Friday, December 19, 2008

Fonda at Fox

The average movie watcher may not remember that Henry Fonda spent the early part of his career as a contract player at Fox, before becoming a much bigger star in the 1950s and 1960s. That has a lot to do with the fact that Fonda didn't get the best vehicles while at Fox -- indeed, he's said to have commented that he only liked a few of the movies he made there (especially The Grapes of Wrath and The Ox-Bow Incident). Instead of more serious stuff, Fonda got put into a number of light comedies at Fox, such as Rings on Her Fingers, airing tomorrow at 9:30 AM on the Fox Movie Channel.

Fonda plays John Wheeler, the victim of a scam at the hands of the film's other three protagonists. Gene Tierney plays Susan Miller, a clerk in a department store who is struggling to get by on her meager income, until she's approached by socialite family the Worthingtons (Spring Byington as the mother, and Laird Cregar, whom Fox were trying to promote, as another member of the family). They give Susan $100 -- a princely sum back then -- to model some clothes for them, and when that goes well, they invite her into their little scam, portraying the Worthington daughter as the three of them scam the unwitting John Wheeler. The scam itself goes well, except for one minor hitch: Susan falls in love with John. John vows that he's going to scrimp and save, while he hires detectives to find out who scammed him, having no idea that one of the people in on it is now in love with him. Will love overcome crime? You'll have to watch the movie to find out.

It's easy to see while watching this movie why Fonda didn't like his time at Fox. Rings on Her Fingers is a movie that is sadly less than the sum of its parts. Fonda could do comedy perfectly well; by this time he'd already made the classic The Lady Eve. Tierney was capable at comedy, too, and was certainly up to being the female lead in a romantic movie like this. Spring Byington is great in almost any supporting role, and she could handle this stuff in her sleep. Laird Cregar is overlooked today, largely because he died tragically young. Yet, there's something wrong with this movie. It's not as funny as it should be, and the ending is terribly rushed. Still, it's worth watching to see these good actors struggling gamely with less than stellar material.

Rings on Her Fingers is not available on DVD.

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