Monday, June 5, 2017

Dorothy Marries Young

Claudia (1943) Brown Naughton (Dorothy McGuire) and her architect husband David (Robert Young), live on a farm outside of New York City.  Recently married, Claudia is having a hard time adapting to her new life. She can't balance a checkbook, she's convinced her husband doesn't find her attractive (when he actually adores her), and she misses her mother (Ina Claire) terribly. Unbeknownst to Claudia, Mrs. Brown is ill; Mrs. Brown has told David that she will be seeing a doctor immediately. In the meantime, Claudia is trying to convince David to sell the farm and rent an apartment in the City - nearer to her mother.

The reaction among our group to Claudia were mixed, primarily because of the title character. Let's face it, Claudia Naughton is very immature. But, that is the point - just barely 18, never really away from her mother, Claudia is a lost lamb. And David, in trying to encourage her to grow up, isn't helping all that much. He's taken a city girl, and plunked her down on a farm, pretty much alone all day (yes, there are servants, but they can't provide the emotional support she needs). David is in the city all day at work, and Claudia is trapped at home. She's having to cope with the farm, as well as run the household - and the girl has never balanced a checkbook in her life. So, if she is eager to get out of Connecticut and back to New York City, who can really blame her? What perhaps is more problematic is her inability to understand that David loves her and finds her attractive - resulting in her kissing lothario Jerry Seymour (Reginald Gardiner) in her husband's presence. That IS a bit much.
Though released in 1943, it's apparent that Claudia is set before the start of the war (the play on which the screenplay is based opened in February of 1941). The perfectly able-bodied David is not set to go into the army, and he asks Claudia if she has heard of The Depression. Claudia is a flashback to an earlier and perhaps less painful time.

Dorothy McGuire came to Hollywood and this film, her first, straight from the New York stage, where she starred in the run of this play (from February of 1941 to January of 1943; Olga Baclanova and Frank Tweddell also came over from the play).  Ms. McGuire would return to the stage several times after she she arrived in Hollywood. She was not a shoo-in for the part - Jennifer Jones, Joan Fontaine, and Katharine Hepburn were all considered.

In the years that followed this film, Ms. McGuire made some remarkable film, including The Enchanted Cottage (1945), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), The Spiral Staircase (1946), Friendly Persuasion (1956), and Gentleman's Agreement (1947) (for which she was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress). She worked fairly steadily until 1990; she would become a staple at Disney in films such as Old Yeller (1957) and (one of my favorites) Summer Magic (1963). She also made the transition to television, appearing in television films like She Waits (1972) and episodic TV such as St. Elsewhere (1986). Yet, despite this, she's really not acknowledged as one of the "greats" perhaps because, with her quiet beauty and low key performances, she literally melts into her characters.  In fact, after she died in 2001 (at the age of 85), she was NOT included in the Academy's "In Memoriam" at the 2002 Oscars! Married to photographer Tom Swope from 1943 until his death in 1979, Ms. McGuire had two children.
Robert Young is fine as David, though his lack of understanding of his very young bride does make you want to throttle him at times. Does he really need to tease her about her attractiveness when she is so obviously insecure? And bringing a teenager, with no knowledge of life outside a big city to a farm, then leaving her there all day to fend for herself seems inconsiderate. Young wasn't the only actor considered for the part: Cary Grant, Franchot Tone, and Don Ameche were all considered (AFI Catalog).

By far, the most appealing character in the piece is Ina Claire as Mrs. Brown.  Claudia's mother is very aware of her daughter's foibles, and desperately needs Claudia to grow up. Regardless, she is a loving mother AND mother-in-law. Her affection and regard for David are genuine, and his regard is mutual. The lack of backstory in the film proves to be a deficit; one wonders how Claudia and David met, and why Claudia, with such a capable mother, is such a flibbertigibbet-gibbet? But we can assume that Mrs. Brown believed Claudia would gain maturity in college and with time, and would learn to do some of the tasks in which she is now immersed a bit more gradually.
Claudia was based on a series of short stories and books about the character. There was a second movie (which we will discuss next time), a radio show, and a television series (with Joan McCracken as Claudia). While the film is not perfect, it is certainly worth a viewing, if for no other reason than to see Dorothy McGuire's screen debut. 

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