MAGNIFICENT DOLL (Frank Borzage, 1946)

For as long as I have been that I can remember, I have adored Ginger Rogers. She is one of the best Hollywood film actresses, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool. However, Ginger was not infallible, and she gave some bad performances. Perhaps the most terrible one can be found in Magnificent Doll.
     The story is ridiculous. Ginger plays Dolly Payne. In this version of history, Aaron Burr and James Madison vie for Dolly’s hand. Guess-who won. Thomas Jefferson, according to script, benefited from Dolly’s activism; then her spouse did. (Where were Fred and Cary, one wonders.) Aaron carried a burning torch. (Well, Dolly looked like Ginger Rogers!) Whence derives such a cockeyed story? Irving Stone is the author of the script. All agony here; no ecstasy. (Or should I reverse that?) Dolly narrates, so there’s no doubting what’s what. Doris Kearns Goodwin need not apply.
     Post-Hamilton duel, Dolly convinces a crowd not to hang traitor Aaron—with political sentiments of which, post-speech, James approves. Problem: As Ginger plays the key scene, no one could possibly have been convinced. Get the rope. Get two ropes.
     In the old days, David Niven, who plays Burr, was given credit for the one good performance. (Burgess Meredith plays James Madison.) In truth, there is no “good performance.” But Ginger is a little worse than everyone else. Flimsy. Glamorous. Adorned with Lilly Daché hats!
     Frank Borzage, who had won two Oscars, directed. Only six years earlier he had made his masterpiece, The Mortal Storm (1940), in which Margaret Sullavan gives one of the greatest performances in cinema. (Borzage had directed Sullavan superbly a few times earlier; a fundamentalist Christian, he directed The Mortal Storm from the heart; it was one of the earliest Hollywood films to address Hitler’s brutalization of Jews.) What happened with Ginger? Well, Borzage by this time was lost in alcoholism, and Ginger, a Christian Scientist, disapproved. It was probably the case that Borzage could not give Rogers competent direction and that she in any case could not take it. Pity.
     This is comic strip historical cinema. But it’s watchable—and laughable.

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