Forgotten Classic: Vivacious Lady (1938)
Salut, mes amis! Today I thought I’d start a new series on here called “Forgotten Classic: insert film name here.” The name’s kind of self-explanatory—this series will be dedicated to movies that I think have been unfairly forgotten. Sometimes I’ll also pick something that I think has gotten unjust criticism, and therefore it’s been passed over by people. Hopefully these posts will help bring much-needed attention to some serious classics that aren’t nearly as well-known as they should be. And please, comment comment comment! It's getting to be a one-sided conversation, and that's just no fun.
For my first installment, I want to talk about VIVACIOUS LADY (1938), a romantic comedy directed by George Stevens, starring Ginger Rogers, Jimmy Stewart, Charles Coburn, Beulah Bondi, and James Ellison. Jimmy goes to New York to get his black sheep cousin Keith (Ellison) and take him back to their small town of Old Sharon. The film opens in a nightclub where Jimmy’s Peter has tracked down Keith. Keith tries giving Peter the slip, but the joke’s on him when Peter meets the nightclub’s singer Francie (Ginger). Peter and Francie spend all night and the next day walking around New York and, of course, fall in love. They get married before going back to Old Sharon with only one little problem—Peter’s stuffy father (Coburn) and his weak-hearted mother (Bondi). Throughout the film, Peter must work up the nerve to tell his parents about his wife while Francie has to pretend to be with Keith to help his parents warm up to her. Naturally, things don’t go so well.
Francie makes a terrible first impression on Peter’s dad, and Peter has a horrible fiancée (Frances Mercer) who immediately dislikes Francie. Towards the end, Bondi finds out about Francie and the two adore each other. Coburn, however, doesn’t take the news nearly as well and orders Francie to go back to New York or else he’ll fire Peter from the university (he’s president, a family tradition that Peter hopes to follow). Francie agrees to leave, and surprisingly so does Bondi, who has finally had enough of her controlling husband. Peter hears Francie’s leaving, so he decides to get drunk during class to show that Francie’s too good for him and prove his dad wrong. He misses Francie’s train however, and as Francie and her mother-in-law commiserate together on the train, Peter and his father put their car on the tracks to make the train stop so they can board it and happily reunite with their wives.
This picture is the only time Ginger Rogers and Jimmy Stewart worked together, which makes you sad once you see the absolutely incredible chemistry they have. No surprise there since the two were dating at the time. Ginger actually picked Jimmy herself to be her leading man, and he does wonderfully. He’s typical ‘30s Stewart, meaning he’s sweet, shy, bumbling, and adorable. Adding Ginger to the mix only makes things better (sorry for the pun). Their scenes together are so romantic, especially the montage of when they first fall in love in New York. My favorite part is the end of the scene when Jimmy takes Ginger home. They stand outside her building talking, Jimmy trying to swoop in for a kiss discreetly. Ginger sees what he’s doing and plays along, looking at him every time his head dips down for the kiss which stops him. Finally, she takes the initiative and gives him a quick peck, then runs to her building. Jimmy grabs her and gives her a better kiss before she goes upstairs. Then he crosses the street to the drugstore and calls Ginger to ask her out for breakfast. She tells him to give her five minutes, and he’s so dazed, he drinks the sample of mouthwash a clerk is trying to sell to him.
I wish I could mention all of the beautiful moments between their characters. There’s when they’re on the train going to Old Sharon and they’re left without a drawing room or even a berth. They have to spend their wedding night on a couch in the public sitting room, but Jimmy tries to make the best of it. Without a word, he sits Ginger down and takes off her gloves and hat. She watches him as he plumps up a pillow and lays her back on it. Then he puts his coat over her as a blanket, turns out the lights, and cuddles up next to her. They’re all snuggled and cute—then the conductor comes through and turns the lights back on. For the rest of the film, Jimmy and Ginger try to spend time alone together, having never consummated their marriage. They don’t get their chance until the very end, but it’s hilarious watching their attempts.
Special mention must be made of James Ellison. He does a great job playing Keith, and he interacts very well with the other actors. It’s interesting to watch him and Ginger together when you remember that it was originally his character’s intent at the beginning of the movie to marry Francie. Ellison has to walk this fine line of flirting with Ginger seriously while trying to act flippant about it because he knows that Francie is head over heels for Peter. Not to mention he’s really funny. I’d love to see some more of James Ellison’s work after seeing this movie.
Oh, I almost forgot—I can’t end this post without mentioning the spectacular fight between Francie and Peter’s old fiancée, Helen. At a university dance, Peter invites Francie and hopes that the atmosphere will help when he breaks the news of his marriage to his parents. Peter seats Francie outside on a bench and tells her he’ll be right back with his folks. Once he’s gone, Helen pops up to tell Francie just how much she hates her. Words can’t do justice to this scene, watch it for yourself:
You’re all seeing why this film is a must now, right? Every time I see it, I swear it gets better and better. It’s actually available on DVD, too! Sometimes TCM shows it as well, but I say do yourself a favor and go ahead and buy the movie. I guarantee you, there’ll be at least one thing you’ll love about it. It’s just too delicious.