Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Because when you think "romantic comedy", you immediately think "Kirk Douglas"

Kirk Douglas is TCM's Star of the Month for September, and his movies are airing every Tuesday in prime time into Wednesday morning. This week sees some of his more famous movies that I've blogged about previously. But early tomorrow morning, however, is a lesser-known one that's quite an odd turn for Douglas: Top Secret Affair, at 6:30 AM.

Douglas plays two-star General Melville Goodwin, who has just been appointed to a commission on the peaceful use of atomic energy. This ticks off magazine publisher Dorothy Peale (Susan Hayward): the commission was her baby, and she had been pushing for a prominent industrialist to get picked for the job. And she's not happy that the President is going over her head on this one. So, she comes up with a devious plan: dig up some dirt on the general, and print a magazine article which will so eviscerate Goodwin that there will be no choice but to appoint somebody else. With this in mind, Peale invites Goodwin to her mansion, but finds two problems. First, it's going to be difficult to find any dirt on the seemingly squeaky-clean Goodwin. Second, and just as bad, she's beginning to fall in love with him. This budding love means that she might just not print the article after all. That is, until she discovers that the general isn't quite as in love with her as she is with him. This enrages her even more, to the point that she finds that he may have done something pretty bad during the Korean War. The truth would set the general free, but the problem is that the truth was only revealed in a top secret report.

Top Secret Affair is a strange little bird, in that Douglas especially isn't the likeliest candidate to play the male lead in a romantic comedy. To be honest, though, most of the comedy is provided by the executive assistants to the two leads. Hayward's is an editor played by Paul Stewart, while Douglas has an adjutant colonel played by Jim Backus. Douglas and Hayward tend to let everybody else try to be funny around them, and in that they're as competent as the script allows. The script has some serious shortcomings, though, notably the first attempt to sully the general's reputation (which involves an attempt by Dorothy to drink the general under the table), and then the congressional hearings that form the climax of the movie. It all adds up to a movie that's interesting by a good deal further from perfect than a lot of Douglas' other movies. If I were going to recommend a Kirk Douglas movie airing tonight for people who haven't seen one before, I'd suggest something like Ace in the Hole (10:00 PM) or The Bad and the Beautiful (midnight) before this. But then, most you you hae probably seen the well-known Kirk Douglas films; for people like you, one viewing of Top Secret Affair is certainly worth the time.

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