Vivacious Lady

Why it's hard to tell Charles Coburn you've married a night club singer

Vivacious Lady, 1938, Directed by George Stevens

That's Frances Mercer laid out on the floor in the last frame grab. She plays Helen, who was the originally intended bride for Peter (James Stewart) who instead went off to New York to fetch his wandering cousin Keith (James Ellison) and in the process met Ginger Rogers (Francey, a nightclub singer), married her within a few hours, and has brought her back to the university town of "Old Sharon" where his family has stuffily run things for generations.

The main dilemma running through the center of this screwball comedy is that James Stewart won't own up to having married Francey, and so she masquerades as a new student at the university where he is a botany professor. At first he can't figure out how to break the news to his taciturn father the university president (Charles Coburn) but then Stewart holds back because of the supposedly weak heart of his mother (Beulah Bondi - - it turns out the weak heart is a fake, she uses it to keep Coburn from yelling at her. He however does yell at everybody else as if they're all deaf).

Ridiculous problems accumulate as Stewart and Ginger Rogers' characters try to get a few minutes alone with each other while trying to hide the fact they are married, and every situation (and person around them) conspires to prevent that from happening. George Stevens' milks this frustration from every angle until it seems like the town of "Old Sharon" itself is against them.

In the screen grabs here, Mercer and Rogers had been having a conversation about who has rights over the botany professor, a talk which has degenerated into a hair-pulling contest (Rogers will win with a judo throw).

The screenplay written by P.J. Wolfson and Lloyd Ingraham pokes at the dignity these "university" characters have, and then shreds it in a series of misunderstandings with plenty of opportunity for all to get half-crazed in the 1930s screwball style. George Stevens' direction keeps all the madness bursting out of elegant dinner parties, finely decorated apartments and the atmosphere of academia.

Original Page Aug 2014

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