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

Thursday, May 14, 2015


LIVING IN A BIG WAY (1947). Director: Gregory La Cava.

Leo Gogarty (Gene Kelly) got married to Margo (Maria McDonald) just before he shipped out, but the two never really got to know one another. Now Leo's back with her wealthy family, but she and everyone else feel the rushed marriage was a mistake, and Leo begins to agree. Things begin to change when Margo's peppery Granny (Jean Adair) takes her shuttered old manor house and turns it into apartments for homeless veterans and their families, with both Margo and Leo pitching in. Will these two kids finally realize they really are in love with each other?

It's funny, but for some reason I can't quite explain I've never cared for Gene Kelly. He's not bad-looking, has a fair to middling voice, is an okay actor, and an excellent dancer, but there's just something about him that I've never liked -- perhaps he lacks the genial amiability of a Fred Astaire, coming off more like a prick. This, admittedly, is just a reaction to something in his screen image, as he generally plays good guys. In one scene Kelly tells war widow Peggy (Phyllis Thaxter) that she ought to forget about staying where she met her late husband and go home to her family in the small town where she was born, but Kelly's matter-of-fact delivery of the lines only makes him seem like a rather tactless and unfeeling bastard; Thaxter is excellent, however. As for the rest of the players, Adair is wonderful (even if sometimes Granny's pithy comments are semi-moronic, consisting of badly dated epithets passing for wisdom); Charles Winninger and Spring Byington both score as Margo's parents; that cute little child actor Jimmy Hunt [Pitfall] is as delightful as ever as Thaxter's son; Paul Harvey [Henry Aldrich Plays Cupid] makes a memorably funny judge in a sequence in divorce court; and acerbic Clinton Sundberg makes his mark as the dyspeptic and opinionated butler, Everett, whom anyone but Winninger would have fired. Leading lady McDonald [Guest in the House] is attractive and competent but there's nothing special about her. Living in a Big Way boasts some excellent dancing from Kelly, and some good and amusing moments, but it never develops into anything all that terrific.

As for Kelly, according to "he was voted the 42nd greatest movie star of all time by Entertainment Weekly [not that I take EW all that seriously] and named the fifteenth greatest actor on The 50 Greatest Screen Legends list by the American Film Institute." The question is why? Kelly was admittedly a great dancer, but a great actor, no! He must have been quite popular in his day, but number fifteen! To each his own.

Verdict: Pleasant if forgettable. **1/2.


Gary R. said...

An ex-model and showgirl, Marie McDonald was given the Hollywood nickname "The Body," which probably hurt her movie career more than helped it.

William said...

You may be right about that! Thanks for the info.

angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - isn't that funny, the Gene Kelly vs. Fred Astaire debate is really a matter of best friend adores Astaire's debonair manner and way with a song, while I prefer Kelly's whiskey tenor and athletic dancing style...both are legends!

Need to check out this film; had never even heard of it. Must have skipped past this entry when absorbing the book The MGM Story as a child...


William said...

Well, maybe someday Kelly will grow on me, who knows? I've always liked Astaire.

There were so many, many movies made that there are probably scores of "forgotten" pictures that might have been successful in their day but didn't stick in the public's mind or simply disappeared until resuscitated on DVD or Warner Archives.