Monday, January 11, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Good Girls Go to Paris (1939)

Tonight's movie was a delightful screwball comedy, GOOD GIRLS GO TO PARIS (1939), starring Melvyn Douglas and Joan Blondell.

GOOD GIRLS GO TO PARIS completes my viewing of a trio of films made by Douglas, Blondell, and director Alexander Hall in the late '30s. The other titles are comedic mysteries, THERE'S ALWAYS A WOMAN (1938) and THE AMAZING MR. WILLIAMS (1939); I saw the latter just a few days ago. GOOD GIRLS GO TO PARIS was by far the best of the bunch.

The film starts out as a light comedy in a college town, as waitress Jenny Swenson (Blondell) becomes friends with a visiting British professor (Douglas). Jenny confides to the professor her dream of landing a rich college student who will enable her to visit Paris.

About a third of the way into the film, the plot segues into classic screwball territory about a crazy rich family and the hired help; through a series of circumstances Jenny finds herself living with the wealthy family of the professor's fiancee Sylvia (Joan Perry). Jenny, rather like a lightheaded Mary Poppins (or maybe a 5TH AVE GIRL), one by one sets the family's problems to rights, and in so doing, finds her own happiness.

This is one of Blondell's better performances; she's giddy but not over the top, and her sweetness is rather endearing. She never looked lovelier than she appears in this film.

I've now watched three Melvyn Douglas films in a row. Last night's film, MY FORBIDDEN PAST (1951), was fun, but a far different Melvyn Douglas from the characters he played in his comedies; I enjoyed the contrast. GOOD GIRLS GO TO PARIS is unique in that Douglas affects a British accent, which doesn't quite seem to fit with his voice; it doesn't entirely work, but his attempt is cute. His baffled professor is entertaining as he tries to make sure Jenny stays on the straight and narrow.

Sylvia, the professor's fiancee, is nicely played by Joan Perry, who retired from films a couple of years later when she married the head of Columbia Pictures, Harry Cohn. Perry does a good job as the girl who can't face up to telling her family she really wants to marry the son (Henry Hunter) of the family butler (Howard C. Hickman).

Sylvia's grandfather is played by screwball stalwart Walter Connolly, who incidentally was in the previously mentioned 5TH AVE GIRL (1939). Connolly's crochety character likes Jenny's common sense and thanks to her, he gradually regains his zest for life, starting by coming down to breakfast for the first time in three years. Connolly appeared in several classic '30s screwball comedies, including IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934), TWENTIETH CENTURY (1934), LIBELED LADY (1936), and NOTHING SACRED (1937). He died too young, being only 53 when he passed away in 1940.

Isabel Jeans, who plays Connolly's flighty daughter, was the first wife of Claude Rains. Her best-known film role might be that of Aunt Alicia in the Oscar-winning GIGI (1958).

Alan Curtis plays Sylvia's brother. The cast also includes Clarence Kolb, Stanley Brown, and Mary Field. I've got to rewind the tape tomorrow for another look, as Robert Sterling, who was an elevator boy in THE AMAZING MR. WILLIAMS, plays a college student in this one. Ann Doran (a real favorite of mine) and James Craig also have bit parts.

The film runs 75 minutes. It has not had a VHS or DVD release, but it was shown a few weeks ago on Turner Classic Movies.

I wasn't expecting a great deal from this movie and found it to be a nice little surprise with a few excellent moments. This relatively overlooked title deserves to be seen by fans of the screwball comedy genre.


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