The Fabulous Forties #35: That Uncertain Feeling (dir by Ernst Lubitsch)


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The 35th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was — wait a minute?  I’m on my 35th Fabulous Forties review?  Let’s see — there’s 50 films in the box set so that means that I only have 15 more of these to write and I’ll be done!  And then I can move onto the Nifty Fifties, the Sensation Sixties, the Swinging Seventies, and the Excellent Eighties!  YAY!

Anyway, where was I?

Oh yeah, the 35th film.

First released in 1941, That Uncertain Feeling is a movie about sophisticated people doing silly things.  Socialite Jill Baker (Merle Oberon) gets the hiccups whenever she gets nervous or irritated.  Her trendy friends suggest that she try the new big thing: seeing a psychoanalyst!  At first, Jill is reluctant but eventually, she gives in to the pressures of high society and she goes to visit Dr. Vengard (Alan Mowbray).  Dr. Vengard tells her that her hiccups are a result of her marriage to Larry (Melvyn Douglas) and suggests that the best way to cure them would be to get a divorce.

At first, Jill is horrified at the suggestion.  Whatever will people think if she gets a divorce!?  However, Larry is kind of a condescending jerk.  (Or, at least, he comes across as being a jerk when viewed by 2016 standards.  By 1941 standards, I imagine he’s supposed to be quite reasonable.)  And Jill happens to meet another one of Vengard’s patients, an outspoken pianist named Alexander Sebastian (Burgess Meredith).

Soon, Jill is not only contemplating getting a divorce from Larry but perhaps marrying the eccentric Sebastian as well!  When Larry realizes that Jill is dissatisfied with their marriage and that she is attracted to Sebastian, he gives her a divorce.  He even pretends to be an abusive husband so that she can file for divorce on grounds of cruelty.  (It’s funnier than it sounds.)  Jill and Sebastian get engaged but, once Larry starts to date again, Jill realizes that she’s not quite over her ex…

I was really excited when I saw that The Uncertain Feeling was an Ernst Lubitsch film.  Lubitsch directed some of my favorite Golden Age comedies, films like Ninotchka and Heaven Can Wait.  But That Uncertain Feeling is not quite up to the standard of the other Lubitsch films that I’ve seen.  As played by Burgess Meredith, Sebastian never comes across as being a realistic rival to Larry.  The character is so cartoonishly eccentric that it becomes impossible to see what Jill sees in him.  At the same time, Larry comes across as being such a chauvinist that it’s far easier to understand why Jill would divorce him than why she would ever want to take him back.  The end result is a rare Lubitsch misfire.

However, as long as we’re talking about Lubitsch, make sure to see The Smiling Lieutenant if you get the chance.  Now, that’s a good Lubitsch film…

(And be sure to follow it up with The Love Parade...)

The Fabulous Forties #11: The Strange Woman (dir Edgar G. Ulmer)


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The eleventh film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1946’s The Strange Woman.  The Strange Woman is one of those film noir/small town melodrama hybrids that seem to have been something of a cinematic mainstay in the mid to late 40s.

The Strange Woman of the title is Jenny Hager (Hedy Lamarr) and she’s not just strange because she’s got an Eastern European accent despite having grown up in Bangor, Maine.  The film opens in 1824 and we watch as tween Jenny pushes one her classmates into a river, despite the fact that he can’t swim.  At first, she seems content to let him drown.  However, once she realizes that an adult is watching, Jenny jumps into the river and saves his life.

Ten years later, Jenny has grown up to be the most beautiful woman in Maine.  However, her father is abusive and regularly whips her as punishment for being too flirtatious.  Jenny has plans, though.  She wants to marry the richest man in town, a store owner and civic leader named Isaiah Poster (Gene Lockahrt).  Isaiah also happens to be the father of Ephraim (Louis Hayward), the young woman who Jenny tried drown at the beginning of the film.

And eventually, Jenny’s dream does come true.  She marries Isaiah, even though she doesn’t love him.  She just wants his money and is frustrated when the sickly Isaiah keeps recovering from his frequent illnesses.  She starts to flirt with the weak-willed Ephraim, trying to manipulate him into killing his father.

Of course, even as she’s manipulating Ephraim, she’s also flirting with John Everd (George Sanders), despite the fact that John is already engaged to the daughter of the local judge.  Though Everd is a good and decent guy, he still finds himself tempted by Jenny.

What makes all of this interesting is that Jenny isn’t just a heartless femme fatale.  Throughout the film, there are several instances when she wants to do good but can’t overcome her essentially heartless nature.  She gives money to charity and, whenever she listens to one of the local fire-and-brimstone preachers, she finds herself tempted to give up her manipulative ways.

The Strange Woman was directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, who is probably best known for directing the ultimate indie film noir, Detour.  He was a childhood friend of Hedy Lamarr’s and she specifically asked that he direct her in The Strange Woman.  As a result, this film represents one of the few times that Ulmer was given a budget that was equal to his talents.  What makes The Strange Woman stand out from other 40s melodramas — like Guest In The House, for example — is that, even with the larger budget, Ulmer’s direction retains the same deep cynicism and dream-like intensity that distinguished his work in Detour.  The film remains sympathetic to Jenny, even as she often suffers the punishments that were demanded by the production code.

In the role of Jenny , Hedy Lamarr is a force of a nature.  She is so intense and determined that watching her as Jenny is a bit like seeing what Gone With The Wind would have been like if Scarlet O’Hara had been a total sociopath.  Even the fact that Lamarr’s accent is definitely not a Maine accent seems appropriate.  It sets Jenny apart from the boring people around her.

It reminds us that, even if she is “strange,” there is no one else like Jenny Hager.

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