Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Crystal Ball (1943)

THE CRYSTAL BALL is a funny romantic comedy starring the appealing team of Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard.

Goddard plays Toni Gerrard, a down-on-her-luck Texan in the big city of New York. She gets a room with a kindly fortune teller, Madame Zenobia (Gladys George), and lands a job at a shooting gallery run by Pop (Cecil Kellaway).

Toni spots lawyer Brad Cavanaugh (Milland) and falls for him head over heels, then impersonates Madame Zenobia at various times in order to distract Brad's interest from his wealthy client, Jo Ainsley (Virginia Field), and land Brad herself. It's all a bit complicated to explain concisely, but the story makes sense on film...or at least it makes as much sense as a screwball comedy ever makes!

There are numerous funny situations, including a series of unfortunate incidents with a waiter (Sig Arno); there's also a nice comedic payoff for a set of meetings at an apartment where Toni pretends to live. The reactions of a dog-walking lady in the apartment building, played by Mabel Paige, are quite amusing.

Milland and Goddard are charming together; I especially love a scene where they're dancing and falling in love. Milland is flat-out adorable in this, with wonderful comic reactions, and Goddard is pretty terrific herself. She comes across as a funny, good-natured gal who also happens to be beautiful. Everyone seems to be having a good time in the movie, even the hapless waiter.

Milland and Goddard were also teamed in THE LADY HAS PLANS (1942), REAP THE WILD WIND (1942), and KITTY (1945). Anyone who likes Milland and/or Goddard should have a fun time with THE CRYSTAL BALL.

The supporting cast includes William Bendix as Milland's butler/chauffeur; in a nice touch, the back story is that he was a bowling alley owner who put Milland through law school. Mary Field, a perennial movie maid, is once again a maid here, and she's in cahoots with Madame Zenobia. Fay Helm does a nice job as Milland's perenially amused secretary.

THE CRYSTAL BALL runs 81 minutes. It was directed by Elliott Nugent. The black and white cinematography was by Leo Tover. Gowns were designed by two fashion greats, Edith Head and Adrian.

This is a Paramount film which was distributed by United Artists due to Paramount having too much product during WWII. It's not available on DVD or VHS, but it was recently shown by Turner Classic Movies. Hopefully there will be a DVD release in the future!

March 2021 Update: It took a few years, but I'm delighted to announce that THE CRYSTAL BALL will be released on DVD by ClassicFlix in June 2021.

June 2021 Update: My review of the new Blu-ray may be read here.


Blogger whistlingypsy said...

I thought this was a really fun story; the paring of Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard is delightful. I thought one of the funnier site gags was Ray Milland driving the tiny clown car. I want one just like it; I think it would be perfect for quick trips to the grocery store.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

I watched this when TCM ran it and really enjoyed it. Not one of the classic screen comedies of the era, but I watched it with a smile on my face the whole time.

I was surprised when the United Artists logo came up and lo and behold, there was all that Paramount talent on hand. I'm glad Mr. Osborne offered an explanation at the end.

Hope some other rare Goddard titles show up soon, like "I Love A Solider" and "Suddenly It's Spring" show up. "Standing Room Only" would be interesting to see since I saw "The More the Merrier" not that long ago.

She was really delightful, wasn't she?

2:04 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I agree with you both!!

Just learned Paulette will have a day in the Summer Under the Stars schedule this August -- although unfortunately, Kevin, they're not showing any of the titles you list. I thought STANDING ROOM ONLY was great fun when I was able to see it a few months ago. I'd love to see TCM release a DVD set of Goddard's films with Milland and/or MacMurray.

Best wishes,

11:40 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I really like Pauletre Goddard. She may have not been the most versatile or talented lady in Hollywood but she was engaging sexy and likable. For all the success she had as an actress her personal life was much more exciting than her professional one

7:46 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I enjoy Paulette very much as well. "Likable" is a very good description. I need to watch this film again soon!

Best wishes,

8:51 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

What kind of car was Milland driving?

9:55 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Perhaps another reader will be able to answer your question, I don't know the answer!

Best wishes,

2:56 PM  

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