Thursday, April 14, 2016

OVP: Skylark (1941)

Film: Skylark (1941)
Stars: Claudette Colbert, Ray Milland, Brian Aherne, Binnie Barnes, Walter Abel
Director: Mark Sandrich
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Sound Recording)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 1/5 stars

Does anyone else spend most of Claudette Colbert's movies trying to see the right side of her face?  The Oscar-winner famously hated a bump on the right side of her face, and as a result she almost always was filmed and photographed from her left side-can you imagine a star doing that today (aside from Streisand)?  Ahh, old Hollywood-such glamour amid ridiculousness.  These are the sorts of things you have to keep in mind while watching a film like Skylark, which functions very much like your typical marital squabble, has boundless sexism that occasionally veers into the "really?" even for a film in 1941, and genuinely would fall apart were it not for the sheer durability of its always watchable leading woman.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film is about Lydia (Colbert) and Tony (Milland), a married couple who are celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary and already the romance seems to have died out.  Tony is a typical ad executive, preoccupied with money and climbing the corporate ladder, and like every 1940's husband has his assistant buy presents for his wife, which of course gets him into a Rob Petrie-style comic moment early on in the film when Lydia catches him in a lie.  The film follows as Tony sacrifices Lydia's favorite cook by giving her to the wife of a client (again-very dated), and then Lydia runs off with a charming divorce lawyer (nothing happens, of course), who happens to be having an affair with the rich client's wife as well, which causes her to become jealous.  Lydia is convinced that she should leave Tony, but he lies and says he's quitting his job, and then Lydia catches him in the lie (accidentally getting him fired), and runs off to Reno to get divorced, along with the Lothario (Aherne).  The film, of course, ends with Lydia remembering why she loved Tony in the first place and they end up reunited (in Havana-even more dated...or very, very modern) before the end credits roll.

The film's problems are plentiful, and not just because the plot, even throughout, feels incredibly thin.  Honestly this is the sort of story that a television sitcom would have been able to handle in a half hour, but Mark Sandrich stretches it for ninety minutes, and like the TV sitcom, this story feels dated and a little sexist.  We never really see any of Lydia's concerns about Tony addressed.  After all, he never really learns proper work/life balance, and while he clearly "respects" her in the sense that he loves her, that wasn't what she wanted as much as she wanted him to realize that she was supposed to be a priority.  The fact that they come together during a moment of duress, rather than while Lydia has soundly reasoned that he makes more sense than her lawyer boyfriend (who is, for the record, a cad but one who clearly wants her to be truly happy), makes me think that they both went back to the same patterns once the film stopped projecting.  Lydia is portrayed as silly for wanting such a thing as being a priority and not just something that a piece of jewelry can be thrown at, and as a result the film doesn't age well from a feminist perspective.

The film received a bizarre nomination for Best Sound Mixing, which even for the Academy in this era (when they tended to nominate a buffet of films in several tech categories to keep all the studios happy), one assumes that Paramount could have come up with a better option to campaign (maybe they were just trying to keep highly bankable Colbert happy?).  Either way, the film has nothing notable about its sound design, nor particularly subtle.  The storm sequence at the end might justify the nomination, but honestly I felt like that was over in two minutes and even then had been done in dozens of movies previously.  The rest of the film there is diddily squat.  It'd be like Oscar now nominating a random romantic-comedy from Katherine Heigl for Best Sound-what exactly is going on there?  Considering the film is pretty paltry aside from the general joy of seeing Colbert onscreen (she has timing, that one), I really could have done without the nomination and therefore its mandated inclusion in the OVP.

Those are my thoughts on this dated, kind of dreck-y movie.  Anyone want to disagree with me who has seen it?  If not, maybe weigh in on Colbert (or Ray Milland) in the comments or perhaps on bizarre Oscar nominations that make no sense in hindsight!

No comments: