Sunday, September 4, 2011

Two years before Dear Heart

Several months back, I wrote about Glenn Ford and Geraldine Page finding love in the big city in Dear Heart. A movie with similar themes, made two years earlier, is Two For the Seesaw, airing tonight at 10:00 PM on TCM.

Robert Mitchum stars as Jerry Ryan, seen at the start of the movie living in a dingy walk-up apartment in Manhattan. In fact, he's a lawyer admitted to the bar in Nebraska, where he had a good, high-paying job working at his father-in-law's firm. Ah, but there's the rub. Jerry and his wife (never actually seen in the movie) don't love each other, and are filing for divorce. So Jerry has gone to New York to get away from his soon-to-be ex-wife. Jerry, being from Nebraska, is a bit of a square, and at a party meets the rather more bohemian Gitta Moscawitz (Shirley MacLaine). In fact, "bohemian" might be putting it mildly. She's struggling to make her way on Broadway as a dancer, but would really like to go into business for herself opening a dance studio. Now, this is Hollywood's take on New York, so you know that what happens next is that Jerry and Gitta are going to hit it off and fall in love.

But life isn't a bed of roses, and so we also know that Jerry and Gitta are going to spend much of the movie not having an easy time of it. First off, Jerry is only licensed to practice law in Nebraska: thanks to differences in state laws and the federalist constitutional system, one doesn't get licensed in every state at the same time. So Jerry would have to take the bar exam (or at least the New York portion) again to get admitted in New York, and that's a pretty big obstacle. Gitta's got problems of her own, notably that she seems incredibly needy, and is pressuring Jerry to go faster than he might want to. So the "happily ever after" might not be quite as happy as Hollywood normally makes it out to be.

That nod to realism is a plus in the movie's favor, but Two For the Seesaw has one big problem: namely, the presence of Robert Mitchum as the male lead. Now, don't get me wrong. I like Mitchum, but this isn't the sort of character that suits Mitchum's acting abilities, and for the whole movie he seems like a fish out of water, and not just because his character is a transplant from Nebraska. In fact, part of the reason I mentioned Dear Heart at the beginning of this post is because Glenn Ford is the sort of actor who could have played Jerry Ryan much more convincingly. Another would be the Gregory Peck from The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. That's not to say Mitchum is terrible. To be fair to him, he gives a professional performance, if one that's flawed.

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