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Bedtime Story

The playwright and the actress.

She wants the farm in Connecticut, his next play is Bedtime Story.

She’ll settle for a stuffed shirt.

Hawks’ Twentieth Century is not entirely dissimilar.

One of the films that prefigure Ingmar Bergman.

 

 

Forever, Darling

Helen Deutsch’s screenplay seems to have taken the fall for this film’s apparent failure at the box office and with critics, not because it isn’t brilliant, witty and guffawingly funny throughout, but because A.H. Weiler of the New York Times, for example, couldn’t figure it out, “Deutsch does not make it precisely clear whether comedy, romance or fantasy is the important ingredient in this mixture.” Lucille Ball herself is supposed to have called the script “lousy” in hindsight, more or less, with a showman’s feel for the groundswell.

The script is in fact first-rate from the start, and it seems absolutely impossible to fathom Mr. Weiler’s state of confusion. It might be supposed that Arnaz and Ball could not be accepted somehow as screen performers after their success on television, but that is a vague and more mysterious explanation, verging on the “taboo” of movie islanders, than can be served up delectably for connoisseurs. The real reason is perhaps that Lucy and Desi were badly underestimated at the time, and the full dimensions of their comic genius unfolded in this film quite beyond the capacities of such as Mr. Weiler to appreciate. Unfortunately, the general public was almost perfectly seconded in its opinion by his, to all appearances, and the great flowering of their abilities from the capital vaudeville of the early I Love Lucy past the comic heights of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour went unnoticed. Fortunately, we have the film to prove it.

The marriage lulls in a variant of the gag in Citizen Kane. She has snooty friends who find it chic to have a big house and separate bedrooms. He is a scientist working on an insecticide (if it’s true that the part was written for Spencer Tracy, compare Henry King’s Marie Galante). He rebukes her friends, invites her on a worldwide test of the formula against mosquitoes in the South Seas and roaches in Puerto Rico, but she refuses. That’s when her guardian angel appears, looking like James Mason as she would wish.

Deutsch makes the gentle taming of this shrew a matter of import reflecting on the conformist daughters of King Lear. A crucial test in the wilds of Tuolumne County (in fact with Bridalveil Falls in the background) introduces the apex of the comedy in the image of a large life raft accidentally inflated by her in their tent at night. The scene ends as the raft bisects the screen at an angle slightly tilted above the horizontal, with him underneath it and her in it.

However, it may be important to note that Pickford winked at her vows in the silent Shakespeare, and it was left to Elizabeth Taylor to achieve their fulfillment with Zeffirelli (between these two films, there is also Andrew V. McLaglen’s McLintock!).

“Filmed in Hollywood by Desilu,” reads an end credit. From the first shot of the couple dancing in what might be the Tropicana, Hall plays this close to the source, which is consciously appreciated at the end. Their home is comfortably appointed in fine California style, Oriental art, modern pictures, roses in the backyard. Was there any insanity in her family? Her wealthy father says there was an aunt who was “a suffragette”, and an uncle who was “a trifle on the jolly side”, but “seeing things” was always on his, her father’s, “side of the family.”

The realization of James Mason’s presence as a further development of the guest stars on the Comedy Hour is accomplished when the couple go to the movies and see him on the screen. While her husband dozes, she imagines herself defiant and then tamed by the African hunter in the movie.

Some of the gags are all but inexpressible, and this one nearly is: vexed by her situation, she opens a book in the living room and shows the decorated page to the angel, with the text of Genesis 6:2, “the angels looked upon the daughters of men and found them fair,” to which he replies, shrugging his shoulders, “fair.”

The angel tells her a parable about a goat-faced man “with the heart of Abe Lincoln,” discreetly avoiding the contemporary description of Honest Abe as some species of gorilla, but is she losing her mind? “Nonsense,” her father tells her, “you have nerves of steel, just like your mother.”

Maybe the film’s unsuccess is explained by Monty Hall years later trying to give away money at the end of a show. “For $400,” he asks a member of the audience, “who was the first man?” The woman replies to this, “Monty, if you had $1000, I wouldn’t tell you.”

There’s a little joke that shows the depth and elegance of the writing. Referring to the couple’s maid, their snooty friend exclaims, “you can’t get along with just Amy,” and the wife rejoinders, “we get along all right with just Amy!” (“Once in love with Amy...”)