Thursday, March 24, 2016

She Wouldn’t Say Yes (1945)

She Wouldn’t Say Yes, released by Columbia in 1945, is a rather late entry in the screwball comedy genre.

Rosalind Russell is psychiatrist Dr Susan Lane who has been treating shell-shock patients at an army hospital, with a great deal of success. She is a woman who believes she is always in total control of her life. Fellow psychiatrist Colonel Brady tells her that she must have some massive inner self-doubt to explain her extraordinary strength but of course she doesn’t believe him.

Then she encounters Michael Kent (Lee Bowman). He is a soldier but he is also a cartoonist, famous for creating a character called the Nixie. The Nixie is a magical fairy-like creature who encourages people to cast off inhibitions and give in to their secret impulses. Needless to say Dr Lane does not approve of such reckless behaviour. 

Michael falls for Dr Lane right away but not only does not approve of the Nixie, she also does not approve of Michael Kent. She is therefore rather disturbed to encounter him again on the train to Chicago, and even more disturbed when in order to get her a seat in the club car he pretends they are married and that she is pregnant. Even worse is to follow when she discovers they are both booked for the same sleeping berth.

On the train she also encounters Bolivian blonde bombshell Allura (Adele Jergens). Allura has decided to kill herself by leaping from the train, having become convinced that she is responsible for the death of every man who has ever loved her. Dr Lane immediately decides that Allura is a fascinating case and persuades her to enter therapy.

Dr Lane has the brainwave of trying to set up Allura with Michael Kent. This will cure Allura of her neurosis and get Michael out of Dr Lane’s life. Of course this cunning ploy fails to work smoothly as Dr Lane had hoped and things get more complicated when her father decides to interfere - her father thinks Dr Lane should get married and he thinks Michael Kent would make an ideal husband.

The screwball comedy elements take a while to start really kicking in in this film but eventually the obligatory misunderstandings and ploys and counter-ploys do come together and the craziness levels that the genre requires are achieved.

One of the common conventions of this genre is that the two lead characters should not only be initially antagonistic they should also represent opposing views on life. In this case Dr Lane stands for logic and staying rigidly in control while Michael Kent’s approach to life is impetuous and emotional and risk-taking.

The setup is certainly ideal screwball comedy material. Rosalind Russell was the right sort of actress for this type of movie. Director Alexander Hall made several notable screwball comedies, My Sister Eileen being the best known although The Doctor Takes a Wife is just as good, so he knew his way around the genre. 

And yet the movie doesn’t quite make the grade. So what went wrong?

Part of the problem is that the screenplay (by Virginia Van Upp, John Jacoby and Sarett Tobias) lacks any real zest. It’s not enough to put the characters in potentially funny situations. To make comedy (any sort of comedy) work you have to have actual gags and lots of them. This screenplay just doesn’t have quite enough gags. 

Lee Bowman is also not quite the right leading man. He’s not particularly funny but a bigger problem is that the chemistry is not there between the two leads. You have to be able to imagine that the two protagonists in a romantic comedy might actually end up together and it’s impossible to imagine these two as a couple. The final resolution isn’t entirely convincing - it’s too much like a rabbit pulled out of a hat.

That’s not to say the movie is a total failure. After a very slow start it does pick up steam and it starts to become reasonably diverting. It’s never laugh-out-loud funny but it ends up being mildly amusing.

The supporting cast is solid enough. Adele Jergens makes a suitably outrageous blonde bombshell. One highlights is the brief appearance by Arthur Q. Bryan, an actor best remembered as the voice of Elmer Fudd in the Bugs Bunny cartoons. He not only sounds exactly like Elmer Fudd, he even looks like Elmer Fudd!

She Wouldn’t Say Yes is one of the four Columbia comedies in the Icons of Screwball Comedy, volume 1 boxed set. The transfer is fine. Since it also includes the bona fide classics If You Could Only Cook and My Sister Eileen this set is an absolute must-buy for screwball comedy fans.

She Wouldn’t Say Yes is not in the top rank of screwball comedies but it’s harmless enough and at least moderately entertaining. If you’re buying the set anyway it’s worth a look.

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