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

Thursday, September 6, 2018


Van Johnson and Liz Taylor
THE BIG HANGOVER (1950). Written, produced and directed by Norman Krasna.

David Muldon (Van Johnson) had a strange experience in the war that left him so "allergic" to alcohol that he can get tipsy just with a sip of it. The sensible thing to do would be to tell everyone of the situation without going into details, so that he wouldn't feel required to drink a toast, for instance, and act silly. Instead his boss's daughter, Mary (Elizabeth Taylor), decides to try to help him overcome the problem. You would think from its title that The Big Hangover is a riotous tale with frequent scenes of an "inebriated" David making a comical fool of himself, and while there are such scenes in the movie, that's not really what the picture is about. David has gotten a job with a prestigious law firm because he is an honor student and valedictorian. In a touching and well-played sequence, he demonstrates the speech he'll give on graduation day to Mary, telling of his best buddy, who dreamt of being a lawyer, but who died in his arms overseas during combat. He is determined to follow in his footsteps. When a Chinese-American doctor (Philip Ahn) is locked out of his apartment with his pregnant wife by a racist manager, David assumes his law firm will side with the doctor, who is not a "Chinaman" but an American born in the U.S. But David learns that the law isn't always on the side of what's right. While one can't necessarily say that this ranks with the best of Frank Capra as a thoughtful comedy-drama, it is still an entertaining and worthwhile picture that has more on its mind than at first glance. Van Johnson gives another excellent performance, maintaining the perfect balance between humor and seriousness, handling every sequence with aplomb. Elizabeth Taylor, who is no comedienne, at first seems miscast, but once you settle into the true tone of the picture, she is very warm, winning, and adept. As for the supporting cast, we've got Percy Waram and Fay Holden as Mary's parents; Leon Ames [The Velvet Touch] as a public attorney who is outmaneuvered by high-priced lawyers and Rosemary DeCamp as his wife; Edgar Buchanan and Selena Royle [The Damned Don't Cry] as Davis's amusing aunt and uncle; and Gene Lockhart [A Scandal in Paris] as a senior partner in the firm who does his best to get David drunk at a swanky gathering (a scene that will make you want to reach into the TV set and give Lockhart a major bitch slap!). The supporting performances are all wonderful, with Leon Ames having a fine, underplayed moment when he admits to his mediocrity during the aforementioned dinner, and Philip Ahn is as dignified and effective as ever as Dr. Lee. If I have one quibble I wish that they film hadn't tacked on an unconvincing happy ending to the love story. One simply can not see La Liz happy with a husband who isn't wealthy and successful, and who tells him she admires him but doesn't want someone who's so noble. Still, it hardly ruins the movie. If Percy Waram is unfamiliar to most viewers, it's because he was primarily a British stage actor and had very few credits in pictures.

Verdict: A lost gem of a movie. ***1/2. 


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - I have read about this one but have never seen it—maybe because the Van Johnson-Elizabeth Taylor pairing on Last Time I Saw Paris was such a disappointment for me— but now on your recommendation I really must.

William said...

You will hopefully enjoy this much more than "Paris."

Silver Screenings said...

I've not heard of this before, but if I had, I probably would've shied away from it. I'm another one who wasn't enamoured of the Elizabeth Taylor-Van Johnson pairing in "The Last Time I saw Paris", but I think I'd like this one much better. Thanks for putting it on my radar!

William said...

Yes, overall I think "Hangover" is a better and more successful film than "Last Time I Saw Paris." Of course this is all so subjective -- if you watch this flick, you and Chris may hate it, LOL! Anyway, thanks for your comments!