Thursday, December 31, 2015

OVP: A Guy Named Joe (1943)

Film: A Guy Named Joe (1943)
Stars: Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne, Van Johnson, Ward Bond, James Gleason, Lionel Barrymore, Esther Williams
Director: Victor Fleming
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Original Story)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

Sometimes a film is more about the backstory, at least a classic one is, for me.  While A Guy Named Joe made it onto my viewing docket mostly because it was nominated for an Academy Award, my familiarity with it was not in regard to it randomly losing a trophy to Going My Way, but instead due to some of the behind-the-scenes tension that it elicited, particularly the famed car accident involving Van Johnson that caused a delay in the film's production (a delay which helped launch Van Johnson's career as he was a newbie at the time and the studio wanted to replace him-when Spencer Tracy said no, Johnson got to keep the part and became a headliner as a result of this film) and the famed feud between Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne (who adamantly disliked each other).  The actual film itself isn't nearly as interesting as the stories behind it, in fact, though it does keep an air of mystery that's rare in a romantic drama over what direction the ending will head.

(Spoilers Ahead) I think what made me dislike the film is that the movie is predicated in large part on who "owns" Irene Dunne's heart, and while this is true of a lot of romantic triangles (in fact, it's the basis of all of them), I really didn't like Tracy or Johnson's characters, and that's crucial to the plot of the film as you're meant to like them both.  Johnson's ace pilot is a little too green to believably fall for the more world-weary Dunne, a woman who has already had her heart broken and is clearly much older than Johnson (she was actually 18 years his senior in real life, and it shows in the way that she practically looks like his mother onscreen).  Tracy's Pete is a much better match, age-wise (he was two years younger than Dunne, for the record), but his personality and the way that he's meant to be a type of guardian angel and yet hasn't gained much perspective (frequently sabotaging Dunne's Dorinda in her quest to get over him and find happiness) is off-putting.  The film's focus would more smartly be on him trying to convince her to move on, but the fact that the basis of the movie is on him ruining her relationship with Johnson's Ted made me like him a lot less.

Still, there are occasionally scenes that make it worth the wait for this picture (particularly the climactic scene where Dunne herself is forced to go up into the cockpit and flies the plane), but they're few-and-far between and at two hours it pushes its luck, patience wise, by a solid thirty minutes.  I wish they would have pursued a little bit more the odd conundrum of the movie, particularly since Pete exists in heaven, and perhaps that should be his end goal-to get Dorinda to stay with him in spirit until they can meet up for the eternity.  This feels like A) a solid question for a movie of that time and B) actually a genuinely interesting idea for a movie in general, as I don't know that I've seen it and kind of wish Golden Age Hollywood would have done it as it would be relegated to a Christian-only studio somewhere at this rate.  As it stands now, the movie is pretty dull, and I find it odd that it made it into the writing category for the Oscar nomination and not something like sound (considering the persistent airplanes overhead) as its story is only interesting in a two-sentence description and not in actual execution.

Those are all of my thoughts on the film (it's pretty straight-forward, and not even the three movie star leads add much in terms of great panache), but hopefully you can spur some conversation in the comments.  Have you seen A Guy Named Joe, and if so weigh in on the love triangle, the behind-the-scenes drama, and whether or not this deserved an Oscar nomination.  And if not, at least let's hear about a favorite performance you have of Tracy, Dunne, or Johnson!

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