Monday, June 17, 2013

Mill Creek comedy classics #12: "Lost Honeymoon" (1947)

In Lost Honeymoon, Franchot Tone has his hands full... even though they're empty in this picture.

The flick: Lost Honeymoon (Eagle-Lion Films release of a Samba Pictures, Inc. production, 1947)

Current IMDb rating: 5.8

Director: Leigh Jason (The Mad Miss Manton, Wise Girl)

Actors of note: Franchot Tone (Mutiny on the Bounty, a really disturbing Twilight Zone episode), Ann Richards (Sorry, Wrong Number, Random Harvest), Tom Conway (Cat People, Mrs. Miniver, voices in 101 Dalmatians and Peter Pan), Frances Rafferty (Abbott and Costello in Hollywood), Una O'Connor (The Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Adventures of Robin Hood, much more)

The gist of it: John Gray (Tone), a dashing New York architect and former GI, is about to marry his boss' daughter (Rafftery) when he gets a shocking telegram: his wife and twin children are on their way from England! Gray didn't even know he had a wife, but he admits it's a possibility because he suffered a bout of amnesia during his wartime service. What John doesn't know is that his war bride, Tillie, is dead and the woman claiming to be "Mrs. John Gray" is actually Tillie's friend, the lovely and charming Amy Atkins (Richards).

Lost Honeymoon's Tom Conway and Una O'Connor
My take: A romantic comedy has an uphill battle ahead of it when it starts with the news that an abandoned war bride has died of the grippe, leaving two orphaned children behind. That's an awfully dark beginning, and try as it may to be lighthearted and whimsical, Lost Honeymoon never quite overcomes that gloomy setup. Plus, I think a lot of men in the audience will see this as a nightmare scenario: poor John has two kids to care for, and he doesn't even remember the fun he must have had conceiving them! Plus, since Amy isn't really his wife, she won't share his bed. (This is a major sticking point from John's perspective.)

What this movie has going for it are snappy direction, a fairly clever script, and two quite good performances by Francot Tone as the beleaguered John and the ever-so-droll Tom Conway as John's doctor and best friend, Bob. Clarence Kolb (who was in Hellzapoppin' with our pals, Olsen and Johnson) is also entertaining as the apoplectic, sputtering Mr. Evans, while Frances Rafferty gets some laughs out of her thankless role as John's spoiled brat fiancee, Lois Evans.

Unfortunately, a lot of the film hinges on the fact that John finds Amy and the twins irresistible, and I just didn't buy it. Ann Richards, an Australian actress playing a Brit here, is pretty enough but rather cold and dull. Her kids, meanwhile, reminded me a lot of Daisy the Dog in Hollywood and Vine. It's obvious that they're being coached and reciting lines by rote memorization. Frankly, the spoiled rich girl seems like more fun.

The John/Lois relationship in this movie reminded me of two incontrovertible laws I've learned from romcoms: (1) If the hero is engaged to a wealthy girl with a powerful father at the beginning of the movie, there's no way he'll marry her. (2) If the hero leans in to kiss his girlfriend on the lips, and she offers her cheek instead, that relationship is doomed.

Elsewhere in the cast, Una O'Connor -- instantly familiar to film buffs from her many roles (often as maids) in classic films -- gives an uncharacteristically restrained performance as Mrs. Tubbs, Tillie and Amy's slightly boozy landlady. Una isn't shrieking like a human fire alarm in Lost Honeymoon, which for her is remarkable, and she's involved in the film's rather clever opening shot, which starts with the London skyline at night (probably rear projection of stock footage) then pulls back to reveal Mrs. Tubbs staring wistfully out the window. It's not exactly the "Odessa Steps" sequence from Battleship Potemkin, but it's the closest thing to "fancy" film making I've seen in any of these movies.

Is it funny: I'd say it's more amusing than funny for the most part, but it does provoke some dry chuckles along the way. Tone plays his role in a wry, slightly detached manner, as if he's watching all of these catastrophic events happen to someone else. He could have really overplayed John Gray's desperation and panic as the architect's troubles mount, but he keeps himself in check to the movie's benefit.

Like I said, Lost Honeymoon has a tough time overcoming the dead war bride at the center of the plot, but there are some nice little comedic sketches along the way, as when John and Bob -- both very drunk -- pretend to be back fighting World War II and crawl across the floor of a hotel bar in a pitiful gambit to sneak past Amy. In addition to playing "drunk," Franchot Tone also gets to play "crazy" for a few scenes in which he playfully taunts a distinctly unamused policeman.

My grade: B

P.S. - No embarrassing racial stereotypes here, folks.

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