23 January 2004 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Veronica Lake with no bang
There are obvious reasons for naming a movie after a well-known song, but audiences will expect that song to be performed in the movie. Just occasionally, Hollywood cranked out a movie named for a song that does NOT get performed on the movie's soundtrack. One example of this is the amusing Paramount musical 'And the Angels Sing', which contains several pleasant original songs but not the hit song which supplies its title. Another such film (also from Paramount) is 'Isn't It Romantic?', which takes its title from a Rodgers and Hart song which is NOT sung in this movie. Which is fine with me, because the soupy ballad 'Isn't It Romantic?' is probably the worst song Rodgers and Hart ever wrote. I always laugh at the scene in 'The Palm Beach Story' when Rudy Vallee starts to sing 'Isn't It Romantic?' and Claudette Colbert immediately tells him to shut up.
'Isn't It Romantic?' stars Veronica Lake, one of the best examples of a movie career based on a gimmick. Lake had a whispery little-girl voice (with a pleasant Brooklyn accent) matched with a womanly face and physique in a child-sized body. But her appeal came from that distinctive peekaboo bang. During WW2 the Defence Department pressured Paramount to change Lake's hairstyle ... because female workers in defence plants were copying Lake's coiffure, and their peekaboo bangs kept getting caught in the machinery. With her beautiful long blonde hair constrained in a normal hairstyle, Veronica Lake lost her bang (in more than one sense), and her stardom swiftly evaporated. To her credit, Lake never claimed to be an actress; she knew she was just a starlet with a gimmick. Yet almost everyone who worked with Lake thought highly of her. One exception was Fredric March: during the filming of 'I Married a Witch', March and Lake openly despised each other... but this appears to have been March's fault more than hers.
'Isn't It Romantic?' takes place in the southern United States during the Gilded Age. English actor Roland Culver plays Major Euclid Cameron, a former Confederate officer, now a widower raising his three daughters in genteel poverty. Veronica Lake plays the eldest daughter, wearing her hair in an upswept bouffant that's far less attractive than her peekaboo bang. This movie is just barely a musical; the songs are so few and far between that the transitions between plot line and song are always jarring. The plot (what there is of it) concerns the consequences when the Cameron family's meagre savings are stolen by handsome scoundrel Rick Brannon (played by another English actor, Patric Knowles). Why did this movie cast two Englishmen as Southerners?
Billy De Wolfe is on hand, in his prissy mode, which I always find annoying. Somebody once told me that Billy De Wolfe was raised in Wales, but you certainly wouldn't know it from his accent in this movie. Also on hand here is Pearl Bailey, playing that annoying racial stereotype: the 'sassy' black maidservant. Bailey gives a dull rendition of a dull song called 'I Shoulda Quit When I Was Ahead'. Yeah, Pearlie Mae, ya shoulda.
'Isn't It Romantic?' is an extremely dull film. I find Veronica Lake extremely sexy in all of her peekaboo roles, but quite uninteresting without that peekaboo bang. In fact, in 'Sullivan's Travels' I found Lake very sexy right up until she tucked away her hair and disguised herself as a boy ... that's when I straight away lost interest. There's no bang, peekaboo or otherwise, in 'Isn't It Romantic?' either. I'll rate this movie one point out of 10.