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The awful truth

By STEVE VINEBERG  |  June 2, 2008

Everything McCarey did in the ’30s is worth a look, even a pleasant doodle called THE MILKY WAY in which Harold Lloyd plays a milkman who accidentally becomes a prizefighter. And everything he did after the ’30s is bloated and maudlin — except for the social satire RALLY ’ROUND THE FLAG, BOYS!, his penultimate (1958) picture, which is bloated and desperately unfunny. What the hell did the war do to McCarey? You have your pick of his embarrassments here. There’s ONCE UPON A HONEYMOON, a tonal disaster with Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers (in surely her worst performance) that tries to mix overworked farce with anti-Nazi propaganda. There’s that Oscar-winning slab of whimsy GOING MY WAY, with Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald as young and old Irish priests, and its even worse sequel, THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S, where Crosby finds his match in a cutesy-stern nun played by poor Ingrid Bergman. There’s MY SON JOHN, the most notorious of the anti-Commie melodramas of the Korean War period. And there’s AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER. I wouldn’t recommend the Crosby pictures (though he’s typically charming in them), and Once upon a Honeymoon is for masochists only. But the other two are rather fascinating — though perhaps you need to follow a viewing of My Son John by reading Robert Warshow’s splendid essay on the movie, which appears in his collection The Immediate Experience. An Affair To Remember is a study in the deterioration of an artist: everything that is lyrical and effortless in Love Affair becomes sodden and strained in the later film, and Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr seem as mismatched as Dunne and Boyer were ideal. The remake is half an hour longer — hard to understand, since the story is almost an exact replica of the first version. In the last two decades of his career, McCarey evidently forgot all the lessons he’d learned from Hal Roach, among them the one about economy and an even more important one: never take yourself too seriously.

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