Saturday, May 23, 2015

Has Anybody Seen My Gal (1952)

Has Anybody Seen My Gal is a frothy musical set in the 20s that is not quite what one expects from director Douglas Sirk. It is however utterly delightful.

Samuel Fulton (Charles Coburn) is fabulously rich but he’s by no means a young man. In fact he’s reached the age where he’s starting to think about where his money is going to go when he shuffles off this mortal coil. He has no family whatsoever. So he decides to leave all his money to the Blaisdell family in the sleepy little town of Hilverton. And what is his connection to the Blaisdell family? Many years earlier he had proposed marriage to a charming young lady named Millicent and she’d turned him down. As a result of her refusal he’d left Hilverton and set out to make his fortune in the world. With spectacular success. If Millicent had accepted him he’d have spent his whole life in Hilverton and he’d still be making $35 a week. So he has Millicent to thank for his success.

Millicent is no longer alive so he decides to leave his fortune to her descendants. Millicent’s daughter Harriet (Lynn Bari) is married to Charles Blaisdell (Larry Gates) who runs the drug store in Hilverton. They have a son, Howard (William Reynolds), and two daughters, Millicent (Piper Laurie) and eleven-year-old Roberta (Gigi Perreau). Fulton’s lawyer doesn’t care who the old man leaves his fortune to but he does make a suggestion - why doesn’t Fulton go to Hilverton to find out what the family is really like? Fulton is a chronic hypochondriac who is constantly convinced he’s at death’s door but surprisingly he jumps at the idea.

Fulton pretends to be an eccentric painter named John Smith and by means of various subterfuges manages to persuade the Blaisdells to take him in as a lodger. They of course have no idea that he’s a rich man. Fulton/Smith now sets out to find out if the Blaisdells deserve his money. 

Harriet Blaisdell always wanted to be rich. She secretly (or actually not so secretly) despises her husband as a failure. Harriet dreams of marrying off Millicent to Carl Pennock (Skip Homeier), simply because the Pennocks are the richest family in town. Millicent really wants to marry Dan Stebbins but since Dan is a mere assistant in the Blaisdell drug store Harriet is determined to sabotage their plans and persuade Millicent to marry the rich but obnoxious Carl.

Sam Fulton/John Smith gets himself a job as a soda jerk in the drug store. Then he puts his plan into operation. He sends the Blaisdells a cheque, anonymously, for $100,000. Suddenly the Blaisdells are even richer than the Pennocks. For Harriet it is a dream come true. She forces her husband to give up the drug store, she insists they move to the biggest house in town and she sets out to live the lifestyle of the fabulously rich. This makes Harriet happy and everyone else miserable. And Millicent still wants to marry the poor but honest and hard-working Dan. 

The Blaisdells soon discover that being rich isn’t as easy as they’d thought. This might superficially be a movie with the message that money doesn’t buy happiness but it’s a bit more subtle than that. Samuel Fulton is rich and he thoroughly enjoys it. Being rich is fine but you have to decide what you really want. If you know what you want then being rich isn’t absolutely necessary. The movie is certainly not arguing that it’s wonderful to be poor - it’s important to remember that the Blaisdells never were poor. Charles Blaisdell had a modest but fairly successful business, they had a comfortable house. They already had enough money, they just didn’t realise that it was enough. Dan isn’t a pauper - he’s a young man with reasonable prospects. He’ll never be a millionaire but he’ll do OK. If you’re a modest success don’t make yourself miserable wishing you were fabulously successful. The Blaisdell family can have happiness if only they can learn that money is only part of the answer. 

Charles Coburn was one of those wonderful character actors who helped to make the golden age of Hollywood golden. This movie gives him a rare chance to play a starring role. And make no mistake, Coburn is the star here. He makes the most of his opportunity. Samuel Fulton is a terrific character - he’s eccentric but warm-hearted, in fact he’s the millionaire with the heart of gold. Coburn makes him endearing but without getting overly sentimental about it. Lynn Bari is marvelous as Harriet, a woman blinded by her obsession with wealth and status. She’s not evil, just deluded, but she sure does a lot of harm. 

Piper Laurie has great fun playing the good-natured flapper Millicent. Gigi Perreau manages the difficult feat of being a non-irritating and genuinely likeable child star. Rock Hudson is the surprise here - it’s not quite the sort of role you expect for him. Dan is a generally sympathetic character but he’s inclined to be irritable and prickly and he’s certainly bitter about the prospect of losing his girl to the rich but feckless Carl. Hudson doesn’t do too badly. We might occasionally be annoyed by Dan but we can see he’s basically pretty decent.

If you really want to you can try to find typical Sirk themes in this movie but you’d be missing the point. This is a light-hearted bubbly romantic musical with the emphasis very much on comedy. Luckily, it really is funny. In fact it works perfectly. There are fewer musical numbers than you expect in a musical and there are no big production numbers. The music is however light and frothy and pretty enjoyable.

This movie’s biggest strength though is that it looks fabulous. This was a Universal picture and Universal in the 50s seemed to have the knack of making Technicolor pictures look even more sumptuous than usual. The 1920s fashions, and the cars and the sets, all are superb. This movie is quite simply gorgeous.

Has Anybody Seen My Gal has been released as part of the five-movie Region 1 Rock Hudson Screen Legend Collection DVD set. It’s also been released individually and as part of a Douglas Sirk boxed set. My copy is the Region 4 standalone DVD, which looks pretty good. This is a movie that really needs to be released on Blu-Ray.

This is a bright and breezy and generally optimistic movie, and it’s funny. It’s quite content to offer stylish old-fashioned feel-good entertainment. Not a typical Sirk movie but if you accept it on its own terms it’s a delightful concoction. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

  1. Similar story telling device as Coburn's The Devil and Miss Jones. Also worthwhile.