Thursday, December 2, 2010

Without Reservations

Produced by RKO, “Without Reservations” (1946) is a modestly amusing comedy, passable entertainment and a pleasant time waster. I didn’t regret watching it, but it’s one I won’t be returning to anytime soon. The director is Mervyn LeRoy, hardly known for his light touch, so that doesn’t help matters either. The movie might – just might - have worked with a more age appropriate leading lady.

In this case, said lady is Claudette Colbert, a favorite of mine, but not here. She’s too matronly and experienced for the role. Lest I be accused of ageism, I just don’t think Colbert fits the role here of a hugely successful author who has a somewhat naïve view of the world and the way adults interact with each other.

Colbert plays Christopher “Kit” Madden, author of "Here is Tomorrow", a massive best seller seemingly being read by the entire population. I’m not sure what it’s about, but it appears to be a love story with heavy philosophic overtones set during World War II. Madden is on her way to Hollywood to supervise the casting of the movie version (has this EVER happened in Hollywood?) and looks to have Cary Grant and Lana Turner signed for the lead roles. Grant backs out, and the picture needs a new leading man.

Madden thinks an unknown should play the male lead (shades of the search for Scarlett O’Hara) and finds the personification of her male character in the form of Rusty Thomas (John Wayne), a Marine on leave. Rusty and his Marine buddy Dink (Don DeFore) are on the same cross country train as Kit. She’s incognito, a wise choice since Rusty makes contemptuous comments on “Here is Tomorrow” which he read while convalescing at a hospital.

Rusty thinks the characters in the book spend too much time pontificating and talking. When she tries to defend the characters, a bemused Rusty says, “He’s a man, right? And she’s a woman?” He then puts his hands in the air, as if to say, “What else needs to be explained?”

After telling the studio she has the perfect guy to play the lead, she is told by the studio not to lose him. Traveling cross country by train and automobile,, the trio have many adventures and some romantic complications before all is set right back in Hollywood.

There are a few amusing cameos on hand, including Jack Benny, Dolores Moran, Louella Parsons and yes, Cary Grant. I’ve always thought it a shame that Grant and Colbert never made a movie together, especially since they were both under contract to Paramount in the early 1930s. So it’s a real treat to see them share screen time together here, even if it is for only 10 or 15 seconds. Alas, this would be their only screen appearance together.

The film is also an interesting addition in Wayne’s career. He had some of his most interesting roles in RKO films, though not always in good films. But just look at some of the films he made under the RKO logo: the very good colonial American adventure “Alleghany Uprising” (1939); the charming romantic comedy “A Lady Takes A Chance” (1943) with Jean Arthur; the exceptional mystery western “Tall in the Saddle” (1944); and playing a wife-neglecting, egotistical engineer in “Tycoon” (1947). He had a good role in the World War II drama “Flying Leathernecks” (1951), directed by Nicholas Ray, of all people.

Also released by RKO were two of his very best films, two entries in John Ford’s cavalry trilogy, “Fort Apache” (1948) and the sublime “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.” (1949).

Of course RKO was also where he made his most notorious film “The Conqueror” (1956), with Wayne as Genghis Khan. (At least the Victor Young score for it is good).

“Without Reservations” is likely the least of these RKO offerings, but it does afford Wayne the rare opportunity to star in a light romantic comedy. He’s good too, not too surprising to those of us who have seen Wayne do comedy scenes in other movies. It’s an interesting role in his career, if one of his least physical.

But Claudette seems too worldly for the role. I never bought her as a woman who philosophizes relationships the way her character does here. While not a big enough star at the time to topline a movie, I’m thinking someone like RKO contract player Barbara Hale would have been more appropriate – young enough to genuinely believe what she writes about and one who takes a wide-eyed and impressionable view of the world.
As an added bonus, there is a nice performance by one of my favorite 1940s starlets, Dona Drake. She’s very amusing as a fiery Mexican girl who takes a shine to Rusty after the trio stops at her family’s farm.

Not so appealing is Anne Triola, as Consuela “Connie” Callaghan, an annoying and painfully unfunny train passenger. I wasn’t familiar with her at all, and based on her performance here, I won’t be seeking out other performances by her anytime soon. According to IMDB she only has five films to her credit, so I won’t be missing out on much.


Classicfilmboy said...

Great job as usual. I haven't seen "Without Reservations" in years and wasn't buying either John Wayne or Claudette Colbert, despite the crazy story. I think your assessment is more on the mark -- replace Colbert with someone else, perhaps Ann Sheridan, and it might have worked with John Wayne. I just felt it was forced.

Kevin Deany said...

Forced is a good word for this movie. But I've seen worse.

Rick29 said...

Another film review, Kevin. I don't think I've seen this movie. Claudette and the Duke definitely sound like an odd couple.

Richtdawg said...

Kevin man,

Did we watch the same movie? I see you are attacking Anne Triola's performance. You must be with that crowd that felt that Oklahoma State could match up with the Alabama Crimson Tide in the national championship college football game.

I don't think we saw the same movie in regard to 'Without Reservation.' If Anne Triola hadn't been in the film, I'd of turned the channel. She held her own in the film 'Without Reservations.' IMHO. You need to watch her dance and sing in the movie 'Lullaby Of Broadway.' She was very talented. She had skills.

About 'Without Reservations,' - I don't think we saw the same film. I really don't.

Kevin Deany said...

Hi Rich: Thanks for stopping by. I never saw "Lullaby of Broadway" and will check it out to see her again.
She just annoyed me to no end in this movie.

But then again, I like Charles Bronson movies, so what do I know?