Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Goodbye, My Fancy (1951)

GOODBYE, MY FANCY is an interesting, if not completely satisfactory, film about a woman with a successful professional life but a habit of running out on challenging relationships and personal situations.

It's the story of Congresswoman Agatha Reed (Joan Crawford), who returns to her alma mater to receive an honorary degree. She accepts in part with hopes of reuniting with her college love, Jim Merrill (Robert Young), who is now the university president.

Agatha is trailed for the weekend by Matt Cole (Frank Lovejoy), a LIFE magazine photographer who had a relationship with Aggie a few years previously and is still carrying a torch for her.

I expected the film to be a bit more of a lighthearted romantic comedy, given the premise, the college campus setting, and especially the fact that wisecracking Eve Arden is along for the ride, playing Aggie's secretary. The campus is indeed filled with effervescent young women like Mary Nell Dodge (Virginia Gibson of SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS) and Jim's daughter Virginia (Janice Rule, in her first year in films), but on the whole the film is a fairly somber affair.

Crawford always attracts the audience's attention, but her character is perpetually oh-so-serious, which becomes a bit tiresome. She's melodramatically happy about things like seeing her dorm room for the first time in decades, but never seems to convey an authentic sense of joy. And frankly it's hard to have a great deal of sympathy for a woman who's jilted not just one but two men, or to understand why they both want her back so many years later. Is she really that fascinating? When she contemplates running off without giving her commencement speech, regardless of the disappointment of all the graduates, I didn't feel much respect for her character.

As a side note, I've never understood why actresses like Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck prematurely aged themselves with such matronly hairstyles in the early '50s. For that matter, Robert Young is very obviously wearing makeup to age him behind his actual early 40s; it's interesting that a makeup job to age him as Shirley Temple's minister father in ADVENTURE IN BALTIMORE (1949) made him look distinguished, but here it's been laid on with a trowel.

Unfortunately neither of the film's leading men come off very well. Young's character is a bit of a bore, and Lovejoy's know-it-all cameraman is simply annoying. And there are unanswered questions, such as why did Matt (Lovejoy) wait six years to decide he couldn't live without Aggie?

There are other questions, such as why was dingy Ellen Griswold (Lurene Tuttle), Aggie's roommate back in the day, such a good friend then? And if they were good friends, why didn't they keep in better touch?

Much of the film's second half is occupied by Aggie and a self-satisfied physics professor (Morgan Farley) lecturing about "academic freedom" and the "right" of professors teaching any subject to inject politics into the classroom. This political indoctrination is given the more admirable label "teaching students to think," and the board member (Howard St. John) who is concerned is portrayed as a blowhard buffoon. All of which caused me to contemplate that perhaps the more things change in Hollywood, the more they stay the same!

GOODBYE, MY FANCY was based on a play by Fay Kanin, originally performed on Broadway with Madeleine Carroll, Shirley Booth, Sam Wanamaker, Conrad Nagel, and Bethel Leslie in the roles played by Crawford, Arden, Lovejoy, Young, and Rule. Some of the movie scenes are quite theatrical in nature, with a good deal of "speechifying," although the filmmakers tried to open it up a bit by filming several scenes outdoors.

I'd love to know where the exterior college scenes were filmed. An outdoor amphitheater seen near the end of the film might have been used early in ELOPEMENT (1951), but I'll need to see that one again to double-check. (Update: Mystery solved! The college in the opening scenes of the 1960 film TALL STORY was identical, and the IMDb listing for that film led me to the confirmation that both ELOPEMENT and GOODBYE, MY FANCY were filmed at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California.)

Watch for Ann Robinson (WAR OF THE WORLDS) as the very dramatic Drama Club representative who welcomes Aggie to campus. The cast also includes Ellen Corby, John Qualen, and Viola Roache.

GOODBYE, MY FANCY was directed by Vincent Sherman. It runs 105 minutes.

This film is available on DVD-R from the Warner Archive. It's also been shown on Turner Classic Movies.


Blogger AK said...

A very good review of a flawed, but interesting movie. I think what works against it is the lack of chemistry with Lovejoy. I like to wonder what it would be like had Clark Gable been cast in that role!

6:33 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Rob. I'm glad you enjoyed the review. I think you're right, the movie would have worked much better with someone like Gable, who had chemistry with Crawford, playing the reporter. I could see Robert Montgomery doing the role also.

Best wishes,

7:20 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

I'm a big fan of Frank Lovejoy and loved seeing him in a starring role opposite Joan. He has such an easy ,relaxed manner

6:26 AM  
Blogger magicalbeck said...

It definitely needed Gable or Montgomery! Nobody’s buying that she’d choose Frank Lovejoy over Robert Young, who - despite clumsy attempts at aging by the makeup dept - looks quite dapper, and just better with Joan Crawford. I found myself rooting for them to work it out somehow. I love Joan but this movie needed less severity. The lighthearted Joan of years past should have been invited in, but I suspect Directorial choices had something to do with this. And, perhaps Joan trying extra hard to prove herself. She was always at her best when not trying too hard. Still, I always find her magnetic and can’t take my eyes off what she is doing, to the detriment of all others sharing the screen.
As to the hairstyles, they were simply IN style and that’s all there was to it. The young starlets were wearing shorter, matronly hair too but were young enough to pull it off. The thick brows too! Awful! Think Audrey, Liz T, Kim Novak. Such a shame! And the middle aged gals like Joan and Stanwyck followed the trends but it made them look ten years older. They were only mid-40s, early 50s. Worst decade for hair and makeup!

1:35 AM  

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