• U.S.

Cinema: The New Pictures, Sep. 1, 1947

6 minute read

Down to Earth (Columbia). In Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), a suave master of celestial ceremonies helped the soul of a dead prize fighter to inhabit the body of a surviving one, with happy results in the ring and at the movie box office. This time Mr. Jordan reaches higher for heavenly intervention, and escorts it a bit lower. The rosy shade of Terpsichore (Rita Hay-worth), outraged by a Broadway work-in-progress called Swinging the Muses, comes down to earth and gets into the act. She immediately dances herself into the lead of the show, and into a fine kettle of fish.

The show’s producer (Larry Parks) has staked his life as collateral against a gangster’s backing of the show. He plans to put on one of the most sodden of those productions whose success depends on a snarling contempt for any form of art higher than a Rockette’s hip joint. Terpsichore nags him into trying the only thing worse: really bad “Art.” Played her way, the show flops in Philadelphia. Played his way, it is a smash hit in New York. At this point Terpsichore is reluctant about returning to heaven; she has, of course, fallen for the Duffy Square Diaghilev.

The film may annoy those who do not thoroughly enjoy “swinging” everything in sight. It is also mildly dismaying to see that when the Muse of Dancing is really being herself, in her own ballet sequence, she can’t even get up on her points. Put after all, Down to Earth is a musical, and musicals are forgiven almost anything.

There are saving graces. Some of the side comedy, especially as handled by James Gleason as a Broadway agent, is very helpful. Miss Hayworth’s first dance, in a vivid sea-green dress, is a pleasure to watch. At moments it looks as if the ballet number might amount to something; and the finale—a sort of genteel Walpurgisnacht in an enormously enlarged Gramercy Park—nearly picks the heavy show up and carries it places. The picture has really attractive songs by Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher (best: Let’s Stay Young Forever and People Have More Fun Than Anyone).

Desert Fury (Hal Wallls; Paramount) is easy to take with tongue in cheek, impossible to take with a straight face. The story: Mary Astor, who runs a Western gambling joint, doesn’t want her daughter, Lizabeth Scott, to take up with Gangster John Hodiak, who is acquiring a sun tan in the neighborhood. Burt Lancaster, a state trooper, loves her, and that ought to be enough for any girl. But there is no holding Lizabeth from love’s false course until, in a frenzy of fisticuffs and old-fashioned auto-chasing, she realizes that Hodiak is a bad ‘un in dead earnest.

These intricate difficulties are presented in a leathery, smart-cracking kind of dialogue that sounds like an illegitimate great-grandchild of Ernest Hemingway’s prose. A remarkable amount of footage is devoted to the way Miss Scott walks, chews over a line like a bit of Sen-Sen before getting it out, and tools a high-powered convertible around a curve. This is, in fact, one of the most auto-maniacal movies since James Cagney’s racing classic, The Crowd Roars (1932).

At one point, Miss Scott is locked up in her room for safekeeping. Every time she is seen, pacing her cage, gnawing her heart out for Mr. Hodiak, she is modeling a different dress. This subtle device for denoting the passage of time gets pretty funny after a while. If you could be sure that it was meant to be funny, you could relax and enjoy it thoroughly. The one substantial point of reference in Desert Fury’s bewildering world is Mary Astor, who is at once attractive, amusing and vigorously convincing as the hardbitten, hard-biting mother.

Is Everybody Listening? (MARCH OF TIME; 20th Century-Fox) gives U.S. radio a once-over-lightly treatment with a sharp critical razor. The film achieves a telling effect by letting radio speak for itself—on the theory that there is enough rope lying around any broadcasting studio to hang most of the people responsible for radio. A good deal is accomplished, too, by the unemphatic statement of some familiar but appalling statistics: the suds of soap opera drown out 48% of daylight broadcasting time, and some 20 million U.S. housewives love that suds.

There are also some painfully accurate re-enactments, and a parody of singing commercials (“Consolidated sardines—America’s delight,” etc.) which could never be too broad for its model. A dullard on a quiz program racks her brains for the name of the Father of His Country. Some soap-opera actors fight out a love crisis (“We are but straws in the wind,” the unfaithful husband explains to his wife), their faces embattled in the schizoid struggle between sincerity and nausea which is one of the occupational diseases of soap-opera acting.

Radio’s predicament is bluntly described by such authorities as Inventor Lee De Forrest (“What have you done to my baby?”), and Columnist John Crosby, who declares simply that broadcasters do not own their own souls; they are mortgaged to the sponsors.

The movie leans over backward to be fair to the industry, which insists on making such an indifferent case for itself. Such debatable blessings as America’s Town Meeting of the Air and the scripting efforts of Norman Corwin are duly acknowledged, a fair proof of the old saw that in the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king. Such likable veterans as Jack Benny, Fibber & Molly, Bob Hope, Edgar Bergen and Fred Allen are respectfully saluted. The news commentators are cursorily lumped on the credit side and so is the fact that radio lavishes millions each year on programs of serious music for a relatively small audience.

It is a funny and intelligent show, and hearteningly optimistic about radio’s future, even when one remembers the sponsors and those 20 million soap-opera addicts.


Life with Father. The stage hit sumptuously done up into solid, somewhat stoutish Technicolor entertainment with William Powell as Father and Irene Dunne as Mother (TIME, Aug. 25).

The Long Night. Stertorous but exciting drama about a trapped killer and why he did it. Henry Fonda, Vincent Price, Barbara Bel Geddes, Ann Dvorak (TIME, Aug. 18).

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Variations on a theme by James Thurber, featuring Danny Kaye, some home-grown harridans, some international jewel thieves, and some elegantly kidded daydreams (TIME, Aug. 18).

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. Shirley Temple loves Cary Grant who loves Myrna Loy who thinks she loves Rudy Vallee, with fun & games for all (TIME, Aug.11).

Welcome Stranger. Drs. Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald lounge around in a nice, mild, easy comedy (TIME, Aug. n).

Crossfire. An effective melodrama about some drunken soldiers and a murdered Jew, with a notable performance by Robert Ryan (TIME, Aug. 4).

Perils of Pauline. Betty Hutton in a brassy, amusing biography of Pearl White, queen of the silent serials (TIME, July 7).

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