30 July 2007 | dougdoepke
Gold in the Unlikeliest Places
Behind the misleadingly sappy title lies one of the decade's most positive and humorously enriching films. On the surface, the story is about the post-war housing shortage and the difficulties returning vets had in trying to start a family in old trailers, quonset huts, or whatever lodging could be slapped together. Peggy (Jeanne Crain) is a charmingly spunky newly-wed whose husband (William Holden) is in college on the GI Bill. There she meets stodgy old professor (Edmund Gwenn) and tries to talk her way into making his attic a new home for the couple and their expected baby. The trouble is Gwenn has turned his big old house into a mausoleum in tribute to his dead wife. Now he lives alone, in despair. Having completed his life's work he sees no further point in living and thus looks forward to suicide. In the process, however, he fails to factor in the life-affirming powers of youthful zest, old-age wisdom, and the wonderfully spirited Peggy.
What a fine piece of obscure film-making, from scripter-director George Seaton and the cast of three principals, though Crain is a bit much at times. The film must have cost about 50 bucks to make since nearly all the scenes are indoors, but seldom has movie-making money been better spent. Beneath the post-war plot, there's a parable about generational sharing in which each age group brings uniquely enriching benefits to those around them. Thus, Peggy brings hope, joy, and a real home to the others, while husband Holden, though sometimes wayward, brings dedication, hard work, and finally a sense of real values. And as the ivory-tower professor, Gwenn contributes from the wisdom of the ages, but also finds that true philosophical thinking lies not on the dead pages of old books, but can also be found in the unlikeliest of places-- in a launderette full of seemingly empty-headed young wives. That superbly humane scene alone is worth the 90 minutes of watching.
A movie like this could have gone off-track in so many places. The material alone might easily have slid into the sort of tear-jerking treatment that would send me running for the off-button. But never do the on-screen results descend to a sappy level. Instead Seaton and Co. maintain a consistently light and intelligent touch throughout, even during the darker passages. In fact, they accomplish one of the most difficult of all challenges inside an industry where cynicism is the norm and sneering is the response to any hint of idealism. To its great credit, the film actually makes us feel that beneath our differences, something like a harmonious human community may exist after all, as the wonderfully metaphorical last scene suggests. I expect a little project like this with its unfortunate title passed quickly into movie oblivion. However, now more than ever, Apartment for Peggy needs rediscovery. For its well-delivered message is truly trans-generational.