Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5
USA, 1952. Columbia Pictures. Screenplay by Ruth Gordon, Garson Kanin. Cinematography by Joseph Walker. Produced by Bert Granet. Music by Hugo Friedhofer. Production Design by John Meehan. Costume Design by Jean Louis. Film Editing by Charles Nelson.
Judy Holliday and newcomer Aldo Ray are standing before a New York City judge asking to be granted a divorce. The judge (Madge Kennedy) asks them to talk through their situation with her, instructing them to narrate their entire relationship from the beginning in the hopes of seeing if there isn’t something worth salvaging before granting their request. The two spouses bicker as they narrate their meet-cute in voice over, finding each other in Central Park before a romance of dancing and drive-ins leads to marriage in a tiny, blissfully happy apartment. They carefully keep house on Ray’s meager budget working for the postal service, two children eventually come along and so do a number of circumstances ranging from frustrating to devastating to put their union to the test. A tragic loss, a family inheritance and the constant microaggressions that develop between two people when their constant intimacy makes it easy to take each other for granted eventually bring them to their present situation in court. It’s hard to understand the tone that screenwriters Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon are going for here, hoping to resurrect the sparkling battle of the sexes narratives that enriched their plots for Adam’s Rib and Pat and Mike by avoiding the courtroom drama frame narrative of the one and the colourful milieu (sports) of the other. The idea is to focus on the couple and entertain audiences while giving them things they can recognize, but the balance is upset by a light-hearted sitcom tempo interrupted by far too many dark elements. Holliday’s gift for comedy can never be questioned, but she never drops her guard here, her combination of sexy physical presence and whipsmart dialogue delivery is impermeable and Ray is at a loss as to how break through, an appealing charmer who produces the least chemistry that the actress ever had with any of her few co-stars. Perhaps if they generated more heat it would be easier to swallow a story that has both Raging Bull-level marital fights and a dream sequence out of a Stanley Donen musical, but the result is a lesser effort for all involved. Look for an uncredited Peggy Cass in her first film role.