Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Meat the Professor

After Dory Schary took over at MGM, the studio started making a bunch of little pictures in order to subsidize those big prestigious musicals they were putting out. I've mentioned some of those little movies before as being quite good, but some of them leave you scratching your head wondering what they were thinking making the movie. A good example of this latter category is Confidentially Connie, which will be on TCM tomorrow morning at 5:45 AM as part of Janet Leigh's turn as TCM's Star of the Month.

Leigh plays Connie Bedloe, and we first see her in a doctor's office, where we find out that she's pregnant. Oh, that's not a problem, since she's got a good husband Joe (Van Johnson) who is an English professor at the local college. The problem is that English professors at small New England liberal arts colleges don't make all that much money. And never mind what the couple is going to do when the baby comes. The good doctor wants Connie to eat lots of red meat so that the baby will be born strong and healthy. Red meat, however, costs money, and that's something the poor professor doesn't have enough of. So it looks like it's going to be fish, until Connie gives up her cigarette money to buy some good meat.

What's a poor couple to do? Well, both spouses have an idea. There's a chance at a promotion at eh college, as Dean Magruder (Gene Lockhart) is planning to raise somebody to a fuller professorship. If Joe can get that, it means more money for him and Connie. But there's a problem here in that his chief rival for the promotion is inviting the dean over for a dinner party, and planning to tip the scales by providing some good meat at the dinner, a cut that Joe and Connie can't possibly match. Connie's idea is different, and involves Joe's father Opie (Louis Calhern), who is a wealthy Texas rancher. Going into ranching would make far more money than being a crappy English professor.

Opie, meanwhile, has decided to take a few weeks off to visit his son and daughter-in-law. Unsurprisingly, he's appalled by what he sees; more specifically, it's the lack of red meat that appals him. So when he gets there, he hits opun a scheme involving getting the local butcher to claim he got a shipment of excess meat that allows him to lower the price of red meat, enough that Connie will be able to afford it. Opie will then pay the butcher under the table. Unfortunately, that plan backfires because all the other housewives in town find out about the low low prices and start storming the butcher shops.

It's all thoroughly ludicrous, even more so than a lot of Hollywood movies. I'm reminded of the Barbra Streisand film For Pete's Sake, which has as its climax Streisand trying to smuggle a truckload of cattle into New York. It's nuts, but the whole movie is set up as being silly so that when you have such a zany scene it works. Confidenially Connie, however, is firmly in the early-1950s MGM tradition of earnestness and a bit of a social conscience that turns out painfully pathetic. The "Black Americans" sequence in It's a Big Country comes to mind here. The result is comedy that doesn't work, and whatever message the movie is trying to send doesn't work either. Still, it's a movie that deserves a viewing just because of it's off-the-wall theme. And being one of the lesser movies that MGM was making to pay for the prestige movies, it's mercifully brief at 72 minutes.

Confidentially Connie is available on DVD from the Warner Archive collection, but I'd think it's much too expensive.

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