Genre: Romantic Comedy and War Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.
Release Date: August 17th, 1949 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Howard Hawks Actors: Cary Grant, Ann Sheridan, Marion Marshall, Randy Stuart, William Neff
n Germany, French Captain Henri Rochard (Cary Grant) seeks out American WAC Lieutenant Catherine Gates’ (Ann Sheridan) office to return her various undergarments in his possession – due to a supposed laundry mixup. Although they have a history involving a few missions together (such as recovering stolen art and locating hidden documents related to rocket research), their playful quarreling is exhaustive. Rochard assumes he’ll be meeting interpreter and aide Lieutenant Eloise Billings (Randy Stuart) for his latest assignment, but Gates is substituted in at the last minute, forcing the duo to begrudgingly cooperate yet again.
Henri doesn’t want to reveal the details of their specific economic job, even though they’ll be required to spend three days in one another’s company. At the motorpool, Henri is greeted with the next of many disagreeable options: taking a 120 kilometer ride in the sidecar of a motorcycle, with Catherine at the wheel due to a bothersome regulation. And that’s just the start, as trains, roadblocks, bad weather, an unexpected waterfall, and even some wet paint impede their ultimate destination and their seemingly simple task of negotiating with a man named Schindler, a former scientist turned black marketeer.
A bit of slapstick, situational comedy, flirtatious repartee, and disagreements galore fuel an inevitable romance. The Frenchman may act as if the American continuously annoys him, but he doesn’t waste an opportunity to administer a leg massage or to provide calming alcohol or to rub liniment on her back. It’s fortunate that their minimally important military task allows for enough downtime to coyly foster their relationship. One of the more elaborate scenarios finds Rochard accidentally trapped in Gates’ room, vying for a spot on her bed but relegated to an uncomfortable wooden chair.
Although they’re obviously supposed to end up together, the leading couple doesn’t have nearly as much believable chemistry as seen in any of their many, separate, previous pairings; and director Howard Hawks has certainly managed more instinctively agreeable teams. Plus, their early predicaments don’t lend to a natural romance, which greatly contradicts Catherine’s eventual proclamation of love to her antagonistic counterpart. Nevertheless, some of the dialogue is rather effective, and once they’ve decided upon making things official, their love patter grows more convincing.
“Happy journeys, ladies!” Fascinatingly, the film is based on a story by the real Henri Rochard (his biography with the mouthful of a title “I Was an Alien Spouse of Female Military Personnel Enroute to the United States Under Public Law 271 of the Congress,” turned into a repeated line throughout), whose tale was probably significantly embellished for this classic Hollywood endeavor, even though the technicalities of the War Brides Act were factual and the rarity of immigrating male spouses was documented. Still, there’s a slowness to the pacing and the jokes that fail to fit the screwball nature of the couple’s chaotic circumstances, which comedically suggest that a simple marriage between a Frenchman and an American woman isn’t meant to be. Its wartime setting has little bearing on the lighthearted mood, but the various hurdles to cementing their union (and consummating their wedding night) never reach the laugh-out-loud humor of other comedies of the era. Even the strength of Grant’s inimitable persona – and a few last-minute hiccups, such as confused identities and improvised cross-dressing – can’t save it from considerable mediocrity.
– Mike Massie