The High Cost of Loving (1958) – A Movie Review

“The High Cost of Loving” is a mild comedy of errors about the home and workplace tribulations of Jim Fry (Jose Ferrer).  Jim’s a purchasing agent for the Lynden Company which has just been purchased by Associated Industries.  Through a series of accidents and misunderstandings Jim gets the impression that he’s about to be fired.  And naturally this is simultaneous with the news that his wife Ginny is going to have a baby.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

This comedy of errors begins with Jim not getting invited to a lunch where the executive board of Associated will meet the assistant directors (like Jim) who are being considered for promotion in the new corporate environment.  And after this first slight, several incidents provide reinforcement to the idea that the new management intends to terminate Jim.  And of course, this makes him jumpy and increasingly bitter and causes trouble between husband and wife.

In addition, Jim’s work friend Steve has a wife Syd who in addition to being Ginny’s friend is also a blabbermouth who can’t help but say the wrong thing about the events going on at Lynden Company.

Finally, after Jim has come to terms with his worries and resolved to do whatever is necessary to save his job, he reaches his office in time to see a painter scraping his name off the window.  Incensed, he sits down at this desk and writes a scathing letter to the new president of Lynden Company expressing his outrage at what he thinks is the company’s ingratitude toward him.  He stomps over to the president’s office and gives the letter to the secretary there.  Just then the president and his boss from Associated Industries walk in and hurry Jim into the office to inform him that an error occurred keeping Jim off the list of invitees for the lunch with the executive board.  And then they inform him that he’s been promoted to Director of Purchasing.  After some embarrassing moments he retrieves the letter and manages to convince the president that the letter he wrote should be returned unread.  And tranquility is restored on the business front for Jim.

The movie ends with Ginny allowing Jim to regale her with tales of his oratorical prowess at the infamous “lunch” followed by Ginny pulling a prank on him.  She pretends that the letter he reclaimed from the president’s office was not the one he wrote but a magazine subscription form letter that must have been on the president’s desk.  After debunking her joke the movie ends with a romantic scene between husband and wife as their lives settle into a new and happier circumstance.

This movie is a bit of fluff.  A Shakespearian title would be “Much Ado About Nothing.”  It’s such a mild comedy with so little consequence about the plot that you might think it isn’t worth the trouble to watch it.  I’ll disagree.  I don’t suppose that the word charming has much currency today.  But that is the word that comes to mind.  And for once my tastes and Camera Girl’s agreed.  I guess that makes this domestic comedy a good date movie.  The relationship between husband and wife is so attractively drawn that we both found ourselves laughing at the same scenes.  And each of us defended our side of the battle of the sexes when it inevitably emerged.  But we equally agreed that the marriage on display was refreshingly healthy.  Jose Ferrer directed himself in this movie and I believe he also had one of the writing credits.  I give him high marks for the little touches he added to the domestic scenes.  The scenes where husband and wife wake up and stagger through their groggy routine were well scripted and enjoyable.  And finally, the thing I noticed was that the world of 1958 America was a thoroughly pleasant place.  Even the anxiety of losing a job takes place in surroundings that trumpet a peaceful and well-ordered world.  And Jim is worried about losing his job because of competency not diversity, equity and inclusion considerations.  Ah, simpler and better times.

The Great Man (1956) – A Movie Review

Jose Ferrer directs and stars in this drama about the manufactured quality of mass media celebrity.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Jose Ferrer plays Joe Harris, a reporter who covers the entertainment beat for a local New York City newspaper, radio and television network.  When Herb Fuller, the network’s leading broadcaster dies in an automobile accident Harris is dragged into the story to provide a reverential eulogy of the beloved broadcaster during the extended network coverage of his funeral.

Dean Jagger plays Philip Carleton the head of the network.  Carleton dangles Fuller’s vacant network shows in front of Harris as an incentive for him to dazzle the audience with a masterful hagiography of “the great man.”  Sid Moore (played by Keenan Wynn) was Fuller’s producer and he’s responsible for lining up Fuller’s associates for Harris to interview in the few days left before the broadcast.  But aware that Harris is being groomed for Fuller’s old spot Moore is suspicious of Harris’s motives, surly toward him and quickly berates Harris for overstepping his place in the network hierarchy.

As Harris begins interviewing people, he realizes that there is an inverse relationship between how well people knew Fuller and how well they liked him.  People who only knew him from his broadcasts revered him as a good man and as almost a member of the family.  But the people who knew him most intimately revealed him to be an awful human being.  He was an abusive alcoholic.  His wife only stayed married to him to avoid scandal.  He was an indiscriminate womanizer who tossed away girls as soon as he became tired of them but expected them to always be available to him if he was bored or lonely.

His first job in radio was for a small radio station in Worcester Massachusetts owned by a religious man named Paul Beaseley (played by Ed Wynn) who was hoodwinked by Fuller’s incredible eloquence about his supposed spirituality.  Eventually he revealed himself to Beasley as a completely phony opportunist who preyed on people’s better natures.  But Harris also discovers that Fuller was a powerfully gifted writer and actor whose powers of persuasion and charm could win over any audience that didn’t happen to know him personally.

In one of the most powerful scenes Harris listens to one of Fuller’s most masterful broadcasts.  Ostensibly Fuller was in a forward line battleground at the German front in World War II and he was reporting on the American soldiers wounded and dying.  And he was describing an American soldier on a rude operating table in a barn having his leg amputated.  Fuller is describing the need for blood for these wounded men and starts berating, practically shouting at the American public for not immediately beating a path to their local hospital to donate blood for the cause.

Harris is powerfully moved by this recording and thinks he finally sees a humanity in Fuller.  But later on, Moore tells him the truth.  Fuller never got out to the battlefields.  He spent the trip in a drunken debauch in Paris where he was arrested in a brothel.  Moore went himself to the front to get the recordings and Fuller merely recorded his monologue over that background later on.

While this is going on Carleton reveals to Harris that there is corporate intrigue that involves forcing Moore away from the future of the shows that Harris may be given.  Harris is disgusted with both Carleton and Moore and almost everyone else he’s come in contact with on this story.

Finally, the night of the broadcast Harris is preparing to give the eulogy along with all the glowing tributes he’s recorded from those that didn’t really know Fuller or who would benefit from maintaining the myth about him.  But he stops.  Unable to stomach the lies, he tells the audience the truth.  He begins to relate the facts that he has discovered about the real Herb Fuller.  Back in the executive office Moore and Carleton are listening to the broadcast.  When Harris begins spilling the beans, Moore calls up the control room to cut Harris off.  But Carleton stops him.  Harris is about to become a symbol of crusading integrity and the network can utilize that to jumpstart their new star reporter’s career.  Carleton knows that advertising time can be sold with Fuller as either a sinner or a saint.  The story will come out.

I had never seen this movie before.  I’m glad I have.  This is a very well-made drama.  Jose Ferrer is a very good actor.  It seems he’s a pretty good director too.  The story is intriguing and the cast is full of good performances.  The one that stands out for me is Ed Wynn as the New England radio station owner.  His small-town sincerity is such a contrast to the cynicism and phoniness of the New York media crowd that it is almost shocking.  When we read the first broadcast that Fuller wrote for him and measure it against the values that are on display from the rest of the characters, we can feel Harris’s embarrassment at having treated this good-hearted man with faint mockery at his provincial manner.  Like him, maybe we feel a twinge of remorse that our lives have become coarsened too.  We feel a sadness that the world is really more Fuller’s world and not the better place it should be.

Anyway, I recommend this movie.  It has a good story to tell and it does it well.

Cyrano de Bergerac – An OCF Classic Movie Review

With enormous trepidation do I write this review.  In this year 2018, surrounded by the mores and mentality currently on display in the former realm of Christendom, how can you explain, never mind, recommend the story of Cyrano de Bergerac?  To a generation that embraces Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé and the Kardashians how do you justify Cyrano’s chaste love for Roxane.  To a world that needs safe spaces to cower in at the very hint of harsh language how do you explain two men fighting to the death with rapiers over an insult?  It’s ludicrous to even consider.  The very word honor has ceased to have an explicable meaning.

No, there is no way.  This story can only be presented to an older generation.  And even to them, watching it would be a jarring exercise in switching gears from the world of Caitlyn Jenner and Hillary Clinton to the chivalry of seventeenth century France.  So, I cannot expect any sympathy from a modern audience for such a story. Even when this movie was filmed in 1950 the plot was considered much too sentimental.  In fact, the only saving grace it had was the tour de force performance of its star Jose Ferrer.  Even critics who savaged the rest of the production including the rest of the cast, declared Ferrer’s portrayal of Cyrano as a masterpiece and his recital of Rostand’s words inspired.  And so, they were.  Ferrer’s mastery of the material only seems the more convincing compared to the journeyman competence of his fellow cast members.

For those who have read this far but do not know Rostand’s plot, Cyrano is a musketeer in the employ of the King of France in the seventeenth century.  He is also a poet and a deadly skilled swordsman.  He also possesses a very large nose about which he is devilishly sensitive.  One word or even a glance at his nose is enough to trigger a duel from which the offender will exit without his life.  And Cyrano is secretly in love with Roxane his distant cousin and one of the most beautiful women in Paris.  Because of his relationship with Roxane he is compelled by his sense of honor to help her in whatever she asks.  Unfortunately, what she asks him is to help his rival in love to succeed in his courting of Roxane.  When Cyrano meets this rival Christian, he discovers that he is unable to string romantic words together in a way that appeals to Roxane.  So, Cyrano must become Christian’s coach in writing and speaking poems of love.  And finally, when it becomes too difficult, he uses the darkness of night to impersonate Christian under Roxane’s balcony and succeeds in winning her love for Christian with Cyrano’s own passionate declaration of love.

There follow several obstacles, a nobleman as rival to Christian who is also his superior officer in the army and a war with Spain.  Marriage, sorrow, misunderstanding and death stand in the way of true love.  But revelation finally occurs, if too late to allow for happiness.  All of this is brocaded with a script that Ferrer delivers with wit and panache.  For a man of the late nineteenth or early to mid-twentieth century it is a treat and for those afterward a puzzle only.

Recommended only for the true sentimental idealist.