Friday, March 09, 2007

La Cava Arcana

Here's another scene from Greg La Cava's Primrose Path, which I wrote about earlier. The thing most people remember about the film -- of the relatively few who have seen it -- is the way La Cava managed to get away with things that you wouldn't expect in a 1940 movie: portrayal of prostitution as a business like any other, a heroine (Ginger Rogers) whose mother was a prostitute and who chooses to go into that business herself (though she is of course saved from actually having to go through with it), and a sympathetic portrayal of her client (Charles Lane). Another thing about the film is its mixture of comedy and melodrama, a La Cava staple from Stage Door onward.

But the best scene in the movie is probably one of the simplest: Rogers and Joel McCrea, after they're married but before he's found out what her mother was, tease each other and wind up rolling around on the ground (while he playfully threatens to dab paint on her nose). La Cava was one of two directors of this era who preferred to work without finished scripts and encouraged his actors to improvise; Leo McCarey was the other. And like McCarey (or Jean Renoir, an admirer of McCarey), La Cava coaxed unusually natural performances out of his actors; people don't seem like they're "acting" in a La Cava picture, even usually studied and stilted performers like Katharine Hepburn. Ginger Rogers, one of the most natural and direct of Hollywood actresses, was a perfect fit with La Cava's style. Look at the way she says "It's all right with me, whatever he said" at the midpoint of the clip: whether or not she's making it up on the spot, it feels like she is making a spontaneous comment. (It also sounds like members of the crew might be laughing offscreen along with the actors who are supposed to laugh; the guy who plays the cook seems to be looking toward someone off-camera.)

1 comment:

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Speaking of Primrose Path, I spotted another "Charles-Lane-as-good-guy" appearance in a Burke's Law rerun called "Who Killed Harris Crown?" He plays a doctor who supplies Amos Burke with some information for the case on which he's working.

The episode also has an offbeat gag in which in one apartment, there's a picture on the wall of Robert Mitchum. I'm still trying to figure that one out.