Wednesday, April 15, 2009

RINGS ON HER FINGERS: "Ye Gods, Have You Ever Seen Anything So Corny?"

Here's a movie on YouTube that hasn't been seen on TCM as far as I know (I guess the Fox Movie Channel might have shown it, but I don't get the FMC): the 1941 comedy Rings On Her Fingers, starring Gene Tierney, Henry Fonda and and Laird Cregar, directed by Rouben Mamoulian. Shame about the embedded subtitles, but until there's a DVD, it's the only way to see it.

Tierney, a good-hearted but covetous working girl, is taken under the wing of a team of middle-aged con artists, and used as bait for a gullible young man played by Fonda. But she falls in love with him, and... no, this isn't The Lady Eve, it's a Lady Eve knockoff rushed out by Fox, Fonda's home studio, after they'd seen what he could do in comedy for their rival Paramount.

Actually, the plot as it develops has its own identity (halfway between Lady Eve and one of those Fox musicals about reluctant gold-diggers), and The Lady Eve isn't one of my favorite Sturges movies anyway, but I can't claim that the writing in this movie is very strong. The good side of it is that it gives Tierney one of the strongest parts she ever got. (Leave Her To Heaven and this one were probably her two best parts, but at least in this one she doesn't disappear in the last half-hour of the movie.) It's a bigger part than usual, for one thing, and she gets to play a character with more dimension than usual. She was always beautiful, but she rarely got to be earthy or resourceful, or openly use her legendary looks to assert power over a man.

This scene kind of sums up the writing weaknesses and performance strengths of the movie: Henry Fonda, talking on the phone while looking at Tierney in a bathing suit, makes a series of corny unintentional double-entendres and even cornier Freudian slips ("how about her ankles... uh, anchors"). But it's Tierney, so I'm not sure that the writing is even an issue; nobody can concentrate any more than Fonda's character can.

Mamoulian, who had been one of the most legendary innovators in American film in the '30s, was no longer much of an innovator (the medium had caught up to him), and Andrew Sarris's description of him seems accurate: "The innovator who runs out of innovations." At this point he was a good film director -- his last two films for Fox were The Mark of Zorro and Blood and Sand -- but not really anything very special or easy to distinguish from the "house style" of whatever studio he was working for. He did better on stage, where there was still room to innovate: he directed Oklahoma! and Carousel and more or less changed everyone's conception of what a musical could be.


nd said...

Not a fan of The Lady Eve? Ye gods! That deserves a post in itself.....

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Joel Schlosberg said...

This movie's shown up on Hulu.

Unknown said...

Great little gem. Gene Tierney is great in this comedy. When Tierney was on Broadway she was known for comedy.
The other two comedies Tierney does a great job in are That Wonderful Urge (1947) and The Mating Season (1951).