Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ann Blyth gets smacked again!

If I were to tell you that TCM is showing a movie in which Ann Blyth plays an ingrateful daughter who gets smacked, you'd probably think, "Oh good! They're showing Mildred Pierce again!" But that's not the movie on the schedule, and not the one I'm recommending. No; Ann is getting smacked by her father in Our Very Own, airing overnight tonight at 3:45 AM.

Ann Blyth stars as Gail, the oldest of of the three Macaulay daughters, growing up in upper-middle class luxury in a post-war Los Angeles suburb. In fact, the family is rich enough to get... a television set! And this for a movie released in 1950. The opening scene, of the family getting that TV, is little more than a way to introduce the male lead, TV technician Chuck (played by Farley Granger), who just happens to be Gail's boyfriend. But Chuck is so handsome that younger sister Joan (Joan Evans) has a crush on him too. Actually, she doesn't just have a crush; she's jealous, and wants Chuck for herself!

That jealousy drives the plot of the movie for a while, as we're quickly to learn. Summer is just around the corner. For Gail, that means her 18th birthday and graduation from high school, with a big party to celebrate the dual occasion. For Joan, the party means more to be jealous about, but the summer also means a summer job. The only thing is, she needs her birth certificate as part of the paperwork. When Mom (Jane Wyatt) tells Joan where the birth certificate is, Mom realizes that she's just made a boo-boo: amongst all the other papers being kept safe with Joan's birth certificate are papers detailing Gail's adoption. This being 1950, it's a time when adoption was kept relatively hush-hush, to the point that Mom and Dad (Donald Cook) never got around to telling Gail she's adopted. But now that Joan knows, you know she's not going to keep it a secret.

Gail, finding out she's been adopted, wants to see her biological mother. Bio-mom is played by Ann Dvorak, and lives on the other side of the tracks, quite literally. Her first husband died in a car crash before Gail was born, which led to the adoption, but Bio-mom has gotten remarried to a man who has no knowledge of a child in the past. She doesn't want it made known, either, so she schedules a meeting with Gail for what's suppsed to be the husband's bowling night. Unfortunately, on the appointed night for the meeting, husband brings all his work pals home for a night of cards, and Gail shows up to a house full of people. Gail winds up lashing out at the parents who raised her, to the point that she's willing to spend all night with her friend, and when she finally does come home, she's so nasty to Dad that he smacks her (which she richly deserves).

Our Very Own is interesting, in large part because it's such an utter product of its time. Adoption as a stigma is something that's long gone, so the emotional conflicts here seem alien. And then there are the class divides, notably in a scene where the two moms (Wyatt and Dvorak) meet to arrange a time for Gail to meet her biological mother. But Gail's friend (Phyllis Kirk) is another great example of the upper-middle class mores of the day, as she gets a Cadillac from her emotionally distant father for graduation. Rounding out the cast are Natalie Wood as the third daughter, who gets most of her scenes at the beginning of the movie as she pesters Granger's co-worker who's trying to install the TV, and Martin Milner as a dorky-looking classmate of Gail's who keeps winding up with The Dorky-Looking Plump Girl (I'm sure the character has a name, but these two seem to have been put in the movie for no real reason other than to lighten the proceedings ever so slightly). Despite how dated the movie is, Our Very Own is actually not all that bad, and deserves a viewing.

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