Sunday, February 19, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Cass Timberlane (1947) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Friday's big Southern California rainstorm knocked out our Internet! Thankfully a repairman came out on a Sunday, so I'm up and running again after 48 hours offline. I'll be catching up on several reviews I have in the works as I'm able.

First up: Spencer Tracy, Lana Turner, and Zachary Scott in CASS TIMBERLANE (1947), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

For someone who recently admitted not liking Spencer Tracy all that much, I've sure seen a lot of him so far this year! CASS TIMBERLANE follows my recent reviews of other Tracy releases from the Warner Archive, TORTILLA FLAT (1942), THE PEOPLE AGAINST O'HARA (1951), and the brand-new Blu-ray BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955).

Like the other Tracy films, I was drawn to CASS TIMBERLANE because it's an MGM production with a superb supporting cast. And I must say that, as it happens, this is one of Tracy's most likeable performances.

He plays the title character in this adaptation of a Sinclair Lewis novel, written by Donald Ogden Stewart. Timberlane is a small-town judge who is generally happy with his job (when it's not putting him to sleep) and his friends (when they're not gossiping or trying to plan his life behind his back). However, the widowed judge is rather lonely in his huge, dark mansion.

Enter Ginny Marshland (Turner), who Timberlane first meets when she's the witness in a small claims case. He bumps into her again, takes her to dinner, and soon a May-December romance is brewing, to the displeasure of his country club set, who think he should marry Chris (Margaret Lindsay).

Cass and Ginny marry and she's soon let sunshine into both his home and his life in general. The couple's happiness is marred only by the loss of their expected baby and Ginny's boredom with her expected social "role" and feelings of not fitting in with his "set."  And there's also the problem of Bradd (Scott), a friend of Cass's Ginny does like, but Bradd might be becoming a little too close to his friend's wife.

This is a fairly interesting marital drama, populated with a terrific cast. Cass and Ginny's love transcending age and class differences feels believable, though on the other hand one has to wonder why Cass likes his rather unpleasant friends so well. Inertia and expectations?

The second hour of the film isn't as compelling as the first, as marital problems replace the more interesting scenes of courtship and Ginny adapting to life with Cass. The story is overly drawn out at 119 minutes, yet at the same time some of the story shifts are a bit abrupt.  All in all, though, it's an entertaining film which I enjoyed.

Aside from Chris, the kindest of Cass's friends is Lillian, played by Josephine Hutchinson. It was lovely to see her in this, having recently watched her in a pair of '30s Warner Archive releases, HAPPINESS AHEAD (1934) and OIL FOR THE LAMPS OF CHINA (1935).

In fact, the movie provides a reunion of '30s Warner Bros. players; in addition to Lindsay and Hutchinson, John Litel and Mary Astor are in this as well. Unfortunately, although Astor delivers a handful of acidic lines with panache, she's fairly lost among the crowd.

The cast also includes Selena Royle, John Alexander, Tom Drake, Albert Dekker, Richard Gaines, Rose Hobart, Mona Barrie, Cameron Mitchell, Griff Barnett, Milburn Stone, Frank Ferguson, Jessie Grayson, and Howard Freeman. And it's no surprise when perennial dress extra Bess Flowers turns up in a cocktail party scene -- which also has a cameo by Walter Pidgeon! Casts just don't come any better.

CASS TIMBERLANE was directed by George Sidney and filmed in black and white by Robert Planck.

MGM fans will enjoy some good looks at "St. Louis Street." As was the case in the same year's CYNTHIA (1947), Cass lives down the street from the MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS house -- yet when you go inside, the staircase and living room are the Smith house set!

For more on this film, please visit a good post by my friend Cliff at Immortal Ephemera.

The Warner Archive DVD is a fine print. The disc includes the trailer.

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 from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

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