Sunday, March 01, 2009

Tonight's Movie: John Loves Mary (1949)

JOHN LOVES MARY is a silly, mildly amusing piece of fluff about a newly returned WWII vet's complicated marriage plans.

John (Ronald Reagan) plans to wed his longtime sweetheart Mary (Patricia Neal), but there's just one problem: John has married a British woman (Virginia Field) "in name only," in order to get her to America quickly as a romantic surprise for Fred (Jack Carson), the man who saved his life. And boy, is Fred surprised...! Meanwhile John tries to conceal from Mary that he needs to spend a few weeks in Reno before they can be married.

The movie is based on a play by Norman Krasna, with a screenplay by Henry and Phoebe Ephron (parents of writer-director Nora Ephron). I was hoping it would be as delightful as another play-based WWII romantic comedy starring Ronald Reagan, 1947's THE VOICE OF THE TURTLE, but I'm afraid JOHN LOVES MARY falls a bit flat.

One of the significant problems with the film -- which feels very much like a filmed stage play -- is that much of the comedy is rather forced. The premise simply doesn't work very well. If John had just blurted out the truth, as he finally does at the end, none of the chaos would have ensued; but then, of course, there would have been no story! Some comedies are able to spin silly situations into gold, but in this case the viewer is simply exasperated as John is increasingly dishonest while trying to work his way out of a romantic jam.

The other major problem for me is Patricia Neal, who I felt was all wrong for Mary. In order for the comedy to work, I believe Mary should have been sweeter and daffier -- a little more along the lines of Eleanor Parker's character in THE VOICE OF THE TURTLE. Neal's Mary is a rather tough cookie, simply because that's part of Neal's persona, and the casting didn't work for me in something that should have been more lightweight and fizzy. (And every time she uttered the name "John," all I could think of was THE HOMECOMING -- a role for which she was much better suited, though I do prefer Michael Learned's Olivia Walton.)

A final problem is simply that the viewer has very little to go on as far as believing John and Mary have been deeply in love for four years -- they're reunited and then we're instantaneously buried in their problems. After the initial reunion, there's not much of a sense of a relationship or romance as he strains to sidestep a quickie marriage to Mary. Some deeper romantic longing would have added a much-needed dimension to the story.

The film does have some redeeming qualities. There are amusing moments scattered here and there, including a political joke which is funny from today's vantage point, and I particularly enjoyed lovely Katharine Alexander as Mary's mother. The theme music is one of my favorite songs, Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me," and the actors' "curtain calls" at the end are fun, although they also once more reinforce that this was a filmed play. The curtain calls are also utilized in the trailer, which can be seen here.

This was Neal's film debut. The same year JOHN LOVES MARY was released, she also costarred with Reagan in THE HASTY HEART, as well as appearing in THE FOUNTAINHEAD with Gary Cooper, with whom she famously had an affair.

JOHN LOVES MARY was directed by David Butler. It runs 96 minutes and was shot in black and white. The supporting cast includes Edward Arnold, Wayne Morris, Irving Bacon, and Douglas Kennedy.

The original Broadway cast included Nina Foch as Mary, William Prince (PILLOW TO POST) as John, and Tom Ewell as Fred.

JOHN LOVES MARY has not had a DVD or video release. It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, where it next airs during Ronald Reagan Month on March 18, 2009.

August 2010 Update: JOHN LOVES MARY is now available in DVD-R format from the Warner Archive.


Blogger NoirGirl said...

I thought the same exact thing about Patricia Neal when I saw this film. She's a naggy wife before they are even married. By the end of the film, you don't want her to end up with Ronnie.

I found the story to be exasperating, too. I just kept wishing he would blurt out the secretdu and spare us the rest of the film.

5:31 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

"She's a naggy wife before they are even married."

That's an interesting interpretation! There was definitely an element of that present in her characterization.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts --

Best wishes,

12:47 AM  

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