Julia Misbehaves (1948)

21 Aug

julia misbehaves 1Julia Misbehaves, a movie remembered mostly because it provided Elizabeth Taylor with her first screen kiss to the always-fortunate Peter Lawford, was a pleasant surprise, particularly because every review I ever read of it was about the misplaced and miscast Greer Garson. I’ve never been particularly excited by Garson films; not for anything about her in particular, just the films themselves. She was typecast in a certain way, particularly after Mrs. Miniver, that led her into a cinematic subset that I  simultaneously appreciate the quality of and seldom turn to for my own entertainment.

But she’s goofy and vivacious here in a way she seldom had the chance to be (even contemporary reviews note this – we’re still cruel to traditionally dramatic leads who give comedy a shot, but I think it was worse back then). Ditto Walter Pidgeon, though he does sing a lot here, something no one ever really asked for. It’s around-the-house singing, though, so I suppose he gets a pass.

julia misbehaves 2And for a late Screwball, something I’ve either seen a disproportionate number of lately or just been thinking about the elements of, this maneuvers itself pretty well. No one is outright mean-spirited or so flawed as to be unsympathetic (cf. Two-Faced Woman, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, to some degree My Favorite Wife). Even Julia’s mother-in-law (not Lucille Watson’s first ride in that rodeo – she was like the devil’s own Beulah Bondi for a while in the 40s) has a certain gleeful kind of imperiousness that makes her sudden and inevitable change of heart seem entirely plausible. Julia Misbehaves is no Bringing Up Baby or Theodora Goes Wild, but it gets out with its charm intact and keeps everyone likeable while maintaining the conflict for long enough to keep things interesting.

(I’m particularly fond of how young Susan’s would-be fiancée is never even shown. Why bother? Just to give him an irritating laugh or visibly clammy handshake and make us watch him suffer/be insufferable? Ralph Bellamy was too old for her anyway.)

And two special mentions: Cesar Romero, who I’ve been watching for years without knowing he had a Cary Grant-level of acrobatic ability hidden behind his mustache (he’s pretty clearly doing most of his own work here – some of the shots are framed in a weird way that implies offstage help, but not enough to make what he is doing unimpressive); and the ever Mary Boland-esque Mary Boland as his coarse, indignant and inebriated mother, stealing scene after scene of a movie she’s scarcely in.

Again, a surprise pleasure.

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