Sunday, November 5, 2017

My Pal Gus

So I watched My Pal Gus off my DVR last night since it's available on DVD at the TCM Shop courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme.

The movie starts off with Dave Jennings (Richard Widmark) dictating a bunch of stuff to his secretary Ivy (Joan Banks) as he's being driven to the airport to catch a plane for an important business meeting. Jennings is clearly a Type A personality, and if there were a letter in the alphabet before A, his personality type would be that letter. They have to stop at his apartment to pick up his bags, and when they get to the building there's smoke coming from his apartment!

That's where we meet the second lead in the story, Dave's sun Gus (George Winslow, who would later get the nickname "Foghorn" because of his distinctive voice). Gus is a hell-raiser who seems to have no sense of discipline. Of course, that probably has a lot to do with the fact that he doesn't have a parent in the house, being raised instead by nurses. Gus needs somebody to show some love and discipline, at least in the non-physical sense. Eventually, Dave winds up enrolling Gus in the Playtime School.

Lydia Marble (Joanne Dru) runs the school, and she has some rather unorthodox for the time views on child raising. One of them is that the parents should be actively involved in the running of the school, to the point that parents are expected to spend one day a month at the school helping with the children. Usually this would have meant the mothers, since mothers of young children at the time would have been housewives instead of in the work force. But there's no mother in the picture for Gus: it turns out that businessman Dave had gone bankrupt some years back, at which point his wife left him. For richer, but not for poorer. So Dave is going to have to spend a day at the school, something he feels decidedly unfit to do.

But he notices that the school is having a positive effect on his son, and that Guss really seems to take to Miss Marble. And as Dave spends more time discussing his son with Miss Marble, he finds himself falling for her, too. They're all going to live happily ever after, aren't they?

Except that the ex-Mrs. Jennings (Audrey Totter) decides to show up. The Jennings got their divorce quickly in Mexico, and it turns out that that divorce may not have been handled 100% properly, which means the two are probably still legally married in the US. And Mrs. Jennings has decided that she wants custody of the son she abandoned back when the kid was an infant.

Logically, a court ought to look at the case and rule against Mrs. Jennings, but the idea that a mother ought to look after her children is a strong one, as well as men being financial support instead of active parents. So there's a contested trial to determin the outcome of the divorce.

My Pal Gus is clearly a lesser movie in Richard Widmark's career, but he gives it all he has, and doesn't do badly with the somewhat out-of-character material he's given. The movie does hit some problems, however, when it gets to the trial and the aftermath of the trial, as the plot really strains credulity. Even though times were different back in the 1950s, I think it's tough to imagine the trial going the way it did.

The end result is a movie that's watchable enough but not particularly great. It is, however, fun to watch poor Richard Widmark having to deal with a child actor, and to bring some of the same gangster-type attributes from the characters he had been playing up until them to being a father and businessman.

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