Friday, June 7, 2013

Kay Edits a Book

At its best, screwball comedy is a wonderful thing.  It is a manic, charming, delightful walk into the wacky world of a person who lives very much in an alternate universe.  The Feminine Touch (1941) does NOT fall into this category.  The film features Rosalind Russell as Julie Hathaway, the wife of  Prof. John Hathaway (Don Ameche), a college professor who despises jealousy as a worthless emotion, and who has decided to ditch his university job and write a book on the subject.  Enter Nellie Woods (Kay Francis), the editor for publisher Elliott Morgan (Van Heflin).  Elliott's not very involved in his business - Nellie does all the work in the publishing house, as her boss is too busy pursuing the high life and women.  Unfortunately, Nellie is also in love with Elliott, and sees this book as an opportunity to force Elliott into paying some attention to her.  Elliott, of course, is much more interested in wooing Julie.  Julie's problem is that while she is not the least bit interested in Van, she is dismayed that John doesn't care that another man is trying to seduce her.

While the film has some amusing moments, primarily it is just annoying.  We're presented with a number of characters who are just, quite frankly, stupid.  Nellie is the only one with any brains.  And Elliott, besides being an idiot, is a pest.  You spend most of the movie wanting to smack him.  It is amazing how long it takes him to realize that Julie is not  interested in anyone but her husband.  Plus, Heflin, usually such a disciplined actor, here is hugely overacting. He spends much of the movie distorting his face, to no real purpose. 

Russell and Ameche are similarly annoying.  She is overacting; he is just being smug.  Worse still, there is NO chemistry between the two of them.  Perhaps that's why this is their only film together.  Though, given that both are excellent actors when given a decent script, one would have liked to have seen them together in a more sympathetic venue.  With the writing talent (George Oppenheimer and Ogden Nash, specifically) and the producer (Joseph L. Mankiewicz) of the film also people's who work we admire, we were surprised that the script wasn't sharper. As it is, it just seems to go on forever.  Even the final scene seems gratuitous.

We did enjoy, as New Yorkers all, the scenes of New York City, specifically the depiction of the subways.  (We remember the old rattan seats and the overhead straps, which gave NYers the name "straphangers".  Actually, one of us - the short one - misses those straps!).  In spite of everything,  Kay Francis is really quite good.  As always, she gets great clothing - her hats, especially, are something to be seen.  We suspected the costumers wanted to look a bit avant garde and daring - they do succeed.  Her character, as we said, is the only one with a brain - she is running the company, and we suspect, will continue to run it.  Ms. Francis is the breath of fresh air in the middle of chaos.

We should note that, according to this article from TCM, The Feminine Touch was actually quite well received when it was released, so you may want to judge for yourself whether it is a hit or a miss.  To get you started, here is a trailer: