• U.S.

The New Pictures, Oct. 31, 1949

5 minute read

Beyond the Forest (Warner) is a lumbering, joyless freight train that tries to carry a load of Bette Davis and Dreiserian tragedy to female moviegoers. The sudsy plot takes place around a huge incinerator that lights up a sawmill town in Wisconsin; the flaming fires symbolize Bette’s tendency to be eaten up by her own passions and strongly suggest that she is living in, and bound for a special hell of her own making.

As the bored, adulterous wife of the town’s only doctor (Joseph Gotten), Bette longs to escape to the luxurious life she feels sure she can find in Chicago. After murder, lechery, and a long series of nasty cracks at her husband, she finally does escape, but it’s too late. Sick with fever from an abortion, she gets within two yards of the Chicago-bound train before falling dead on the pavement.

A bit heavier than usual and walking on treacherously tall heels, Bette sidles, sulks and storms her way through an undiluted study of bitchery. Some comic relief is provided by Dona Drake as an Indian servant whose lubricous hips, stringy hair, and slovenly ways make her an inspired pint-sized satire of the heroine. Any movie directed by King Vidor is likely to be persistently serious. Bette and her doctor husband are carefully and solidly placed in their small-town environment, but then, unfortunately, they are moved through it like dead wood and the environment itself is finally killed by a postcard realism. Only occasionally does the movie get across the atmosphere of emptiness and boredom that finally drives the highstrung heroine to a bad end.

Father Was a Fullback (20th Century-Fox) is a talky, lightweight movie which ribs Fred MacMurray’s errors as a father and his losses as a big-time football coach. Though his team’s far-flung schedule (Purdue, Santa Clara, Virginia, Nebraska, Tulane) should keep Coach MacMurray on the road or the gridiron all season, he is seldom seen anywhere but in his chintzy home. His friendly wife (Maureen O’Hara), two exasperating bobby-sox daughters and the maid cheer him up with such inspired pleasantries as, “I see you got home safe again.”

Starting with a good idea for a football movie—a deadpan reversal of glamorized gridiron cinema—Fullback neatly swivel-hips around its fodtball theme. The gridiron action is confined to some dizzy newsreel clips of the nation’s topflight teams (the white uniforms always represent MacMurray’s State U.). Most of MacMurray’s acting is done in the same post-game position—flat on his back on a living-room sofa. The plot: continual disturbance of the comfortable position by family crises and by solicitous alumni (notably Rudy Vallee) who want to suggest ways to break his team’s bad habit of losing games.

The movie’s biggest asset is MacMurray’s humorous but carefully realistic performance. Despite the lack of action, there are some good, fast wisecracks provided by four veteran scripters (Mary Loos, Richard Sale, Aleen Leslie, Casey Robinson). There are also a couple of penetrating scenes involving an apologetically puzzled MacMurray and his reproachful adolescent daughter (Betty Lynn). Fullback is a pretty amusing satire humanized by a well-cast high-school quarterback (Richard Tyler), a wonderful sourpuss maid (Thelma Ritter), and a homey neighbor (James G. Backus).

Passport to Pimllco (Rank; Eagle Lion) offers a one-way ticket to some of the most hilarious screen fun to come out of Great Britain since the war. With the postwar explosion of a buried wartime bomb, the people of Pimlico—a section of London—discover they are no longer British subjects. According to an ancient royal charter which is unearthed in the shell hole, Pimlico, in the 18th Century, was ceded in perpetuity to the dukes of Burgundy.

Quick to exploit their “independence,” the Pimlico-Burgundians tear up their ration books, hold merry and illegal wassail in their pubs, and establish a free market for British exports. In a swivet of precedent and protocol, the British government sets up customs and immigration barriers, cuts off Burgundy’s water and electricity and evacuates its children. The bloodless battle once joined, the beleaguered aliens show themselves “just British enough to fight for our right to be Burgundians.”

At kidding the British, no one equals the British themselves. Without showing the slightest sign of strain, Pimlico milks its story dry of every last drop of comedy, satire and propaganda. It holds no cow sacred, no cause immune. Among its targets: the crises of the hot & cold wars (there is a madcap Bundles for Burgundy campaign and an equally funny Burgundy Airlift), the flatulence of the British press, the stuffiness of bureaucracy. Outstanding in a brilliant cast: Stanley Holloway and Hermione Baddeley as two stouthearted Pimlican shopkeepers, Margaret Rutherford as an addlepated history scholar, Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne as the Home and Foreign Office officials who are required to handle a political hot potato.

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