Friday 11 June 2010

June Bride (1948)

Director: Bretaigne Windust
Stars: Bette Davis and Robert Montgomery

We're in the big city and the music highlights just how fast paced it all is. The only thing that doesn't seem to be a mile a minute is Carey Jackson but he's still sharp, given that he's the lead male character in a film obviously sourced from a dialogue driven play. He was a foreign correspondent for the Allied Magazine Syndicate, but big boss Carleton Towne is wielding his big axe and firing everyone. Jackson has been summoned home from Vienna because that office is no longer required but there isn't another assignment for him, only a boring women's magazine called Home Life that needs livening up. Beyond being utterly out of his line, the editor is Linda Gilman, as tough a young broad as you might expect given that she's played by Bette Davis. Towne agrees. 'She does a first class job but she beats writers' brains in,' he tells Jackson, who knows her well enough to have thought about marriage with her, only to back quickly away.

He's played by Robert Montgomery, an appropriate casting choice given the descriptions he's given. Towne calls him 'an institution' but he still throws him at his ex-flame instead of anything of substance. That ex-flame nails his personality to a tee. 'You're not really a heel,' she tells him. 'You just give that impression.' That's a good description of most of his roles over the years, at least the good ones. Davis and Montgomery also play well off each other, though they're helped by some decent dialogue, presumably courtesy of Graeme Lorimer who wrote the source play. It isn't undying classic sort of stuff but it's definitely a cut above the average, however much it shouldn't be. There are little hints of mediocrity all over the place, right down to the fact that the star writer doesn't know the difference between 'its' and 'it's'. The ending is pitiful too, just the sort of thing that continually mars the Production Code era with its atrocious convenience.

In fact after a promising, if stagebound start, the story tails off a little as we rush off to Crestville, Indiana, to cover the June wedding of nineteen year old Jeanne Brinker, even though it's winter and Indiana is liberally coated in snow. While the magazine folks are all hard bitten and cynical, the Brinkers are the epitome of small town Americana and so officially boring in the eyes of the city folks. Mr Brinker owns a hardware store on Main Street and Mrs Brinker is obviously a little fond of her home made apple pie. The most exciting things get in the Brinker household ties to the fact that Mrs Brinker has taken the pledge and Mr Brinker keeps a jug of potent apple cider hanging outside the window, without a cork in it. Fortunately there's a younger daughter, as Jeanne is a waste of space. Seventeen year old Boo, short for Barbara, may be plainer than her sister but she has far more character and she's the one who throws a wrench into the affair.
Ostensibly it revolves around the fact that Carey Jackson looks down on the whole June bride idea as nothing but a bunch of fluff, so he searches for an angle he can use to turn it into a real story. Of course there isn't one, but at one point he finds what might just work. You see, Jeanne is supposed to marry Bud Mitchell, which doesn't make her sister too happy because Boo has been stuck on Bud for years. Jeanne is only marrying him because Bud's brother Jim went into the army and doesn't come home too often. As Boo says, 'Jeanne likes attention,' and she isn't afraid to screw her sister over to get it. So she follows through on what Jackson can't do without being fired and has Jim summoned home to shake everything up. Yes, you can write the rest of the script yourself and you won't be wrong at a single turn but it unfolds pretty well, all things considered. After all it has Fay Bainter to ground everything and Betty Lynn to keep it alive.

The leads play their parts well, but while the story is really supposed to be all about them with everything else backing them up, they're just not interesting. Robert Montgomery is something of a pixie as Carey Jackson and he's great fun to watch, but he's been a better pixie elsewhere and his eye movements are overplayed far too often. Bette Davis is capable but Linda Gilman is annoying. I'm all for Miss Bette playing the career woman because she was a career woman and she was the toughest of the tough, but that just makes the ending here even more thoroughly embarrassing. Before that arrives, she breezes into the Brinkers' home and tears it apart. She removes all their awesome wooden scrollwork, paints over the wallpaper and even saws the sofa in half. She sees their house as 'a McKinley stinker' and while what she does isn't as offensive as what Fred Astaire does to Audrey Hepburn's bookstore in Funny Face, it's still offensive.

To my thinking the film gets stolen out from under both of them by a bunch of supporting actors fleshing out their little subplots. Unfortunately none of them get enough to do, except perhaps Betty Lynn who gets quite a bit of screen time as Boo, a name she was given by Bette Davis on set to distinguish between them. She's young but very capable and she'd go on to great success as Barney Fife's girlfriend on The Andy Griffith Show. Fay Bainter is Gilman's right hand woman and she simply didn't know how to give a bad performance. There should have been much more of her here. Mary Wickes plays another of Gilman's staff and she's as acerbic and blunt as ever. Of the men, only Tom Tully really stands out but he does that by being blissful background. Like the rest of the men in this picture, they all play second fiddle to the women, until the atrocious male chauvinist ending, of course. I wonder if it was written that way in the play. I hope not.

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