2 August 2011 | secondtake
Brimming with potential, but a dull script and lifeless leads drag it down, and down
The Girl from Manhattan (1948)
I feel like an ogre saying this is a goodie-goodie movie, and that is just a bore. It isn't bad deep down, not in any one way, and it moves along reasonably, the acting fine if unexciting, the filming solid if routine. But none of it is exceptional, even the leading role played by the title character, the super model of 1947 (in the movie): Dorothy Lamour. Charles Laughton as the bishop is impeccable but he's purely secondary.
What holds it back most is just the story, about some people who are misfits and yet lovable in their quirks, and who are facing eviction from their old boarding house. The local church, of all things, wants the land where they live and a local real estate bad guy is orchestrating the eviction. All of this has shades of two Frank Capra movies, "It's a Wonderful Life" (with the community pulling together to save a good, selfless man and his house) and the rather zany "You Can't Take It with You" (with a nutty family all living together being nutty and oblivious to the real world). But the writing here is neither impassioned enough, nor funny enough, nor just plain original and warm enough to rise above. It trods along dutifully.
The main character beside Lamour is a man who seems to have the poise and good looks to take command of his leading role but he is just lifeless on screen, and that's George Montgomery. I don't think even Jimmy Stewart (who was in both the Capra movies, by coincidence) could have lifted up this whole affair, but you can picture a much more moving and convincing and entertaining movie with him in Montgomery's place.
Of course, we know whose side we are on. The story of these good people being threatened by greed makes you root for them against the church meanies (shades of "The Bishop's Wife" also appears in this aspect). But I had to keep consciously trying to get involved, which isn't how a movie should work. I wanted to like it. Even the dramatic turning point toward the end is dull as old bread, in the writing and the delivery. The director, Alfred E. Green, is known for quantity over quality, and is really a 1930s director, which might say something about his approach in filming as well as subject matter. Though he helped Bette Davis launch her career in 1935, by 1948 he was at the end of his career in films. It's nothing much, enjoyable if you are open to something sweet and plain.