16 March 2008 | mpasko
Never Mind the Rat, This Thing's The Cheese
If Garson Kanin's stage version were successful enough to earn a movie treatment by producers Perlberg and Seaton, whose adaptation of Clifford Odets's "The Country Girl" is famously exquisite, one can only assume that the play was more honest and less preposterously disingenuous than this laughable adaptation.
Written by Kanin himself, who must have swallowed a fair amount of bile at the bowdlerizing mandated by the Hollywood Production Code, the film addresses its central question, which appears to be whether "dance hall girl" Debbie Reynolds (!) is or isn't a prostitute, with pages and pages of jaw-droppingly elliptical dialogue that bears no resemblance to human speech -- lines on the order of, "I'd never think you'd...you know..." and "How could you think I'm the kind of girl you think I am?" Those are not necessarily exact quotes, but you get the idea.
The film is sunk by other equally bizarre choices at every turn, including not only the female lead's spectacular miscasting but her co-star's as well. Presenting Tony Curtis as a Midwestern naif being conned by heartless Manhattanites produces such howlingly funny utterances as "And on my foist day in New Yawk!" '30s Paramount comedy star Jack Oakie and Kay Medford, Dick Van Dyke's mother in the stage version of "Bye, Bye, Birdie," comprise a kind of greasy-spoon Greek chorus, a bartender and his only barfly, Reynolds's landlady, whom we first meet sitting at the bar drinking orange soda! In this Times Square saloon which, like many other sets in the film, reveals the art director's painful fascination with red walls, there is more mugging going on than in Central Park.
But all of this is topped by the grotesquely overwrought, bug-eyed and nostril-flaring performance of Don Rickles, who quickly demonstrates why he found his true calling in standup rather than film acting. You're better off reading the play, but only reading it, because no impresario has the bad taste to mount a revival of it any more.