Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ronald Loves Caroline

We return to the films of Ronald Colman with the romantic comedy, My Life with Caroline (1941).  Caroline Bliss Mason (Anna Lee) is very much a woman who, when she is not near the man she loves, loves the man she is near (with apologies to E.Y. Harburg).  So, while she is on a trip to an Idaho ski lodge with her father (Charles Winninger), she announces that she has discovered her "true love" in Paco Del Valle (Gilbert Roland), a South American millionaire.  Mr. Bliss, being no fool, cables Caroline's husband, publisher Anthony Mason (Ronald Colman), who immediately flies to meet his straying spouse in Idaho.  Anthony been through this before - and as he waits to clear up Caroline's latest mess, he recalls the last time she found her "true love", and her relationship with artist Paul Martindale (Reginald Gardiner).

Told in flashback, the film is primarily the story of Paul and Caroline and Anthony, as Caroline holds her lover off temporarily while she attempts to tell her husband that she loves another.  Perhaps Caroline's one saving grace as a character is that it doesn't appear that she has cheated on her husband in the physical sense (though there is obviously an awful lot of cheating going on in her head). Normally, I wouldn't just refer immediately to a film review, but upon reading New York Times review. we were all struck by how on the mark it is:
"Things have come to a pretty pass, certainly, when Ronald Colman, that old debonair dog, has to work to hold onto his lady as laboriously as he does in RKO's My Life With Caroline. . . And such an unimportant fluff the lady is, too—such an obvious nincompoop! Time was when Mr. Colman wouldn't have given her a "how'dya do," let alone make himself silly for an hour and a quarter chasing after her. Well, that only leads to this conclusion: either Mr. Colman is slipping or his writers are".
Nincompoop is the perfect word for Caroline, and it is hard to envision why any man would put up with her nonsense.  And WHY would one want to give up Ronald Colman for Reginald Gardiner, who is probably one of the prissiest human beings in film? 

We can't really blame Ronald Colman, except for picking the film, as he is good as Anthony, with just the right amount of humor and tolerance for the part.  Though not entirely a comedy, his talents in the arena were better served in Talk of the Town later that same year.  That, far more than this, demonstrated his light touch.  Here, he seems miscast; a better script would have helped.  As discussed in this TCM article, Colman is just too sophisticated and too mature to be interested in such a flibbertigibbet as Caroline.  Regardless, it was a film Colman and director Lewis Milestone very much wanted to do.

Which brings us to Anna Lee.  Though listed in the credits as being introduced to film, Ms. Lee had actually already appeared in 10 films (beginning her film career in 1932), though the roles were either minor or supporting parts.  Later that same year, she would return to a second lead status, but this time in a film that would better utilize her talents - How Green Was My Valley, in which she played Bronwyn, the bride of oldest Morgan son.  Lee, who was born Joan Boniface Winnifrith in Kent, England, had a long and successful career, segueing almost seamlessly from film to television, and ending her career playing Lila Quartermaine, first on the soap opera Port Charles, then playing the same character on General Hospital (performing from a wheelchair after an automobile accident paralyzed her from the waist down).  She died in 2004, aged 91, the year after her a new production staff at General Hospital refused to renew her contract.
Which brings us to Reginald Gardiner - we wondered if, unlike Paco, Paul was under the delusion that Caroline was wealthy (or would get some kind of alimony from her husband.  Fat chance, since she is this close to cheating on Anthony).  We know from her father that any money that Caroline has is from her quite generous husband.  It's rather hard to like Paul, and Gardiner, who really is a rather stuffy actor, doesn't make it any easier.  In a sense, he is playing the same part he played in Christmas in Connecticut.  He wasn't all that likable there either. 

Both Eva Gabor and Miriam Hopkins were considered for Caroline (see this article from the AFI Catalog); after Anna Lee was cast, she also received a long-term contract.  The film, written by Milestone as Palm Beach Limited and based on a French farce, was the first outing for Colman's production company with Milestone and William Hawks, United Producers Corp.  
While this isn't a film we would recommend, it has some interesting moments.  And it does have Ronald Colman.  We'll leave you with this scene from the beginning of the film.