Sunday, December 18, 2016

Review - Yes, My Darling Daughter (1939)

Yes, My Darling Daughter

Starring: Roland Young, Priscilla Lane, Jeffrey Lynn, May Robson, Fay Bainter, and Genevieve Tobin.
Director: William Keighley.
Studio: Warner Bros.
Release Date: February 25, 1939.

"After all she's been through, she still believes in woman's primitive hunt of man!"
Two young lovers want to spend a quiet weekend alone together so that they can engage in a lengthy sex-a-thon, but it's 1939 so everyone flips out. Well, almost everyone, and that's worth considering for the time. Based on a Broadway play, the truth is nuanced, even if the content has been forcibly tweaked to assure the audience that the weekend was chaste and that a marriage still happens just to keep the bases covered.

The wealthy Murray family is a bit different from the norm. The mother, Ann (Bainter), is a liberal feminist and lecturer, and whose checkered past involved living with a poet in Greenwich Village before she settled down with her more conservative (and buffoonish) husband Lewis (Ian Hunter). That poet, Jaywood (Young), unbeknownst to most of the family outside wry old Granny (Robson), is visiting for the week to look over one of Bainter's manuscripts.

Jaywood is very easily flustered, something that serial divorcee Connie (Tobin) sees as a wonderful opening. Tobin's Connie is an interesting added dimension to the mix, a worldly woman who clearly enjoys her many affairs but keeps them in the confines of marriage. (She explains to Jaywood, "Just call me Connie. I've had so many last names, it's the only one I may respond to!"). Connie is also the first one to pick up that Ann's daughter, Ellen (Lane), is sneaking off for the weekend with her boyfriend Douglas (Lynn), where they will be unsupervised and basking in a great deal of tender feelings. This sets off a madhouse, as everyone discovers that the two youngins may be engaging in extramarital acts, and soon the movie has gone full screwball with Young imitating a gangster and May Robson cackling as she gets practically the whole household arrested.

The two young lovers mostly just shout and scream, and exhibit little actual chemistry. (Weird, since Lane and Lynn had already been paired in three other films before this and would team up in two more.)  Lane stomps her feet at her parents and comes across as fairly unsympathetic, though she's sabotaged as her character's liberalism is countered by the censorship issues this film faced (more on that below). However, because of that focus, the supporting cast can wink and nod a bit more than you'd expect for movies of this time.

Director William Keighley, whom Ms. Tobin had married the year before, keeps the dramatic moments tender and solid, even though sometimes his ear for comedy seems to mostly involve his actors talking really fast. He does give sixth billed Tobin many opportunities to shine, even if she could play her man eater role in her sleep at this point (Lane hisses about Tobin's character, "When she senses romance, she makes cracks that are absolutely-- biological!"). Connie is still shown as perceptive and concerned, her freewheeling morality in stark contrast to Bainter and Lane's combative takes on sex and hypocrisy. Only Young and spry May Robson could be said to show her up, but it's close enough to be a dead heat.

While the movie remains squarely in the square crowd, it's interesting to note that the women in this film are all smart and capable, wrestling with their beliefs not just in themselves but in how they view female sexual freedom. The men, on the other hand, fluctuate between being either stodgy traditionalists or bumbling but kind pals. Most of the good the movie does in arguing against the double standard is sabotaged by the film explicitly making sure the audience understands that Lane and Lynn's affair isn't consummated (in a very The More the Merrier moment), but the fact that it gets brought up, argued, and that Bainter's character swallows her pride as a mother and instead blesses the possibility that her daughter could be engaging in premarital sexual activities is a breath of fresh air for the era.

For anyone following Tobin's career, the movie contains a surprising amount of kismet. She'd starred alongside Roland Young in One Hour With You, and it's fun seeing him go from the pleasantly vengeful husband there to the shy rube at the other end of her machinations here. The plot is also reminiscent of the first Tobin and Keighley team up, Easy to Love, which saw lovers swapped and a wild car chase to end things. Then there's also one amusing line, where Tobin questions Roland about the long distance phone call he's dialing: "Why are you calling Paris? Fifty million Frenchmen can't help you now!" Tobin achieved the height of her theatrical fame starring in 50 Million Frenchmen on Broadway. Lastly, Tobin also manages to sneak in her trademark nose wrinkle in the film's final minutes, something I'd worried that the actress had left out for some unfathomable reason.

1939 is often considered Hollywood's greatest year (for me it's 1933, but I digress), and while Yes, My Darling Daughter isn't in the big leagues, it's still surprisingly aloof for an era where Warner Bros. wasn't much known for their comedic output. It's also demonstrative of a different kind of turning point-- at one point Lane asks Lynn plainly, referencing his planned job in Europe, "Do you think the democracies are going to survive?" Even though though the line is meant simply as a bit of interplay between the two to break the tension, it's a jarring reminder to how fragile the world must have seemed at the time. The war effort would soon consume Keighley and Tobin, and it would help to put the final button on Tobin's career to boot.


The Motion Picture Herald said the subject matter was 'daring' but 'handled in good taste.'

Photoplay starred this one and notes that the film has a 'bawdy leer' but sees the social message as muddled.

Variety calls it 'delightful' but warns that it isn't 'kid fair'. They single out Tobin as 'well cast'.

TCMDB notes:

Although perfectly innocent and directed by William Keighley with a light comic touch, Yes, My Darling Daughter created an uproar of its own when the New York State Board of Censors threatened to ban the film because they found some scenes "suggestive." [Danny's note: this is the first movie with a Production Code seal that was banned since seals were mandatory starting in mid-1934.] After the situation had generated considerable free publicity, production executive Hal B. Wallis made several judicious cuts that finally appeased the censors. The controversy only fueled public interest in the movie and turned it into such a box-office winner that it opened simultaneously in two Broadway cinemas ­ a rarity at the time.

Here's Variety's take on the film's censorship problems:




This Warners film is currently not on DVD or video. Warner Archive may get it out at some point, hopefully the sooner the better.

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