Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Evelyn Prentice (1934, William K. Howard)

Evelyn Prentice only runs eighty minutes, but it goes on forever. At seventeen minutes alone, it’s getting tiring. The big problem is the lack of thoughtful approach. It’s constantly revealing big twists, twists to shock the audience, but they just end up detracting from the film’s possibilities. Because Evelyn Prentice is not a deep study of floundering marriages or endless guilt. It’s an adultery melodrama, down to the frequent fade-outs to punctuate “affecting” scenes. It’s not even an interesting adultery melodrama–there’s a whole courtroom angle the film never shows, just because it’s withholding information the scenes would reveal. Information the film’s principles, reading newspapers, would know (but somehow do not).

It’s a frustrating film too, because of Myrna Loy and William Powell. It’s one of their least successful pairings, because Powell’s playing toward their standard (after a first act diversion) and Loy is not. She’s in a different film completely. Powell’s in one where Edward Brophy pops in for comic relief, Loy’s in one where she’s ready to collapse from internal struggle. But the script doesn’t know how to tell that story (Prentice is 1934 MGM, not a lot of subtlety) and it’s too bad, since director Howard probably would have done better with that approach than the melodrama one. He’s got one great shot at the end, makes up for the frequent panning and generally lackluster direction.

Both Loy and Powell have some good moments, but since they’re in these genre-defined, rote roles, it’s really the supporting cast who have the best roles. Well, the best roles for actors, not necessarily the best written (the script treats the entire supporting cast as superfluous). Una Merkel’s role, for instance, is to give Myrna Loy someone to have scenes with. Merkel does a fine job in the thankless role, but at least she gets to be in the whole picture. Henry Wadsworth has a lot of fun at the beginning as Merkel’s constantly intoxicated romantic interest. Then he disappears, once Powell returns to the film.

The stuff with Loy and Powell and their kid, played by Cora Sue Collins, is actually pretty darn good, though the scenes still have that disconnect–Loy and Powell aren’t acting in the same film.

Rosalind Russell pops in for a minute too–even though she’s pretty bad, had her character stayed in the film, it would have really helped things out.

At eighty minutes, Evelyn Prentice is an abbreviated but still monotonous melodrama. None of the acting really makes it worth seeing (Loy’s been just as good in similar roles in good movies and Powell’s not doing anything special) and that one shot at the end is too paltry a reward. Had the film run much longer–around two hours–and been a big melodrama, it would have been better. The same problems would probably still be there, but maybe the added minutes who make it more compelling. As it runs, there’s just not enough going on to make it watchable.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by William K. Howard; screenplay by Lenore J. Coffee, based on the novel by W.E. Woodward; director of photography, Charles G. Clarke; edited by Frank E. Hull; music by R.H. Bassett; produced by John W. Considine Jr.; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (John Prentice), Myrna Loy (Evelyn Prentice), Una Merkel (Amy Drexel), Rosalind Russell (Mrs. Nancy Harrison), Isabel Jewell (Judith Wilson), Harvey Stephens (Lawrence Kennard), Edward Brophy (Eddie Delaney), Henry Wadsworth (Chester Wylie), Cora Sue Collins (Dorothy Prentice), Frank Conroy (Dist. Atty. Farley) and Jessie Ralph (Mrs. Blake).


The Search (1948, Fred Zinnemann)

The Search barely qualifies as a dramatic piece. For the first thirty minutes, an uncredited narrator explains everything to the audience, going so far as to ask the characters rhetorical questions (thankfully they don’t respond). It’s filmed on location in post-war Berlin and–exposes is too strong a word–informs the audience about the situation of displaced children. There’s something unsettling about watching a bunch of kids pretend to be starving kids–probably in the same locations where the real starving kids once were–all for an MGM picture. The Search is a propaganda piece to some degree and a “docudrama” the rest of the way. It’s also Montgomery Clift’s first film.

Clift is good in the film, really good, but he doesn’t really have a character in it. He has a character in the individual scenes, one who has to do things, one who tries to accomplish things, but the audience never gets a sense of him. He’s a blandly American good guy, just one played by Montgomery Clift. The kid, Ivan Jandl, is all right. Unfortunately, his involvement with the film–Zinnemann picked him from a Prague schoolroom and The Search won him a special Academy Award–ended him up in a rock quarry, as the Soviets didn’t like him as a figure of Czech pride. As a child actor, he’s fine but not exceptional. His story, however, makes The Search’s reality a little too real and way too irresponsible. While Clift and Jandl are good together, since Clift’s character is so poorly defined, it’s impossible to really feel anything. There should be some important character relationship–something changing in Clift because of his involvement–but there’s nothing. When The Search isn’t playing hard for the heartstrings, it doesn’t work (except the scenes do move rather well, since they tend to be one conversation are another). It also has a real problem with delineating the passage of time. A month passes in a fade out and the audience gets nothing to help them adjust.

The rest of the cast ranges in quality. As the child’s mother, Jarmila Novotna is good. Her character too should have had a character arc, but it was ignored so The Search could show more footage of post-war hardships. As an American aid worker, Aline MacMahon is so bad I thought they were using real people in the beginning scenes, not actors. At the time, the New York Times praised The Search for its naturalism. Maybe MacMahon, who had a long Hollywood career, got confused by the approach.

Since one could get the same experience (save Clift) from a decent history book as The Search, it’s hard to get particularly excited about it. Zinneman’s not a particularly showy director, but he usually has weighty approach. The Search is too real for that filmic weight, but too filmic to be “real.” And that voiceover removes any naturalism, leaving The Search a confused film. A good idea, a well-minded idea, just not a good story.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Fred Zinnemann; screenplay by Richard Schweizer, David Wechsler and Paul Jarrico; director of photography, Emil Berna; edited by Hermann Haller; music by Robert Blum; produced by Lazar Wechsler; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Montgomery Clift (Steve), Ivan Jandl (Jimmy), Aline MacMahon (Mrs. Murray), Jarmila Novotna (Mrs. Hannah Malik), Wendell Corey (Jerry Fisher), Mary Patton (Mrs. Fisher), Ewart G. Morrison (Mr. Crookes), William Rogers (Tom Fisher) and Leopold Borkowski (Joel Markowsky).


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