Wednesday, March 18, 2009

William Holden does comedy, too

This afternoon at 3:00 PM ET, TCM is airing Miss Grant Takes Richmond. It may be hard to imagine William Holden doing comedy, even in spite of his performance in Born Yesterday: there, most of the comedy focusses on the other two stars, Judy Holliday and Broderick Crawford. Holden gets to do a bit more comedy in Miss Grant Takes Richmond, but even so, most of the comedy involves his female co-star, Lucille Ball.

Ball plays a student (Miss Grant) in secretarial school who seems bound to flunk out. She can't do anything right, and everything she does wrong is done for comedic effect. So, imagine everybody's surprise when William Holden (Mr. Richmond) comes to the school and picks the incompetent Miss Grant to be the receptionist at his real estate business. The people think he's crazy, but it turns out there's a method to his madness. The real estate business is just a front for the real operation: a numbers racket. Richmond obviously wants a receptionist who has no idea what's going on in the back rooms of the business, and Miss Grant is the perfect person for that job.

Unfortunately for him, however, she turns out to be too perfect. Miss Grant Takes Richmond was released in 1949, during the early part of the baby boom when there was a huge shortage of housing. Miss Grant and many of her friends are looking for places of their own, and when they find a section of town ripe for new tract housing, Grant unsurprisingly gets the idea that Richmond's real estate business would be the perfect one to develop it. And dammit, nothing ever stopped any of Lucille Ball's characters when they got an idea as daffy as this, as Holden learns to his chagrin. (One of the daffier parts of it comes when Grant and her friends are looking at the planned development, and decide that the houses are too small. They rectify the problem by moving the strings and stakes delimiting the planned houses, blithely unaware of the problem this is going to cause the builders the next morning.)

Miss Grant Takes Richmond is part comedy-of-lies (in which comedy is derived by one character having to go to elaborate schemes to hide the truth from another), part romantic comedy, and part screwball. Ball and Holden are both fine, although one gets the feeling that this is the sort of material Ball had done a lot of times before, and would continue to do once I Love Lucy came to television. The supporting cast is good enough too; Janis Carter plays the "other woman" in the romantic comedy half of the plot, and veteran character actors James Gleason and Frank McHugh play Holden's right-hand men in the numbers racket. While Miss Grant Takes Richmond isn't the greatest movie you'll ever see, it's a good, clean way to spend an hour and a half.

With well-known stars like Lucille Ball and William Holden, one would think that Miss Grant Takes Richmond is a good candidate for a DVD release. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened yet.

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