Sunday, March 23, 2014

Between Us Girls (1942)

Director: Henry Koster                                    Writer: Myles Connolly & True Boardman
Film Score: Frank Skinner                              Cinematography: Joseph A. Valentine
Starring: Diana Barrymore, Kay Francis, Robert Cummings and John Boles

Kay Francis as the mother of a grown woman? After watching so many of her thirties films, that was not something I was prepared for. She still looks absolutely gorgeous, as well she should, considering she was only 37 at the time. But twenty minutes into the film it becomes clear that that’s the whole point. Between Us Girls is Universal’s attempt at screwball comedy, and though it’s not quite at the level of those kinds of films put out by the bigger studios it does have its charms. It has a great cast as well. In addition to Kay Francis is the young Diana Barrymore in just her third film. Robert Cummings is there as comedy relief and does a tremendous job opposite Barrymore, and the great John Boles plays the straight man who is dating Francis. Finally, the comedic Andy Devine has a brief role as Barrymore’s manager and the fantastic Ethel Griffies plays the family maid.

Diana Barrymore is introduced as an actress on the rise, playing Queen Victoria on the stage and fending off the advances of a young actor smitten with her. She’s on her way to begin rehearsing a production of Rain, but stops off for a couple of days to see her mother, Kay Francis, at the house she has purchased for her. After she discovers her mother is dating a man who doesn’t realize how old her daughter is, she becomes worried for her. So when John Boles, as the boyfriend, comes over to the house with his friend Robert Cummings, Barrymore dresses up like a little girl and puts on an act that fools them both. At first Francis is reluctant to go along with the ruse, but at Barrymore’s insistence she relents. The next day Cummings comes over to visit with the little “girl” and Barrymore lays it on thick, telling him how abused she’s been and at the same time keeping him from going on a date so she can have him for herself.

The film is enjoyable enough, but what makes me cringe is knowing that the part was written with Diana Barrymore in mind, having her put on a “performance” for the other characters in the film to prove what a great actress she was. It’s obvious they were attempting to pander to her and her family as she was the daughter of the great John Barrymore and so her role seems very forced most of the time. And there was a lot going on for the tragic Barrymore daughter around this time. Though the film premiered in September, it had undoubtedly been filmed a few months before. In May of that year her father died, and in July she married the British actor Bramwell Fletcher who had worked with her father in the film Svengali. Nevertheless, she does a decent job. The script is very clever and provides some genuine laughs in many places. Perfectly cast is Robert Cummings as the hapless love interest of Barrymore. He had just come off of filming Saboteur for Alfred Hitchcock at Universal and, prior to that, Kings Row at Warner Brothers.

Though Universal wasn’t able to compete with the bigger studios on most occasions, they did have some talented people on the roster. Director Henry Koster displays a lot of confidence here, and he went on to make some solid films after this, most notably The Bishop’s Wife and Harvey. He does a nice job with the limited, wartime budget he had to work with. The quality of the script is no surprise considering it was adapted from a popular French play, Le Fruit Vert, that had already been filmed in Italy and Germany in the early thirties. Composter Frank Skinner provides the music and the great Joseph A. Valentine is the cinematographer. Between Us Girls may have an unassuming pedigree, and stretches credulity incredibly thin in places, but overall it is a successful screwball comedy and is well worth seeking out.

No comments:

Post a Comment