoy, with Jack Conway and Victor Saville also believed to have had a hand in the making of the movie. Cukor and LeRoy were unhappy with the film and both refused credit, so the last name seen in the opening credits is that of the producer, rather than the traditional director's credit.
Despite the directors' criticisms in the '40s and my own today, any film teaming Greer Garson and Robert Mitchum is worth seeing. The film held my interest and I was glad to have seen it, even if much of the time my brain was analyzing why it wasn't working! I felt it was valuable to finally see the movie and have firsthand insight into a curious film in the careers of both Garson and Mitchum, and I suspect others who appreciate these two fine actors might feel the same way.
According to Michael Troyan's biography A ROSE FOR MRS. MINIVER: THE LIFE OF GREER GARSON, Garson and Hart were faced with a life-threatening situation when a rogue wave hit while they were filming the shrimp fishing scene on the Monterey coast. Garson was dashed across sharp rocks and it was a near thing preventing her from being swept out to sea; she was hospitalized and later had to have multiple surgeries due to her injuries. The near-death experience and injuries also left her fighting depression.
Though Hart was not as adversely impacted by the incident, he was not in good health to begin with and sadly would die of a heart attack just four years later.
A bit of trivia: the still here with Mitchum, Garson, and Hart in the kitchen must have been for publicity, as the scene never occurs. In fact, after Mitchum returns he is clean-shaven when he first greets Garson, so the still higher above with Mitchum and Garson wasn't from the finished film either.
The Warner Archive DVD of DESIRE ME, which is a fine print, includes the trailer.
Reviews of additional Greer Garson films recently released by the Warner Archive: SCANDAL AT SCOURIE (1953) and STRANGE LADY IN TOWN (1955).
Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.