Saturday, September 14, 2013
I Was A Male War Bride - dir. Howard Hawks. 1949. Museum of the Moving Image.
French army captain Cary Grant falls in love with American army lieutenant Ann Sheridan after some tiresome battle-of-the-sexes antics and then moves to America with her under a law providing for the immigration of war brides. Half-hearted cross-dressing and repetitive "But you're not a lady!" jokes ensue.
As bad as it sounds. Intended to capitalize on the success of Bringing Up Baby by repeating the same formula but with a less charismatic actress and a script that was merely shitty as supposed to sublimely unbearable. (I don't think I've ever seen a more exasperating film than Bringing Up Baby. It is right up there with Godard's Maoist films in terms of being a finely tuned anti-enjoyment machine.) There was not even the possible pleasure of Cary Grant playing a Frenchmen--he just sort of plays stiff and boring, with no accent and no attempt at national caricature.
Hawks is not without artistry, even in something as dull as this. The film often looks very good, and there is humor that is so formalistic it is almost hard to describe. For example, two times in the film, Cary Grant is accidentally lifted up into the air by very banal machines operated by hand cranks. The first machine that lifts Grant into the air is a moveable road barrier in front of a train track, and we don't just see him get lifted up all at once like we might in a cartoon, but instead glimpse it in flashes through the spaces between the passing train cars. The second machine that lifts Grant into the air is a retractable awning which he happens to be standing on top of because... it doesn't matter. The point is, what a weird joke to repeat.
Some of the film was shot on location in Heidelberg, Germany. The program notes said that Hollywood royalty were eager to shoot in Europe after the war after having been confined to California for the past decade. Plus, a conquered nation makes for a cheap film shoot. The same sort of bombed-out ruins that serve in Rossellini or Resnais as scars of a civilizational trauma here serve as the backdrop for frivolous and unfunny romantic comedy. It's obscene.