Well hello to you, all the way from Prague!
Yes, as the world buzzes around outside my window, I thought the most sensible thing to do this week would be not join the hubbub of tourists and Instagrammers currently flowing like water across the famous Charles Bridge (mere yards from my door!), nor go off in search of the famous Czech Pork Knuckle (seriously) or the ubiquitous Chimney Cake (even more seriously), and tell you guys instead about two movies I watched.
Because I miss you.
The first one is called The Lady Has Plans from 1942, and it’s quite the car-wreck, but I do feel like I need to tell you all about it because it may save one of you fine people from watching it. And it pains me to be so negative up front, because on the surface this film has a lot to offer.
It has Paulette Goddard to offer, which is obviously a great offer.
It also has Roland Young to offer, and that’s an offer I would normally never hesitate to take advantage of.
That’s a solid offer. I love Roland Young, but by heavens he has dented his appeal by being in this Pork Knuckle of a movie!
So the plot is this. A gang of criminals steal the plans for a new type of torpedo and tattoo the plans onto the back of a female spy using invisible ink. Yes, I actually did just say that sentence out loud.
So this female spy, whose name is Rita, then plans to swap places with a journalist named Sidney Royce (Paulette Goddard), who’s due to be the Morning Herald’s newest Lisbon correspondent. BUT, the switch doesn’t happen and the real Sidney Royce jets off to Lisbon to take up her new position under cranky boss, Kenneth Harper, played by Ray Milland.
All of a sudden, Sidney finds herself besieged and pestered by Allied and Nazi forces, who all want to see if the torpedo plans are tattooed on her back! That is the actual plot of this film that someone made.
Okay, so maybe in more whimsical hands, this may have been far less creepy, but as it is, this film really gave me the skeevies. You have a Nazi demanding that the heroine takes her clothes off.
You have a British agent demanding that the heroine takes off her clothes
I mean, the first two thirds of this film consists of creepy old sweaty geezers trying to break into Paulette Goddard’s bathroom while she’s getting changed, or creeping into her room while she’s sleeping so they can take off her clothes, or trying to manipulate her into losing her shirt so they can look at her. I mean, you can say that they’re just doing their job, right? They’re just trying to see her naked flesh so that they can determine if she’s a female spy carrying a secret message, right? It’s all in the line of duty, right?
Which is when a really skeezy, creepy little subplot begins...
Yes, in order to see if she might be the girl who has secret plans tattooed on her back, Roland Young and Ray Milland come up with a plan to drug Paulette Goddard and strip her naked while she’s passed out, so that they can examine her body.
Now, I know the times we live in are very different to the days of yore, and I know that sometimes when you’re watching a movie from this period, you have to kinda wince and take one on the chin, because people back then were different.
The world was different.
It was, perhaps, less enlightened when it comes to all sorts of social issues.
But even with that attitude, I can’t really see how you can excuse a Hollywood plot that seems to endorse drugging an innocent woman so that she can be stripped naked by Roland Young and Ray Milland with the aim of peering at her naked, lifeless body. I mean, you get to points like this in films, and usually, the hero will say something along the lines of “I can’t possibly go through with this”, and you think, good on you. Don’t be a date-rapist! Don’t be a sexual predator! You’re the hero, and I’m fully behind your non-sexual assault solutions to this espionage conundrum.
Not so, here, I’m sorry to say.
Ray and Roland go through with their plan. Drugs are slipped into drinks, and drinks are put into hands in the hopes of drugging taking place.
Now I hasten to add that their terrifying scheme does not actually succeed, but the fact that their characters tried, and that they are sorry that it doesn’t work out, doesn’t exactly make you feel sympathy for these two people.
I mean this horrifying little subplot isn’t exactly helped by some rather sordid details. For instance the scene where Roland approaches the bartender to ask him to help with DRUGGING HER DRINK!
The bartender is at first reluctant to help drug someone until Roland explains WITH A WINK, that it’s a “lady friend” that he wants to drug!
At THIS news, the bartender winks back and says “Ohhhhh, okay no problem then”
I mean it’s enough to make you fearful forever more, knowing that bartenders can be coerced so easily, so long as it’s a lady that’s being drugged into unconsciousness...
Now, you may ask, what is the rest of the film like? Surely it must redeem itself after this date-rapey subplot?
Well, it doesn’t really elevate itself much from this cesspool of a central thesis, I have to say. The drugging plot doesn’t work so what will they try next? Well seeing as how she’s “just a woman”, they could resort to lying to her in the hopes that she’ll fall in love with Ray Milland and take her clothes off voluntarily,
I mean what could be simpler? After all, in this world, women are basically trained hamsters, right?
So aside from all the distasteful, out-of-date attitudes here, in the grand scheme of things, The Lady Has Plans isn’t exactly pushing the boundaries of movie greatness.
And that’s okay, by the way. I truly believe that we get way too hung up on subtext and interpretation and needlessly searching for deeper truths in cinematic stories. Sometimes you want to put on a movie called The Lady Has Plans and be whisked away on a stupid adventure for 77 minutes.
But when that stupid adventure features a pair of slimy, middle-aged spies trying to drug a woman so that they can strip her naked, or make her believe that she’s loved when she isn’t so they can cop a look at her naked body, it turns from a dumb movie into a downright offensive one. Avoid!
So for heaven’s sake let’s talk about something that’s not only fun, but also very good fun! 1947’s Fun On A Weekend for example!
Now full disclosure, I knew zero about this going in, and I think that’s actually beneficial, so I’ll keep plot details slight. The fun here is seeing what happens next. And by the way, I know the irony of the poster there, with Priscilla Lane in a bikini, after the skeezy The Lady Has Plans, but I assure you that swimwear, in this case, is not only important to the plot, but it’s also something that Eddie Bracken finds himself in for lots of the movie.
It opens on a beach in the morning, where two penniless strangers, Nancy and Pete, played by Priscilla Lane and Eddie Bracken, wake up next to each other. They’re so poor, they’ve taken to sleeping next to the waves. Between them they have a few coins, so they decide to pool their resources and buy a meagre breakfast at a coffee bar run by Allen Jenkins.
As you do.
While they’re there, they come up with the marvellous plan of pretending to be rich, to see that if by doing so, they can turn themselves from penniless to prosperous before the day is out.
And that’s your setup.
On a whim, these two penniless chancers decide to team up and see if they can break into high society using just their wits, and so begins a breathless series of schemes designed to turn them both from paupers to royalty in just one day.
Okay, so first thing to note is how much I was not expecting to like this. I mean the opening scene is Eddie Bracken and Priscilla Lane just happening to wake up next to each other on a beach and just happening to both be poor etc. And I thought, oh my goodness, not sure if I’ll be able to swallow this for long.
But I’m so glad I gave it a chance, because not only is it really, really funny, but sweet, disarming and endlessly intriguing.
I mean they literally start with just the clothes on their back, and scene by scene manage to con their way into the hearts and pockets of everyone they meet. It is an absolute delight to watch. For instance, they need clothes. How will they get them? They need a car. Where will they get one? The hotel manager is demanding a huge cheque. Where will they get one?
And each time you think “We’ll that’s it. Curtains!” And then you watch in joy as they somehow win against the odds.
It’s actually quite an indictment about how shallow some people can be about some things, too. I mean these two are perfect strangers, and are treated like dirt, until word goes around that they may be sitting on a fortune, and then all of a sudden they’re being fawned over. Poor folks are being fired over it, doors are being thrown wide open.
And my God, look at that cast. Priscilla Lane. Eddie Bracken. Allen Jenkins. Tom Conway. Arthur Treacher, Alma Kruger. Dozens more familiar faces.
It’s a really good natured, funny, witty film that took me totally by surprise. And do yourselves a favour if you’re going to watch it. Don’t spoil it for yourselves. It makes the unfolding plot a whole lot more thrilling. I highly, HIGHLY recommend 1947’s Fun On A Weekend!
And BECAUSE this (kind of) show is very different from the others, in that you’re reading it, and not listening to it, how about I buck the trend of supplying you with a radio play of one of the films I talk about, and instead, provide you with THE ACTUAL FILM!
Yes, if you’re in need of a little pick-me-up, then why not revel in the delight that is 1947’s Fun On A Weekend for yourself!
All you have to do is click on the link below and watch!
I’ll be back next week with the regular show, but until then it’s goodbye from me in the sunny Czech Republic. Thanks for reading, and until we speak again take awfully good care of yourselves...
...and bye for now! X