Saturday, June 14, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Scandal at Scourie (1953) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

MGM's great team of Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon starred together for the last time in SCANDAL AT SCOURIE (1953), just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

This was the eighth Garson-Pidgeon teaming in a dozen years, not counting their cameo appearances in THE YOUNGEST PROFESSION (1943). They play Patrick and Victoria McChesney, who live in a small Canadian town at the end of the 19th Century.

Victoria impulsively adopts little Patsy (Donna Corcoran) from an "orphan train" seeking homes for a group of children whose convent orphanage was burned down. The McChesneys are Protestant, but Victoria agrees with Sister Josephine (Agnes Moorehead) that they will send Patsy to the Catholic church in town in return for the chance to adopt her.

Victoria adores Patsy and blissfully enjoys her long-sought chance to be a mother, but Patrick is more reticent about embracing fatherhood. Patrick's transition isn't made any easier with the townspeople's suspicion of Patsy's religion and fears that she might be a pyromaniac; the conflicts over what had initially seemed a laudable desire to take in a homeless child in need of a family may dash his political hopes.

Some of my longtime reference books have been dismissive of this film, so it's been low on my list of Garson-Pidgeon films to catch up with, but I think that a film some could take for granted in, say, 1974 looks rather different several decades on. Garson and Pidgeon are, simply put, an enchanting team, and who cares if this was one of their "lesser" films?

Garson and Pidgeon are simply wonderful together, with the same type of magical chemistry that was seen with MGM's William Powell and Myrna Loy. Any chance to see them teamed is valuable. It also happens to be quite a nice, enjoyable film which has positive messages about tolerance and what it means to be a family. And there's even a "talking" goldfish!

Indeed, I think this is one of the most interesting performances I've seen from Pidgeon, as the quirky small-town storekeeper who never uses a small word when a big one will do.  He's loving but shy about expressing it; one senses that Garson's can-do Irish lady was such a whirlwind she made up his mind for him about their relationship, just as she slips Patsy into his life.

Watch the scene when Patsy comes home from school in tears and how Patrick starts to reach for her yet holds back, unsure; then later, under emotional duress, Patrick makes a physical connection by awkwardly patting Patsy on the head. Bit by bit he makes his way toward parenthood and allowing the little girl into his heart. His character also proves to be not so shy when his integrity and his family are challenged! It's quite a charming, touching performance, filled with little unspoken touches which make the character much more than what was in the script.

A movie with a child and a plot like this could have easily been teary and mawkish, but it's directed with a restrained touch by Jean Negulesco. Corcoran is a sensitive, believable young actress, while Garson's determined commitment to Patsy makes her a most sympathetic character, even when she puts her husband in a very awkward position by suggesting they adopt right in front of the little girl. In the hands of another actress Victoria could have been overbearing, but Garson makes it work. She also provides the film with its lighter moments.

As with Garson and Pidgeon's first film, BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST (1941), illegitimacy is one of the film's major themes. Garson has a lovely scene explaining what it means to Patsy and reassuring her.

Among the supporting cast, I particularly liked Margalo Gillmore as a sympathetic schoolteacher and Michael Pate as the awkward Protestant minister. When Victoria agrees to accompany the shy and nervous Patsy to her first Mass in Scourie, it turns out that Victoria's minister isn't so much concerned that Victoria might join the other church but that her absence that Sunday might be a reflection on her feelings about him. The fact that the minister is fishing buddies with the town priest (Arthur Shields) is a nice touch.

It's a well-paced 90 minutes which moves along quite quickly. It was filmed in Technicolor by Robert H. Planck. The supporting cast includes Rhys Williams, Philip Ober, Patricia Tiernan, Ian Wolfe, Maudie Prickett, and Ida Moore.

The Warner Archive DVD includes the movie trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.


Blogger Crocheted Lace said...

I thought the ending was over wrought, otherwise the story was very nice. Maybe now a days people don't realize the schism and distrust between catholics and protestants that existed in 1900.
That part of the story is well done, and the sweet family dynamic as they get to know each other.

Ironically, while "Blossoms in the Dust" shows how Edna Gladney's (Greer Garson) crusade started because her adopted sister was illegitimate, in real life, it was Gladney herself who was illegitimate. So the movie whitewashed the real story. Hollywood censorship.

11:09 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I saw Scandal at Scourie on its original release, loved it, but did not get the schism between Catholic and protestant, but in those days, especially if you add Jewish to the others, people were more parochial but kids were not. This was true not only in Canada but all over. The film was unsuccessful and I was clearly aware that Walter had gone on successfully into top supporting parts, but Garson never quite made that transisiton. On the other hand, she was already a legend.

8:01 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Crocheted Lace and Barrylane, thank you both so much for sharing your thoughts on this film.

I especially enjoyed the family dynamics and Pidgeon in a particularly interesting role as a man who struggles to express his feelings. The movie's Canadian setting and theme with one of the potential adoptive parents struggling with the decision reminded me a bit of ANNE OF GREEN GABLES.

Best wishes,

11:01 AM  

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