Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Barbara Marries a Radical

Following their dynamic introduction in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Van Heflin and Barbara Stanwyck reunite in B.F.'s Daughter (1948).  When Polly Fulton (Barbara Stanwyck), the daughter of wealthy industrialist  Barton F. Fulton (Charles Coburn) meets Thomas W. Brett (Van Heflin) in a speakeasy, the sparks fly.  Polly is almost engaged to Robert S. Tasmin, III (Richard Hart), an up-and-coming young lawyer who refuses to consider marriage until he has a stable income.  Tom Brett is an economist, who is earning extra cash by lecturing, and who's books have decried B.F.'s capitalist methods.  Despite this, the two fall in love and marry.  But once Tom starts to become successful, his relationship with Polly - and with her beloved father - begins to deteriorate.

While not the best Barbara Stanwyck movie ever made, this is an interesting and well acted film.  Based on the novel by John P. Marquand (the author of H.M. Pulham, Esquire and the creator of Mr. Moto), the story centers on the relationship between Polly and Tom, and less on that of Polly and B.F., as the title implies.  (This TCM article points out that the novel was much more of a political satire than the movie could ever include).  The film establishes immediately the loving relationship between father and daughter; the tensions between B.F. and Tom are more fodder for the problems of the newlyweds than an issue for B.F. and Polly.
When you have an actress as strong as Stanwyck in the part (according to this AFI catalog entry, Katharine Hepburn was also considered for Polly), some things become much easier.  Polly's need for something to keep her involved in her husband's life radiates from Stanwyck.  When Tom no longer needs her to help manage his career, she throws her passion into creating a home worthy for him (or one that SHE sees as worthy of him!).  As the war starts, a brief glimpse of Polly in a uniform immediately telegraphs her involvement in the home front efforts.  Stanwyck makes Polly a woman of action, rather than a passive onlooker.

Polly's finances become a recurring issue throughout the film.  Bob won't wed her because he will not live off her money (actually, B.F.'s money).  Thought Tom initially says that her money makes no difference to him - B.F. can continue to supply her with an allowance, since Tom doesn't want Polly to feel she cannot live the life to which she is accustomed - Tom reneges once he a success.  The house she builds - with her money - becomes symbolic of what he sees as his dependence on her.  A lovely desk, with a typewriter that mechanically hides under the surface becomes an irritant that Tom can't get past.  Helfin's Tom is a bit of a disappointment, though it isn't Heflin's fault.  He often seems petulant and inconstant.  He demands that Polly need him, but when she does, he just isn't available.  As a result, the character is more annoying than appealing.
The character that was perhaps the most puzzling was Martin Delwyn Ainsley (Keenan Wynn), a reporter who never seems to get much of anything right.  We learn of him almost immediately, when B.F. listens to Ainsley criticizing B.F. for ostensibly bringing on the Great Depression (the film opens in 1932) .  Polly meets Ainsley through Tom - of course, they are friends - and Ainsley is complicit in Polly's campaign to secretly get Tom a lucrative lecture tour.  Though Polly has worked with Ainsley and welcomed  him to her home, Ainsley betrays her confidence, and further fractures her already fragile marriage.  Late in the film, a series of radio broadcasts show Ainsley's ineptitude as a commentator - his grand predictions continually prove to be wrong; Tom also says that Ainsley never gets anything right.  If that is the case, is Tom wrong as well, since he has always held Ainsley in such high regard?  It gives one pause.
We were all very impressed with the wonderful Margaret Lindsay as Polly's best friend, "Apples" Sandler.  "Apples" (she has no real first name) is a loyal friend, a loving wife, and a smart, practical human being.  She hasn't a mean or jealous bone in her body, and Lindsay plays her as a stalwart.  Her love for Bob is true and deep, though she has an awareness of his regard for her.  Ultimately, she is the one with the stable marriage, because she accepts Bob for who he is.  A wonderful actress, who worked steadily in the 1930s and 1940s, Lindsay is probably best remembered as Henry Fonda's Northern bride in Jezebel (1938).  She also appeared as Kay Francis' gambler-daughter in The House on 56th Street (1933) and as Olivia de Havilland's nasty aunt in Gold is Where You Find It (1938).  By the 1950s, Lindsay was finding film work harder to come by, so she segwayed into episodic television.  Never married, she had a partner, actress Mary McCarty.  Lindsay died in 1981, aged 70.
Repeating her role as Stanwyck's mother is Spring Byington (Gladys Fulton), again playing (as she had in Meet John Doe) a gentle soul the total opposite of her assertive daughter.  We get a brief glimpse of Marshall Thompson as a young sailor, and Barbara Laage (who would later appear in The Happy Road with Gene Kelly) is Eugenia Taris.

This New York Times review was not enamored of the film, and we did think that the ending felt abrupt and hastily slapped together.  That being said, it's a good movie, with some excellent acting, and definitely worth seeing.  We'll leave you with an early scene, with the Fulton family: