Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Strictly Dishonorable (1951) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Janet Leigh and Ezio Pinza star in STRICTLY DISHONORABLE (1951), an unexpected charmer available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

The Archive recently released a double-film set of the original 1931 version of STRICTLY DISHONORABLE, paired with this 1951 remake on the same disc. Though each film had different screenwriters -- directors Melvin Frank and Norman Panama cowrote the 1951 version -- both movies were based on a play by Preston Sturges. I don't know who was responsible for individual lines but there's some very good dialogue ("I never thought I'd be sleeping in the pajamas of a man who's in the encyclopedia!").

The plot concerns the convoluted romance of a famous opera star, Gus Caraffa (Pinza), with a young Southern girl, Isabelle (Leigh). They "meet cute" when she gets a gig in a crowd scene in one of his shows and accidentally burns him with a torch.

Before the day is done Isabelle has ditched her stuffy fiance (Arthur Franz) and she and Gus are marrying in the middle of the night -- in name only, to save his career (it's a long story!), but it's clearly apparent they have genuine feelings for one another.

Gus is pushed by his business manager (Millard Mitchell) to plan an annulment in order to avoid a breach of promise suit from a greedy ex-girlfriend (Maria Palmer), but Isabelle quickly has Gus's formidable Mama (Esther Minciotti) wrapped around her little finger. Mama Caraffa, charmed by Isabelle's sweet sincerity and dreaming of grandbabies, plots to unite Isabelle and Gus permanently.

The age gap between Pinza and Leigh is far more years than I want to think about, but they have really splendid chemistry. Without that, you've only got a script with some funny lines, but they totally sell their attraction and romance.

I hadn't seen Pinza on screen before, and it's a shame he didn't make more films, as he's really good; the moment he stands up in a movie theater and sings "Everything I Have is Yours" to Leigh put a big smile on my face. What a voice! Leigh is likewise quite charming here as a simple, honest Southern girl who tries to win her man over with a combination of homemade minestrone soup and off-the-shoulder evening gowns.

There's a very funny turn by Gale Robbins as a would-be opera singer whose career is being pushed by her husband (Hugh Sanders). Her off-key audition, and Pinza's reactions, is quite amusing.

There's also a nice bit by Kathleen Freeman as a teary silent movie organist.

The movie was shot in black and white by Ray June.

Oddly, IMDb says the movie is 86 minutes but it's actually 98 minutes, which is reflected on the DVD box.

The Warner Archive DVD print is unusually damaged in a few places, with speckles or large black streaks, mostly near the beginning of the film, but the majority of the print was fine, and the brief problems didn't detract from my enjoyment. The sound quality was excellent, which was a relief after the last movie I reviewed!

The disc includes the trailer for this version of the film. I'll be reviewing the 1931 edition at a future date. (March 5th Update: Here is my review of the original film.)

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD set. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


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