Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


WIFE, HUSBAND AND FRIEND (1939). Director: Gregory Ratoff.
EVERYBODY DOES IT (1949). Director: Edmund Goulding.

Ten years apart, these two movies used the exact same characters and script (with minor differences.) Nunnally Johnson adapted a novel by James M. Cain (one hopes it wasn't Serenade, which has to do with opera but has a completely different plot -- it was bowdlerized enough in the official film version with Mario Lanza.)

In both versions Leonard Borland is dismayed to learn that his wife Doris wants to take up singing again, because he doesn't think she's terribly good. His opinion is confirmed by a professional soprano, Cecil Carver, who takes a shine to him, and discovers that he actually has a magnificent baritone voice. So Leonard winds up with a singing career while his wife winds up booed at movie theaters. And worse things happen.

I saw the 1949 remake first, which may give it an edge in my mind, but I think in all fairness that it's the better of the two versions. Mainly it has to do with the cast. Loretta Young is fine in the original, but Celeste Holm really sparkles and has an added bite in the remake. Warner Baxter is not at all bad as the first Leonard, but he has an elegance that makes him seem at home in a classical environment whereas Paul Douglas seems more convincingly ill-at-ease in a monkey suit. Helen Westley and George Barbier are certainly amusing as Doris' parents in the first version, but Lucile Watson and especially Charles Coburn are hilarious in the remake. Although adequate, Binnie Barnes, in my opinion, makes little impression as the diva in version one but Linda Darnell makes a big impression in the remake. The final sequence in the opera house is longer and funner in version two. The same is true of the sequence in which Doris confronts Leonard after finding out he has had a whole singing career behind her back. In the remake Doris practically tries to murder him!

Neither picture is necessarily a huge Laugh Riot a la Night at the Opera, but the story is consistently amusing and cute. Although it may have been necessary to provide some conflict, the anti-music (at least anti-classical/operatic music) tone is a little off-putting, although Coburn's distressed reactions to singing are very funny.

Verdict: Wife, Husband and Friend -- **1/2.
Everybody Does it -- ***.

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