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

Thursday, August 20, 2009


ONCE UPON A TIME (1944). Director: Alexander Hall.

"Despite all of its grief and turmoil, there are still beautiful things in the world."

Okay. Producer Jerry Flynn (Cary Grant), who is in danger of losing the theater he owns because of one flop after another, runs into a boy, Binky (Ted Donaldson), who has a pet caterpillar, Curly, who can dance -- but only to the strains of "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby." From that premise, you might expect that the film would be a rollicking farce, but instead it's a comedy-drama-fantasy with Grant giving his usual adept performance but he's perhaps more restrained, given the subject matter, than he should have been. Janet Blair is Binky's concerned sister, and James Gleason is Jerry's pal and colleague. Once Upon a Time wants to be a whimsical, meaningful [see quote above] fantasy, but never quite approaches that level, although it does look into adult-child relationships, keeping promises, personal accountability, with some degree of success. The best scene -- which finally reaches the level of loopiness that the premise deserves -- is when a trio of scientists inspect Curly in a laboratory, and are stunned by their findings. ["Maybe a 1000 years ago he was Salome."] The problem with Curly is that it's hard to sympathize with the creature because we never actually see him (until the end, after he's undergone an expected metamorphosis). In any case, this damned picture has an undeniably moving conclusion. Little Donaldson not only gives a terrific performance as Binky, but is right up there with Grant throughout the picture. He went on to appear in a number of "Rusty" dog films, and was also in Phone Call from a Stranger.

Verdict: At least it's different. ***.

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