Saturday, January 3, 2015

On Approval

For those of you who like the sort of drawing-room comedy that showed up in early talkies, or like the humor in British movies, you're in luck. TCM is running the film On Approval tomorrow morning at 8:45 AM.

Set in the 1890s, the movie stars stage actress Beatrice Lillie as Maria, a wealthy widow in London. She's got an American friend in Helen (Googie Withers), who like her is a wealthy widow. Apparently the two women married well back in the day. Into this come two men. George (Clive Brook) is the Duke of Bristol, but unfortunately just having a title isn't enough. The old family has fallen into debt and George needs a cash infusion quick to keep the family's good name going. You can probably guess that he's going to get the idea to marry a wealthy widow, and you'd be right. George has a friend in Richard (Roland Culver), who is also a man down on his luck and needing a wealthy widow to solve all of his financial problems.

Maria thinks she might like Richard, so she has a novel idea (certainly a novel idea for Victorian England): a trial marriage! She's got a big place in Scotland, and she invites Richard to come along for a month so that she can decide whether joining with him until death parts them is a good idea. George the Duke chaperones Richard, in part because Helen is companion to Maria and George has his eye on Helen. So our two couples make their way to Scotland.

Needless to say, things don't go quite as they had planned. Victorian-era morals dictate that these two unmarried men can't possibly stay with the two women, but the hotel where they were planning to say announces that it's booked solid. There literally is no place to stay, so George and Richard wind up in guest rooms at Maria's house. This actually enrages the hired help, who say there's no way they're going to serve people who are so clearly immoral (I don't know how much this is an exaggeration of Victorian morals, and how much the era really was that warped). So they leave in a huff, leaving the four main players to do all the work of keeping up the house, while trying to fall in love with the right people.

The stage is set for what turns out to be typical material of the genre. Characters seemingly fall in and out of love, as they have their own ulterior motives to try to get other characters to be with them in the final reel. I have to admit that this is a genre that I've always had a bit of trouble with, and On Approval shows that it's not just because most of the movies in the genre were made at the dawn of the sound era. On Approval was released in 1944, and as such has no issues with sound. Instead, I found the antics of the characters, who seemed constantaly out to trick each other, to get on my nerves, making me wonder whether any of these characters were supposed to be sympathetic.

These personal issues aside, On Approval is well enough made, and people who like drawing room comedies or movies that may remind you of Oscar Wilde will probably enjoy it Beatrice Lillie apparently had a reputation for being extremely funny on stage, but she made very few movies. So this is one of your rare chances to see her.

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