Friday, August 13, 2010

DVD Review: I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE (20th Century Fox, 1949)

I can just imagine what modern-day "film studies academics" have made out of this slight, yet winning, Howard Hawks comedy starring Cary Grant as a hapless French (!) officer who must pose as a "war bride" in order to circumvent the U.S. Army red tape of post-WWII Occupied Germany and, perhaps more to the point, consummate his marriage to a feisty American WAC (Ann Sheridan). Actually, I don't have to imagine -- in this case, the often-obscured "subtext" is right there on the surface for all to gawk at.

The film divides neatly -- perhaps too much so -- into two main sequences. In the first, Grant and Sheridan (say... shouldn't this be taking place during the Civil War, rather than WWII?) gradually overcome their long-standing dislike of each other while completing a faux pas-filled mission. Grant's "humiliation" begins here as he is subjected to all manner of embarrassments, some of which wouldn't be out of place in a Keystone Kops reel. Once G&S have fallen in love -- an event which, to be frank, happens a little too quickly to be completely believable, even in an era when hasty, war-fueled marriages were commonplace -- the roadblocks in front of the nuptial bed begin to pile up. These culminate in the now-notorious scene in which Grant must do a drag act in order to get aboard the Navy ship that's carrying Sheridan to America. The censors' acceptance of the somewhat risque movie in its final state probably owed a lot to the "hangover" of the somewhat more relaxed artistic standards of the war years (think of those wild "Tex" Avery wolf cartoons).

While Grant is obviously tough to buy as a French officer, I think that the movie gains a lot from the fact that Sheridan, while very attractive, isn't a bombshell, quite. Her Lt. Catherine Gates comes across as a competent, serious-minded, somewhat bossy woman of early middle age, who could certainly make her way in the world if she needed to, yet, under the surface, packs a great deal of potential passion for that "right man." Think Tale Spin's Rebecca Cunningham -- and, since I've long maintained that Tale Spin has a distinctly Hawksian flavor, I did almost immediately. The war of wills between Sheridan and Grant is not unlike the duel between Becky and Baloo, the differences being that (1) Grant ain't a lazy slob (well, except here), (2) there's an explicit promise of sex at the end of the road. (Baloo even went in drag for Becky's benefit in the episode "Feminine Air," without that tempting "carrot" in play, no less.)

The extras here aren't such a much, with the exception of some interesting silent Movietone footage showing Hawks and company shooting on location in Germany, as well as scenes from the movie's world premiere in Heidelberg. Hawks wasn't known for his willingness to attack "current issues," and there's a distinct element of creepiness lurking in those bomb-riddled backdrops -- the more so because the prostrate state of Germany at the time isn't touched on at all. Grant suffered a near-fatal illness during the shoot, and other members of the crew also had medical issues, so the lack of detailed behind-the-scenes info really hurts here.

1 comment:

Chuck Munson said...

This has been a long-time favorite of mine - partly because of the post-war German setting, a period of history that fascinates me, partly because of my appreciation of Cary Grant and Howard Hawks, and partly because of the way in which the subject is tackled in a near slapstick, almost screwball comedy style, which I'm sure, as you suggest, is the only way that this one made it past the censors. The setting *does* get mainly scant coverage, much to my disappointment. However, I'm betting that it was problematic bringing too much of that in just four years after the war.