Saturday, July 25, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Mrs. Mike (1949)

Just one week ago I shared that I had discovered that MRS. MIKE, a movie I haven't seen since I was a teenager, was available on DVD. I ordered the movie and now, a week later, I've already enjoyed seeing it again for the first time in years.

As I wrote in a post on favorite books, MRS. MIKE by Benedict and Nancy Freedman is a book I discovered in my junior high school's well-stocked library. I still remember the day I first read it -- I started it at school and was so engrossed that when I got home I didn't budge from my chair until I'd read the entire book! In the ensuing years I reread it several times.

MRS. MIKE is the story of Katherine Mary (Evelyn Keyes), a young Irish-American girl sent to visit her uncle in Canada, where she falls in love with and marries an older Mountie, Mike Flannigan (Dick Powell). (Kathy is 16 as the book opens; Evelyn Keyes was past 30 when she made MRS. MIKE and looks as though she's in her 20s. Dick Powell was likewise older than his counterpart in the book.) Kathy and Mike immediately move to his new assignment stationed in the far north of Canada, where he provides small rural communities with law enforcement, search and rescue, first aid, and even dentistry. Mike and Kathy's loving marriage is tested by isolation and tragedy.

I haven't read the book recently but I remember it as being superior to the movie and an intensely emotional experience. That said, the movie is a very nice condensation of the book, and I think I appreciate the film even more as an adult than I did when I was younger, especially with a bit of distance from reading the book. Powell and Keyes both give fine portrayals, and I particularly liked Powell's performance as Sergeant Mike; he was perfect. (As a teenager, I remember wishing Joel McCrea had played the part! I've become much more of a Powell fan since then.) The film has a unique mood to it, enhanced by Joseph Biroc's cinematography of stark, snowy landscapes and the score by Max Steiner and William Lava.

The movie believably conveys the far reaches of Canada, sled dogs and all, though I'm not certain they left California; location filming took place in the Big Bear Lake area.

The supporting cast includes Will Wright as a Scottish doctor and Angela Clarke as a kindly neighbor. (Clarke turns 97 next month.) J.M. Kerrigan plays Kathy's uncle.

The DVD was put out by Hollywood's Attic, which -- per its website -- is now known as Nostalgia Family Video. The disc indicates it's a DVD-R; I somewhat expected this, especially as I couldn't find the DVD widely available on the web, but I do wish companies like Movies Unlimited and Amazon would identify that format on their websites. The box looked fairly nice, other than listing the wrong release year for the movie on the back cover, and the DVD itself looked professional.

The print was visually excellent, although there was one sequence near the end that looked a bit fuzzier than the rest of the movie. There were a very small handful of spots where there were split-second digital picture skips, but they were minimal and infrequent enough they didn't detract overly much from the viewing experience.

My main criticism of the DVD quality is uneven sound levels -- music and thunderstorms were very loud but dialogue was often quite soft, so I felt the need to adjust the sound regularly one way or the other; I'm not certain if this was a problem with the original print or this particular DVD. All in all, however, considering how long I have wanted to revisit this film, I was satisfied with the DVD and especially pleased with the picture quality.

MRS. MIKE is also available on VHS. I'd be interested to know whether the video print has any sound issues.

MRS. MIKE runs 99 minutes. It was shot in black and white.

One of the film's screenwriters, DeWitt Bodeen, was also a film historian who regularly contributed to FILMS IN REVIEW, a magazine I have collected and enjoyed since I was a teenager. (Thanks in part to eBay, I have issues going back to the '50s.) Bodeen's impressive credits include Val Lewton's CAT PEOPLE (1942) and THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944), as well as THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE (1945), I REMEMBER MAMA (1948), THE MIRACLE OF THE BELLS (1948), and NIGHT SONG (1948).

Louis King, the director of MRS. MIKE, was the younger brother of director Henry King, whose credits included MARGIE (1946) and I'D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN (1951), both recently reviewed here. Louis King's own credits stretched from the silents up until late '50s TV such as Disney's classic THE SWAMP FOX. His film SABRE JET (1953) was reviewed here last year.

MRS. MIKE is a beautifully crafted depiction of love, commitment, and dedication to duty in the face of great hardships. It provides a most enjoyable evening's viewing.

August 2010 Update: An obituary of Nancy Freedman, co-author of MRS. MIKE.

2011 Update: The DVD reviewed here, which I purchased from Movies Unlimited, no longer seems to be for sale there, though at present a copy is on sale from an Amazon vendor.


Blogger Moira Finnie said...

I love this movie and the book, which I haven't read since about 7th Grade. I'm so glad to read that it is available in some form on DVD. I am going to have to try to get a copy of this for my sister's birthday. She adored this story too as a youngster.

I really appreciate your bringing the existence of this recording to my attention.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

It's wonderful to know someone else who has enjoyed the book and film. I hope you're able to share this with your sister. :)

I'm going to have to pull my lovely old hardcover copy of the novel back down off the shelf soon.

Best wishes,

12:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like you Laura I first read this book in Jr. High School when I was living in Mpls., Mn. It had such an impact on me as I found the story so romantic and compelling I couldn't put it down. I saw the movie by chance on tv one day a few years later and enjoyed it too but I think the book was a little better. In any case, I have watched for this movie on TMC but have never caught it. I am so glad to hear I can order it. Thanks for your very well written article on this movie. Jean

9:19 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for sharing your memories, Jean! This book sure seems to have impacted us at a certain point in our lives. I appreciate your kind words and hope you are able to see the movie again soon.

Best wishes,

10:47 PM  
Blogger Mama Echo said...

Thank you so much for the information on the DVD. I LOVED this book as a teen, and now my daughter loves it as well. I can't wait to get the DVD and have a "movie night" with her.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Glad I could provide this info! Enjoy!

Best wishes,

10:06 PM  

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