Saturday, January 17, 2015

Tonight's Movie: I Take This Woman (1940) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

I TAKE THIS WOMAN (1940) is a marital drama starring Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr. It's available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

I TAKE THIS WOMAN is particularly known for its rough production history. It started out being directed by Josef Von Sternberg and then Frank Borzage, before ultimately being completed by W.S. Van Dyke (THE THIN MAN). It was reshot extensively -- perhaps half the cast members listed at IMDb say "scenes deleted" -- leading wags to call it I RETAKE THIS WOMAN.

The slight plot concerns a doctor (Tracy) traveling by ship who saves beautiful Georgi (Lamarr) from jumping overboard due to a broken heart. The doctor encourages her to rethink how she's living her life and to find meaning in work.

Eventually the doctor and Georgi marry, and the doctor, wanting to provide Georgi with the finer things in life, leaves his clinic in a poor section of town in order to make money serving upper-class patients.  Even with that sacrifice on the doctor's part, the shadow of Georgi's old love Phil (Kent Taylor) hangs over the marriage, and when Phil divorces his wife (Mona Barrie), it could mean the end of the doctor and Georgi's marriage.

I found the movie much more enjoyable than its reputation, even if the Charles MacArthur story's not much. It would be difficult not to have fun spending 98 minutes with Lamarr, Tracy, and a marvelous cast.

Tracy and Lamarr, who also worked together that year in BOOM TOWN (1940), make a nice couple and are interesting to watch. I've always maintained Lamarr is a much finer actress than she's given credit for; watch her carefully in the scene where she's sitting on Tracy's lap. As they talk you can see her falling all the way in love with him, without a word spoken. The brief scene which follows, which makes clear the couple will no longer be married just "in name only," thus comes as no surprise.

Tracy starts out warm and nurturing but eventually his character becomes dense where his wife is concerned, apparently so the movie could go on a little longer before their relationship is resolved, and for a time he's downright unlikeable. The film's other drawback is some soapy dialogue here and there; poor Kent Taylor has some real clunkers to say.

Despite the plot meandering in the last 20 minutes or so, I liked the film quite well and especially enjoyed the warm ending, with the doctor's appreciative patients singing "Auld Lang Syne" seeming to presage the final scene of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) over half a decade later.

Front and center among the supporting players is Verree Teasdale as Georgi's best friend, a fashion doyenne who is quite the high society mover and shaker. Teasdale lights up the screen whenever she appears, and she has a terrific way with one-liners.

Laraine Day has a small but notable role as the lovestruck daughter of another of Georgi's friends (Paul Cavanagh), and Reed Hadley is her two-timing boyfriend.

Also in the deep cast: Louis Calhern, Marjorie Main, Frances Drake, George E. Stone, Willie Best, and Don Castle.

Jack Carson is prominently billed, but one suspects his part was left on the cutting-room floor after all the retakes, as it's just a bit role with maybe one line of dialogue.

There's a moment on board ship when the doctor calls for a nurse and who should walk in but Nell Craig, Nurse "Nosy" Parker from the DR. KILDARE series -- she looks as though she'd just wandered over from the KILDARE set, uniform and all, and that's probably exactly what happened!

The movie was shot in black and white by Harold "Hal" Rosson. Lamarr's gowns are by Adrian.

The Warner Archive DVD is a lovely print.

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.

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