Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday Movie Post

Sometimes I talk about famous movies or shows; sometimes it's the obscure ones. Today, the latter: Washington Story, from 1952. Deservedly obscure, although I'll tell you down in the last paragraph why it's worth watching anyway.

Let's a movie, it's really not much. Patricia Neal is fine as a cynical reporter who sets out to do a hatchet job on a Member of Congress only to...well, you know, don't you. She's fine, although not really sufficiently tough in the first half hour to make the inevitable reversal as entertaining as it should be. But the real problem with the movie is the Kennedy-esque Massachusetts Democrat she winds up with, as played by Van Johnson. Johnson just isn't up for it. We're supposed to care about what happens to him, and, well, in my view anyway, there's just nothing going on there. Old pro Louis Calhern puts a little zip in things -- you know him; he was among other things Ambassador Trentino in Duck Soup, and Uncle Willy in High Society. And Philip Ober helps.  But with a blank in the middle it's hard to get too involved.

By the way, I'm not at all familiar with writer-directer Robert Pirosh (nor are many; he has no bio info at imdb), but for what it's worth he contributed writing to Night at the Opera, Day at the Races, The Wizard of Oz...and, among other things, three episodes of the 1970s Ellery Queen TV series. Not bad!

You would think that I'd like the politics of it, too, given that not only the politicians but even the lobbyists turn out to be good guys, but it's more of a Cold War gee-whiz whitewashing of politics than an honest examination of the conflicts and hard choices that go into real politics (Want a second opinion? Here's the original NYT review). Indeed, what's frustrating on that score is that even though special interests in this movie are improbable white hats, what's left of dramatic tension remains the question of whether Van Johnson will Do The Right Thing, even at a cost to his career (although even that is drained of power, since it turns out that his long-term career will be enhanced by following the path of virtue). This is, of course, Mr. Smithism; there's always a Right Thing and a Wrong Thing for pols to do. In real politics, of course, things just aren't like that, at least most of the time.

So why is Washington Story worth talking about? Because it has one thing well worth seeing. It was in large part filmed on location, in the Capitol. Just terrific shots of pretty much the whole Capitol complex, as it was in winter 1951-1952. Very, very fun. Good enough to overcome a dud of a movie? Sure, especially at a crisp 81 minutes. I wouldn't go very far out of my way to see it, but if you're a fan of the Capitol and notice it coming around on TCM, I'd recommend it.


  1. See a little light? Like from the projector. I don't know it's tough.

  2. I'm surprised Van Johnson is the problem there. Based on his bitter alcoholic excellence in "Brigadoon" I'd have imagined him a great choice to play someone who skirts the border between distasteful and redeemable; or isn't that what's demanded.


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