Sunday, July 27, 2014

WAR CHICK FLICK: I Was a Male War Bride (1949)

                “I Was a Male War Bride”  is a Howard Hawks / Cary Grant romantic comedy released in 1949.  The exterior scenes were filmed in Heidelberg, Germany.  Terrible weather resulted in illnesses to much of the cast and crew.  Grant suffered from hepatitis and jaundice which pushed back production for three months.  He had to regain thirty pounds to finish the movie.  The movie took a total of eight months to complete.  It was worth it as the film was a box office success and ended up being Hawks’ third highest grosser after “Sergeant York” and “Red River”.  It is actually based on a biography by Grant’s character, but I would assume it is highly fictionalized.

A woman in pants on a motorcycle!
                The movie is set in post-WWII Germany.  Grant plays a French soldier named Henri Rochard.  He is paired with the very feisty Lt. Catherine Gates (Anne Sheridan).  She's a WAC.  They had been paired before on missions to locate stolen art treasures.  Working together has not led to fondness and in fact they dislike each other immensely.  Imagine that.  Their banter is vicious even for the 1940s.  He calls her a “bubblemouth” and she calls him a “blistering idiot”.  This being the good ole days before feminism, Henri threatens that he is “going to kick [her] bowlegged".  She is bossy and he is mean.  They have what the movie calls “sex antagonism”.  Do you think they will get together before the end of the movie?

Spoiler alert:  they get together
                Their route to matrimony begins with a feverish motorcycle with a sidecar adventure with Catherine donning slacks to drive.  Sheridan did some of the stunts which included the accidental demise of a goose.  As in all romantic comedies of this time period, they end up in the same hotel room and misunderstandings ensue to postpone the inevitable coupling.  Oh, and they are supposed to be on a mission to bring in a valuable lens maker who is now a black marketeer.  They find him and love.  Their first kiss is in a hay stack.  Three weddings later (don’t ask), we get to see Anne Sheridan in a night gown.  She fills it nicely.  They would have lived happily ever after except that Catherine gets orders back to the States and would you believe the law covering military spouses assumed they would be females?  So here comes the big payoff for sitting through this long snooze fest – the sight of Cary Grant in drag!  Go back in a time machine so you can get a thrill out of this.

Trust me, this is actually Cary Grant
                Cary Grant enjoyed making this movie and is quoted as saying it was the best comedy he had done up till then.  Sure!  And “The Green Berets” was John Wayne’s best war movie.  The movie is terrible no matter what Grant said in his hepatitis induced delirium.  It feels like it is lasting longer than the war when it is actually only 105 minutes.  Parts are redundant and all of it is predictable (except the stunning sight of Grant in drag).  The movie gets worse as it goes along.  Just when you think it can’t get any more tedious, it does.  The acting is average.  Sheridan is game and holds her own, but Grant appears to be going through the motions and does not even attempt a French accent.  I did not find they had much chemistry.  The biggest problem is the movie is just not that funny.  I smiled a few times, but never laughed out loud.  Apparently audiences howled at the sight of Cary as a female.  And they guffawed over Milton Berle in a dress back then, too.  Different times.  Back when war brides were topical I suppose the movie was humorous.  However, if you want to see a WWII comedy that holds up, watch “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek”.


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