Monday, April 19, 2010

Tonight's Movie: The Happy Time (1952)

THE HAPPY TIME is a pleasant, if undistinguished, coming-of-age story about a young boy growing up in an eccentric French-Canadian family in the early 20th Century. Although the film has its strong points and a couple charming moments, in my eyes it was something of a disappointment.

Jacques Bonnard (Charles Boyer) is a somewhat freespirited -- yet responsible -- musician who works at a theater. Jacques is happily married to Susan (Marsha Hunt), a steady, proper Scottish-Canadian; it must be a case of opposites attracting! They have a teenage son, Bibi (Bobby Driscoll), who has just discovered an interest in girls.

Jacques' brother Desmond (Louis Jourdan) is a love 'em and leave 'em traveling salesman. Will Desmond's deep attraction to the Bonnards' new maid, Mignonette (Linda Christian), cause him to change his roving ways?

Although the film is highly regarded by some critics -- Leonard Maltin and Stephen Scheuer each rate it 3-1/2 stars -- I didn't feel it was entirely successful for several reasons, starting with the problem that it's a wee bit too cutesy-precious. The stilted, peculiar dialogue, particularly that spoken by Bibi, is apparently meant to show that the family is French-Canadian, but it just sounds strange and phony. In fact, the only characters who seemed "real" and didn't sound artificial were those played by Boyer, Hunt, and Jourdan. The viewer is a little too conscious that the other characters are uttering lines from a play, which provided the basis for the film's script.

The film is also hampered by the fact that the three young people in the film are, bluntly, unappealing in terms of both looks and personality, and their storyline is uninvolving. When Boyer, Hunt, or Jourdan weren't on the screen, the movie lost its energy and I lost interest.

Another drawback is the storyline involving Kurt Kasznar, repeating his Broadway role as alcoholic Uncle Louis, who is unhappily married to a seamstress (Jeanette Nolan) and endlessly drinks wine out of a cooler. Not much charming there.

Composer Dimitri Tiomkin cowrote the title theme song, which runs in the background for the duration of the entire movie, in both instrumental and vocal forms. Although the use of a theme song was very successful for Tiomkin in HIGH NOON the same year, here it starts to get on the nerves after a while. When my daughter walked in and heard the theme being sung on the soundtrack mid-movie, she understandably asked "Is this a musical?"

The original play, in fact, was produced on Broadway by musical giants Rodgers and Hammerstein. In 1968 it was turned into a Tony-winning Kander-Ebb Broadway musical starring Robert Goulet and David Wayne, directed by Gower Champion.

In an interview, Marsha Hunt said that she had been offered her film role in the original play, but turned it down as she didn't want to play a part that passive at the time. She's very good in the film as the character who brings a measure of stability and sanity to the Bonnard family.

Boyer has one of the nicest scenes in the film, in which he tries to explain married love to his son. It's a lovely moment. Boyer's endlessly tolerant Jacques is the strongest aspect of the film and what makes it worth seeing.

I don't always agree with him, but in this case I think Bosley Crowther's original New York Times review of the film is pretty much on target.

THE HAPPY TIME was directed by Richard Fleischer. It runs 94 minutes. The supporting cast includes Marcel Dalio, Will Wright, and Richard Erdman.

This film can be seen on Turner Classic Movies.


Blogger J.C. Loophole said...

As I was reading your review I knew I hadn't seen it, but it sounded awful familiar. Then I realized where I had heard it- The Jack Benny Show! Jack and the gang parodied the film in December of 1952 to great effect. It was hilarious as even though they built it up in the introduction as that "great picture", "fun picture", etc- but you could tell in the skit the original film and plot was fairly corny/dull and they had great fun with it. Jack played Boyer as a violin player with the accent and everything. The funniest part was Dennis Day as the son who had a thing for the nurse. I thought they were just making fun of the fact Dennis was a grown man playing a kid- I didn't know the character in the movie had "discovered girls". My favorite part was Mel Blanc as the grandfather playing on his Mexican "Si" character (instead of "si" he was repeating "oui")
It was hilarious and now, thanks to your review, I have figured out the rest of the skit without having to watch the film. Thanks for taking one for the team.
He is a link to the Jack Benny show episode: The Jack Benny Show: Happy Time 12-7-1952

7:43 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Wow, J.C., that sounds hilarious -- and probably a lot funnier than the movie! Thanks so much for the link; I'll be checking it out.

The unexpected things one learns! Thank you!! :)

Best wishes,

8:08 AM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

hooowhahahaha. I love the Jack Benny parody. Except for poor Bobby Driscoll's lousy acting, I love the film. It never ocurred to me that Marsha Hunt's character was passive - I thought she was a good sport.

9:30 AM  

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