4 October 2020 | mbhur
The charm of Priscilla Lane keeps predictable comedy afloat
I love Priscilla Lane, who was great at light comedy but could also play characters with real depth when given the chance. (Check her out in "Blues in the Night"). Her role here is not very demanding, and I could see it being played by many of the other talented movie comediennes of the era. Anne Sheridan was apparently considered, and I could also see Ginger Rogers in the part, but I can't imagine anyone would've played it with more charm and gusto than Priscilla.
May Robson is also great, as always, but the one sour note for me in the movie (no pun intended) is the performance of Ronald Reagan as Priscilla's aspiring composer boyfriend. Ronnie could be a good light comedy leading man, but somehow I just can't buy him as a struggling, tormented artiste. Even worse, he's an entitled, arrogant jerk. I get that he's frustrated playing piano in a "spaghetti restaurant" and not Carnegie Hall, but why does he take it out on Priscilla, who does nothing but give him love and encouragement? His behavior towards her is bullying and borderline abusive, and she must have some serious self-worth issues to put up with him. Sorry if it sounds like I'm looking at a 1941 movie through a 2020 lens, but there were other movies of the period in which women didn't act like such door mats. Maybe it's the way he was directed, but Ronnie needed to bring a lighter touch to his scenes with Priscilla in order for us to understand what she sees in him. (I could see Jimmy Stewart being very good in this role.)
As a movie made during the tail end of the Depression it has that frequent Hollywood theme that money can't buy happiness, and so we see Priscilla having to give away her new found fortune in order to find true love. It's also a favorite Hollywood trope of the time that a real man would never let himself be supported by a wealthy wife. (I doubt that was ever true. Certainly a pianist who wants to spend his time composing symphonies would be happy to have a wealthy benefactress). The business of Priscilla giving her money away gets a bit silly, and the scenes are not directed with the skill of a Capra or Preston Sturges. By the time the movie comes to its anticipated "happy ending" I was sad to say goodbye to Priscilla but feeling a bit exhausted by the whole thing. ("Happy ending" is in quotation marks, because if this were reality, Priscilla would discover she's married a perpetual malcontent, who considers himself too good to play in a restaurant, too good to play in a swing band, and whose symphony got booed, showing that he really isn't anywhere near as talented as he imagines himself.)
As a side note, as a native New Yorker I can tell you that even in 1941 the provided Greenwich Village address of the boarding house was in a pretty nice neighborhood, and not a slum as depicted. Now, in 2020, it's smack in the middle of the richest zip code in America.