Thursday, April 17, 2014

Film of the Week: One Touch of Venus, 1948

"I'm not a murderer--this time."
Ava Gardner and Robert Walker
Whenever I see Robert Walker in something, I immediately expect whatever character he’s playing to turn out to be a murderous little weirdo. This isn’t really fair, I suppose. But, in a way, it’s a compliment. Walker’s star turn as the psychotic Bruno Antony in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 merry-go-round thrillerStrangers on a Train was just that convincing and smartly played. However, if you look closely at Walker’s body of work (which was all too short because of his untimely death at the age of 32), you’ll see he didn’t make a career of playing lunatics, but rather, was more often cast as the charming bumbler. And, so he was in 1948 with the fantasy/comedy/almost-musical One Touch of Venus.

Directed by William A. Seiter for Universal in 1948, the film is based on the Broadway musical of the same name. The original stage version featured a book written by S. J. Perelman and poet Ogden Nash, with music composed by the wonderful Kurt Weill with lyrics by Nash. While the film borrows the play’s story and theme, most of Weill’s music has been cut out of the show and largely replaced with dialogue.  One of the songs that remains, "Speak Low," with lyrics by Nash, remains a sentimental favorite.

The film stars Walker as Eddie Hatch, a young window dresser at an upscale department store owned by a pompous, wealthy cad played by brother-of-wife-beater-George-Sanders, Tom Conway, who looks and sounds so much like his more-famous sibling that it’s rather startling. The owner of the store, Whitfield, has just purchased an ancient and valuable statue of Venus for his art gallery, much to the amusement of his secretary, the droll and dry Molly, played by Eve Arden. Eddie finds himself summoned by Whitfield and happily allows his clingy girlfriend, Gloria, and his roommate to go off to dinner. Alone with the statue as he tries to prepare her display, Eddie sneaks a sip from Whitfield’s drink, and, slightly intoxicated and drawn to the sculpture’s beauty, he kisses her. This, of course, is enough to bring the statue to life and she takes the form of Ava Gardner, as statues often do.

If it sounds rather familiar (window dresser + animated inanimate object = awkward situations and hilarity), that’s because the film was the inspiration for the 1987 weirdness, Mannequin.

All in all, it’s a fun film, a light fantasy which offers no stress. To borrow a phrase from Mystery Science Theater 3000, when watching it, “you should say to yourself it’s just a show, and really just relax.” And, that’s what it does, relaxes you. So, if you want a nice fun family movie with Robert Walker not killing people in an amusement park, this is a good choice. 

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