Unlike the stage play, with book by Moss Hart, music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Ira Gershwin, Hollywood’s Lady in the Dark is not so much a musical as a dramedy with lavish musical interludes. It is also one of Mitchell Leisen’s two or three best films, one that is more entertaining about Freudian psychoanalysis than Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound the following year. Ginger Rogers plays Liza Elliott, who doesn’t suffer fools, male or otherwise, as the accomplished editor-in-chief of Allure magazine. Something is blocking Liza’s desire to compete romantically with other women. She may want to be a sexual knockout, but her whole image, as hard and efficient, denies this. Liza has been having debilitating headaches and suddenly cannot make crucial decisions. What’s wrong with her?
Like the play, Leisen’s film doesn’t leave Liza in the dark. Her glamorous mother’s early death and her grieving father’s rebuff of her at a critical moment conspired to prevent Liza from normally working her way through her intense affection for her father, leaving her with an unresolved Electra-complex. Her psychoanalyst suggests happiness might come to her if she chooses a man who will dominate her, thus breaking her habit of dominating men. This is worrying—but not for long; ultimately Liza makes a better choice—one that doesn’t raise our feminist hackles.
Rogers is good playing a vulnerable bully in the heat of work, a bedeviled soul since childhood now intent on coming into the light of emotional health, a successful woman growing in humanity before our eyes. Moreover, she sings (in a bowdlerized version) the legendary “Saga of Jenny” with electrifying snap and astounding versatility, and dances entrancingly with Don Loper, the film’s choreographer. Ray Milland, as Liza’s ad whiz Charley Johnson, also well plays an increasingly mature role. Warner Baxter is solid as Kendall, the married suitor onto whom Liza has projected her feelings for her father. Jon Hall (in Victor Mature’s stage role) is at his best as the movie star who is a helpless boy behind his action hero-image. Indeed, this is a movie about the discrepancy between image and messy human reality, and therefore the setting of a glossy fashion mag’s offices dispenses ongoing irony.
Mischa Auer plays the role of the gay fashion photographer that made Broadway’s Danny Kaye a star. Auer is very funny.
Liza’s dream sequences—or, as Liza describes them, hallucinations—are as memorable as these things get. In particular, during the Circus Dream, there is that haunting image of her childhood self peering at her animal-caged adult self and wondering how she got that way.
This Technicolor beaut is not to be missed. Many complain of all the deleted songs, but, in truth, the film is complete as it is.
B(U)Y THE BOOK
MY BOOK, A Short Chronology of World Cinema, IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FROM THE SANDS FILMS CINEMA CLUB IN LONDON. USING EITHER OF THE LINKS BELOW, ACCESS THE ADVERTISEMENT FOR THIS BOOK, FROM WHICH YOU CAN ORDER ONE OR MORE COPIES OF IT. THANKS.