Wednesday, April 13, 2016

OVP: Vacation from Marriage (1946)

Film: Vacation from Marriage (1946)
Stars: Robert Donat, Deborah Kerr, Glynis Johns, Ann Todd, Roland Culver
Director: Alexander Korda
Oscar History: 1 nomination/1 win (Best Original Story)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

I'm going to be honest here, the idea of a film starring Robert Donat and Deborah Kerr was not what I was hoping to catch as I plowed through a few recent Oscar-nominated pictures that were languishing around my DVR.  I love Deborah Kerr in her own way, but mostly when she's falling in love with Cary Grant while drinking pink champagne.  Her films in the 1940's (Note: I've never seen Black Narcissus) have never been something I've gravitated toward, and in some ways I feel a little bit like she's too stoic and occasionally even entering Rosalind Russell (when she, too, is not starring opposite Cary Grant) territory with her performance.  This was unfortunately the case for Vacation from Marriage, a film that admittedly has an interesting script but never really seals-the-deal in terms of crossing over into being a compelling motion picture.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film follows a drab and uninspired married couple Robert (Donat) and Cathy (Kerr) who are living a dull and relatively pointless existence in London in 1940.  Their lives dramatically alter, however, when they are both brought into the war effort, Robert in the Royal Navy and Cathy in the Wrens.  Once in the Navy, their zeal for life is renewed, and both become self-confident, charming people (you know, the kind that only movie stars can become somehow overnight).  They also both fall in love with other people, (Culver and Todd), but out of duty they stay together, even though both, now transformed, dread the idea of ending up with the sallow creature they think is waiting for them once the war is over.

Of course, they end up meeting and finding that they are both more gregarious and lively, but Cathy learns the truth of Robert's initial ill opinion of her, and she initially abandons him before finally relenting and getting back together.  It's the sort of ending you assumed was bound to happen, though the script itself occasionally hints that there might be something more interesting there.  After all, the film shows the way that war can transform, something that we see frequently in single men but rarely in women which was a nice change, and we also get to look at marriage in a way that we don't usually do so in classic Hollywood (marriage is usually the ending, never the beginning, of the story).  The best scenes of the film are late in the picture when it feels like Cathy and Robert won't end up together, and perhaps they shouldn't.  Hollywood would never allow for such a thing for a married couple (or, more importantly, two bankable stars), but clearly they stifled each other initially when they were together and likely only married out of convenience-it's not out-of-the-question to assume that they should stay split in order to keep their self-esteem in check.

However, they do end up married, and neither performer is wonderful in their actual role.  Donat, an actor who was a major headliner at the time (though this was his final film for MGM, and weirdly Kerr's first), is fine as a boorish and predictable naval officer, and Kerr goes through the motions of first being dowdy (which never looks good on the glamorous actress-the makeup department always goes overboard trying to dampen her natural beauty), and then a coy but loyal wife.  Arguably the best presence in the film is scene-stealing veteran Glynis Johns, who during the 1940's randomly showed up in a myriad of films before eventually becoming "Sister Suffragette" and sending in the clowns.  She's a blast as Kerr's instantly lovable friend, and I loved her constant scheming in the picture.  However, that's not much to recommend the film and even Johns has been better in other movies.  All-in-all, it can best be described as a botched delivery that likely worked on paper.

Those are my thoughts on this film-how about yours?  Anyone a fan of the film (also called Perfect Strangers)?  Where does it rank in your personal list of favorite films starring Donat or Kerr or Johns?  And what is your favorite Classical Hollywood film on marriage?  Share your thoughts below!

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