Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Julia Misbehaves (1948)

JULIA MISBEHAVES is an amusing, glossy MGM comedy featuring a stellar cast.

Julia (Greer Garson) is an actress who's struggling financially, when out of the blue she receives an invitation to the wedding of her daughter Susan, whom she hasn't seen since Susan was a baby. A friend (Reginald Owen) helps Julia with funds for the trip, and on the boat to France Julia meets Fred Ghenoccio (Cesar Romero), an acrobat who's one of the "Six Flying Ghenoccios." Julia gamely substitutes for Fred's alcoholic mother (Mary Boland) in that evening's performance in Paris before traveling on to the wedding. Fred is so taken with Julia that he proposes marriage as her train is leaving the station.

When Julia arrives at her former home she meets up with Bill (Walter Pidgeon), her estranged husband whom she'd never divorced, and their lovely daughter Susan (Elizabeth Taylor). Susan is engaged to marry a member of the nobility, but she clearly has eyes for a handsome young painter, Ritchie (Peter Lawford). When Susan's fiance skips the wedding rehearsal to attend a bachelor dinner thrown by his regiment, one can easily guess that Susan might end up with lovestruck Ritchie instead. And as for Bill and Julia, they're still attracted to one another, but a possible reunion is complicated by the appearance of Fred.

The film starts out a bit slowly but soon perks up and is quite funny at times. There are some wonderful bits of dialogue, such as "She may be your wife, but she's my fiancee!" The film builds to a nice climax with some wonderful repartee between Garson, Pidgeon, Romero, and Nigel Bruce; I was mildly surprised a couple of the lines made it past the censors in 1948.

Cesar Romero gets particular kudos for his way-out-there performance as the acrobat; his ersatz accent has to be heard to be believed. Mary Boland is also quite funny in the scene where Mrs. Ghenoccio is drunkenly swinging from the ship's steam stack, singing all the while.

Garson, working to shake her image as the star of serious dramas, engages in all sorts of physical comedy, being dangled by acrobats, riding a boat which sinks into a lake, falling in the mud...she gives it all she's got and is a lot of fun in the role. Pidgeon himself must contend with a trained seal, and he gets to fall into the lake and the mud right along with Garson. He also has a couple nice chances to show off his singing voice.

The movie is complete escapism...for instance, it never explores any feelings of abandonment Susan might have felt given her mother's complete absence from her life. Julia buying her daughter a Christmas gift for each year of her life seems to resolve everything! Likewise, it's never explained just why Bill originally fell out of love with Julia after 14 months of marriage, although one can infer his mother (Lucile Watson) caused problems. Julia does give Bill a piece of her mind about what happened at one point, but the film never digs any further. The viewer needs a willingness to put aside any thoughts of real-world emotions and dive in, simply expecting fun.

Elizabeth Taylor was just 16 when she filmed this, playing a part that was several years older. She was stunningly beautiful. She and Peter Lawford were also teamed the following year in LITTLE WOMEN (1949).

In Lawford's biography there's a nice story about him introducing Greer Garson to Buddy Fogelson, the man she married the year after this film was released. Like Taylor, Lawford was at the peak of his handsome good looks when he made this film. He and Taylor make a charming couple. It was a teaming which Taylor hoped to duplicate in real life, but Lawford steered clear of the underage beauty and she eventually settled for friendship.

Rounding out the cast are Henry Stephenson, Aubrey Mather, Fritz Feld, and Ian Wolfe.

This film was directed by Jack Conway. Conway began working in the silent era, and he was married to Virginia Bushman, daughter of silent film star Francis X. Bushman. Conway's brother-in-law was Disney artist Bruce Bushman. JULIA MISBEHAVES was Conway's last movie. He died in 1952 at the age of 65.

The movie is based on the book THE NUTMEG TREE by Margery Sharp, author of THE RESCUERS and CLUNY BROWN.

JULIA MISBEHAVES has been released on video. It has not had a DVD release. I suspect that at some point in the future it will be released in DVD-R format by the Warner Archive.

It can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here. The trailer does a good job capturing the film's zany nature, ending with the tagline "Garson Misbehaves - And Pidgeon Loves It!"

Update: This film is now available in a remastered DVD-R from the Warner Archive.


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