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Sunday, 11 May 2008

To Please a Lady (1950)

Regina Forbes is 'America's Leading Woman Columnist' and she's watching a TV clip about motor racing that's either obscene journalism or a lush and exploitative classic, depending on your perspective. It's part shameless advertising, part mondo documentary, part celebrity exploitation. The celebrity is Mike Brannan, a former war hero who is now a ruthless and successful racecar driver. Forbes doesn't care about racing, but is interested purely because Brannan was a hero who's now a villain.

She heads down to the track to see him race and he wins, but at the expense of the death of a fellow racer. She, along with the crowd, sees him as a murderer, guiding him into a wreck ahead. He sees the situation as just one of those things and that the other driver should have had the skill to get out of it the way he did. However she's the one with the highly read column and she crucifies him. It doesn't take long for him to be completely out of the business.

The business is midget racing that looks more like four wheeled speedway and the racing scenes are well shot with some of the most believable 'Hollywood star in a vehicle' shots I've seen from this era. Usually the rear projection work is painfully obvious but it isn't here. I'm guessing that isn't Gable racing one of these things but it sure looks like it in almost every shot. He's a tough guy, which is hardly surprising, but he has some other scenes that stretch the image a lot more. There's a touching vulnerable shot as he's forced to sell his midget racer and there's a joyous scene as he buys a full size racer in which he's nigh on giddy as a schoolgirl.

Stanwyck is great. My favourite scene must be the one where someone else she's blistered down into nothing is trying to threaten her and blister her back, but she concentrates instead on the shoes she's trying on. As you'd expect, given that this is 1950, her tough girl columnist persona crumbles not just whenever she's in the arms of Gable but as the film goes on, whenever she gets to watch him or talk to him or think about him. Stanwyck and Gable do this whole thing very well, partly because of their talent and partly because they'd both been doing precisely the same thing for decades, but it's impossible to watch with a precode background and not wish for other things.

Adolphe Menjou is the third and only other major name on the credits and he's completely wasted. This is a film about three things: Gable, Stanwyck and racing. Menjou, such a talented actor, gets nothing to do as Regina Forbes's producer (or some such) beyond being a minor league doomsayer whenever there's a hint of danger in the air. That's sad and it doesn't help the film. At the end of the day it's not a bad movie and it's always good to see Gable, especially when he's an ageing Gable for whom the studio was still trying to find roles.

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