Cinemagraphe

Don Juan Quilligan - 1945

Review

Don Juan Quilligan - Released June 1, 1945. Directed by Frank Tuttle

"There just ain't something proper about being engaged to two girls at once."

Though Don Juan Quilligan is full of humor, it's not always particularly good humor. A lot of the laughter is supposed to be derived from the portrayal of barge captain Patrick Michael Quilligan (William Bendix) who appears to not be too bright and often misunderstands what is being said around him. His replies are unexpected spins on word meanings which is supposed to be both goofy and endearing, but the script from Arthur Kober and Frank Gabrielson* lays it on pretty thick (with Phil Silvers at his side carrying the twisted-word meanings even further).

Our first scene is Quilligan buying flowers at a florist shop on the anniversary of his mother's death, but Bendix provides such a heavy-handed portrayal of an innocent dimwit in love with his departed mother it looks suspicious, as if the character is running some kind of scam to cover up what he was really buying the flowers for. This turns out to be completely wrong-reading of the signals and this character really is that obsessed with his departed mother.

The main plot of Don Juan Quilligan is how a simple-minded and well-intentioned barge sailor ends up married to two different women at the same time, and then (following the bombing of Pearl Harbor) is also enlisted in the U.S. Navy and drafted into the U. S. Army at the same time. This results in watching Quilligan (with the help of his more clever pal MacDenny played by Silvers) trying to dodge being found out for the confused double (or quadruple) life Quilligan is trying to live. The two sailors invent a phony twin brother to account for at least half-of the complicated life Quilligan is trying to lead, and when a corpse of a hoodlum is found on their boat, they use it to concoct a faked suicide to put to rest one of the twin-brother personalities. As these shenanigans get more confused, though, Quilligan eventually gets arrested and tried in court for the murder of his own invented twin-brother, who is in fact, of course, himself.

Joan Blondell and Mary Treen portray the two separate wives in this light-hearted comedy of bigamy which the film is careful to let us know doesn't include any Honeymoons taking place, and only bothers to use the word "bigamy" a couple of times, and then only for comedic effect. It moves fast and features Bendix mostly, though with Silvers nearly always within arms-reach, Don Juan Quilligan is almost a buddy picture until Quilligan is alone with one or the other of the two respective women who remind him of his mother. This similitude puts him into something like a hypnotic state where common sense simply can't intrude, creating layers of complexity for this simpleton's life.

Like a lot of comedies the story in Don Juan Quilligan is mostly propelled by mistaken situations and identities, and Bendix carries forward the crazy tale of a guy who can't help but get married to two women nearly within days of each other as believable as it can be. The acting is often broad and exaggerated, with both Bendix and Blondell being the most extreme aside from Phil Silvers' genuflections. Mary Treen is stable and dignified, and the support cast of Veda Ann Borg and Ann Revere help to gel the whole goofy thing together. Don Juan Quilligan seems to improve as the lunacy expands, and though I found the first part of the film irritating and too improbable, as the crisscrossing problem of bigamy comes together like an anchor around Quilligan's neck, the film becomes what it was trying to do all along, a bit endearing but also more importantly, funny.

Joan Blondell by this point in her career was no longer using an acting style composed of alternating sweet-or-angry personalities like so many of her thirties films, but now expresses dialogue with hand, arm and tossed-head gestures often extreme and cartoony. Between her frequent outfit changes and a sometimes too-caricatured "Irish accent," she isn't just the "glamour-girl" in the film but ends up in a strange situation where Bendix, Silvers and Blondell are sometimes fighting over who is the lead goofball on the screen.

Ace character-actor Treen is in a sympathetic role that pits her against the more physical Blondell but Director Frank Tuttle shows them neck-and-neck for Quilligan's affections, because, though Blondell's character can sing a song like the departed mother of our title character and looks great in the fashions paraded through the movie, Treen's character can cook like the dead mother, hence the emotional loggerhead Quilligan comes to when trying to choose between them, which, sympathetically, by the end you can see is an unsolveable problem.

* From a story by Herbert Clyde Lewis


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Original page September 2021