Saturday 15 September 2007

The Ambassador's Daughter (1956) Norman Krasna

'A mythical city... in the spring', reads the introduction. Well, the mythical city is Paris, and it's where Senator Cartwright has come to make it a no go area for American GIs. He believes that while they may be great soldiers on the battlefield who are willing to lay down their lives for their country, they're nothing more than an uncontrolled danger around young French ladies. He and his wife are played by old timers (for 1956, at least) Adolphe Menjou and Myrna Loy. This far along, they aren't even the leads, taking something of a back seat to Olivia de Havilland and John Forsythe.

De Havilland plays the title character, Joan Fisk, who is bored to tears with entertaining the wives of visiting dignitaries, people like Mrs Cartwright, even though she's rather good at it. While modelling at a Red Cross charity dinner, she rescues John Forsythe's character, Danny, after he blags his way in to look at the models and ends up falling for her, not having a clue that she's the ambassador's daughter. He's an American GI, of course, and due to a difference of opinion about his potential character between the Senator and a visiting US general, she takes him up on his offer of a date, and of course romance, along with a little comedy, ensues, beginning when he mistakes her for a pickpocket.

This film surprised me somewhat. It's not a great film by any means, even though the cast is impeccable. I've never really been much of a Olivia de Havilland fan, even though I've seen films of hers over thirty years, from 1935 to 1965. I've tended to see her as a perennial supporting actress, not doing that much either as she usually played characters that were often just wastes of space. Here she's a joy, bubbly and full of life but also intelligent and insightful. The more I see American films from the fifties the more that combination surprises me. There were few enough intelligent female characters in this era, outside femmes fatales in films noir at least, but the general rule seems to be that the more bubbles the less intelligence. Joan Fisk is a great character and de Havilland does her great and joyous justice. It's by far the best I've ever seen her.

John Forsythe I don't know well, but I don't tend to think of him as a young man. I never saw Dynasty, but I know he was one of the key actors in it. I saw Charlie's Angels every once in a while but of course he was just a voice in that. I guess I always saw him as an old man, and yet here he's 38 and plays the role as if he was Humphrey Bogart, and not badly either. He does a good job, not as well as his co-star but easily good enough. Menjou, Loy and others like Edward Arnold as Ambassador Fisk don't disappoint either.

The story of course is ludicrous. My granddad was a special constable in London during the Blitz and I've heard many times about how half his work was pulling bodies out of buildings and the other half was breaking up fights between American servicemen. I can't believe that their behaviour improved any over a further decade and a bit and without buying into that, there's nothing left to buy into. We just have to pretend to suspend our disbelief and roll with the comedy of errors and the romance, which isn't bad at all. Best for me was when Loy and Menjou play Forsythe ruthlessly and hilariously from both sides of their argument.

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