5 January 2009 | Igenlode Wordsmith
Warm-hearted comedy con
"Rings on Her Fingers" is a thoroughly charming picture that takes a kaleidoscope of elements from films of the era -- the shop-girl Cinderella, bathing suit poses on the beach, the rich man's yacht, the poolside party, mistaken identity, love on the breadline, evasion in a crowded terminus, the casino, the gangster -- and mixes them all up in a hectic, hilarious, but instinctively good-natured plot. As a romance, it's very funny without ever needing to resort to the anarchic destruction of many 'screwball' affairs; as a comedy, it laughs at its characters with loving affection rather than glee and discomfiture.
In the best of farces, absurd events unfold with a seemingly inevitable logic. It must be admitted that in this picture, the plot occasionally skates past short-term expedients that just have to be taken for granted -- but the ensuing situations are milked to such good effect that it's easy to turn a blind eye. The film is rich in set-pieces both verbal and visual, with a host of lively minor characters to accompany the note-perfect performances of the principals.
Laird Cregar excels as usual in the role of the resonant, urbane Warren (performing with impressive agility in his swimming-pool scene), while Spring Byington is here the best I have seen her, the actress submerging her trademark mannerisms in an actual character. Gene Tierney is sweet, smart, funny and distinctly shapely as the girl who pulls off the perfect con and then learns what she has really done. Henry Fonda -- for my money, both more credible and more sympathetic here than in "The Lady Eve" -- plays a mathematical dreamer with a passion for sailing and the sea, while some eye-catching yachts of the era star in the background, apparently shot on location!
The film starts off light and gradually gains in intensity and emotional weight as it goes along, with frequent upwellings of laughter to season some very genuine feeling. The two lovers are charming together, from a very Freudian first scene (in which the camera settles on Linda's trim contours as a somewhat dislocated John tries to describe the lines of his yacht) to the final escape, Perhaps the highlight is the taxicab sequence in which our hero, intoxicated with excitement, is convinced he has devised a 'system' to beat the roulette wheel, while Linda and the audience, in on the secret, find him both hilarious and adorable at the same time.
Like all good comedies, "Rings on Her Fingers" laughs at our human frailties, but it does so with a gentle touch. It shares with "Some Like It Hot" an essential innocence and sweetness at the root of its effervescent humour, and scarcely sets a foot wrong in the process. I enjoyed this little-known, little-rated picture very much indeed.