19 March 2004 | tjonasgreen
Amusing Depiction of Greenwich Village Life.
Sometimes it's hard to define what separates a successful, delightful comedy from one that falls flat. In this case, the contrived plot about a spoiled rich girl who schemes to take her nieces away from the Greenwich Village 'bohemian' who is raising them, only to fall for him herself, is not promising. And nothing in director Leigh Jason's filmography suggests that he was an overlooked major talent. And yet he must have been responsible for creating a relaxed, happy atmosphere on the set that was faithfully recorded on film.
He also had the good sense to cast this movie properly. The one small flaw is Miriam Hopkins in a part that Ginger Rogers would have been perfect for. Hopkins is efficient but brittle, lacking the warmth and sexiness Rogers would have had. She is further hampered by a pair of bizarrely long and sooty false eyelashes that are sometimes a distraction. But a very young and very handsome Ray Milland couldn't be better in an exuberant, uninhibited comic performance of great charm.
And better than that, particularly for New York City residents, is the Hollywood depiction of Greenwich Village in 1937. Though completely synthetic and idealized, it remains recognizable to a contemporary viewer. Art director Van Nest Polglase created an amiable jumble of mews apartments and ramshackle shared backyards that is the perfect backdrop for this picture's collection of artists, strivers, smart-alecks and wannabes. Best in the supporting cast is Guinn Williams, bringing sweetness and light to his role as a prizefighter-sculptor-dressmaker, suggesting the self-invention and fluidity (sexual and otherwise) of life in the Village. Even more refreshing are Betty Philson and Marianna Strelby playing the little girls. Plain, intelligent and full of humor, these girls seem like real human beings and are nothing like the professional child actors of the time.
Of special interest are a couple of memorable comic set-pieces: Ray Milland's vacuum cleaner demonstration to a woman with a howling baby is played with more spontaneity than one expects (the baby and his contortions are marvelous 'found' moments) and a phony domestic 'play' in a department store window that degenerates into a free-for-all is also fun. The movie slides slowly downhill with a straight-faced custody trial and then never quite gets back on track when the action moves to Long Island, but this movie is still worth a look.