A Millionaire for Christy exemplifies why the screwball comedy doesn’t work outside it’s era without a lot of tinkering. I can’t even think of a good example of one working outside the 1930s right now, but I’m pretty sure there have been some. Maybe even recently. But Christy adapts a regular screwball comedy script for the filmmaking techniques of 1950. It shoots on location, which gives the scenes a sense of reality, which doesn’t belong. These scenes give the characters a whole lot of weight–their problems become very real, instead of celluloid. The other problem with the film in terms of attempting to remake Bringing Up Baby, only without the budget or the script, is the first act. For a ninety minute movie, Christy has a thirty minute first act. For those thirty minutes, it pretends its it’s directed by Howard Hawks, starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn and it is not. At the thirty-minute mark, Eleanor Parker and Fred MacMurray finally get to start acting and the film takes a visible turn for the better (much better).
A screwball comedy requires the audience to acknowledge the artifice, so even after Christy stops pretending to be Bringing Up Baby, it still has those genuine shooting locations working against it. The film recovers for a couple reasons–three, actually. Parker, MacMurray, and Richard Carlson. Parker and MacMurray have real chemistry and Parker’s excellent once her character has more depth than reluctant gold-digger. MacMurray’s performance is pretty superficial, except in the romantic scenes with Parker, which pull the whole film together. Carlson, as MacMurray’s fiancee’s jilted boyfriend, is fantastic throughout, even during that lame first thirty. When he and Parker team up to break up MacMurray’s engagement, there’s plenty for him to do. There’s a standout scene with he and Parker getting drunk. Carlson not having done more comedies is unfortunate for the genre.
George Marshall, who did lots of films and lots of good ones (he directed Destry Rides Again), suffocates under the location shooting. There’s a lot of standard screwball comedy moments-and Marshall turns them into material for a dark film noir about a man kidnapping a woman in broad daylight, assaulting photographers–the scenes aren’t funny, they’re disturbing. Certain scenes are meant to be done with that aforementioned artifice. Without it, the scenes play wrong.
Given that long first act, the resolution is really hurried, but it is where some of Christy‘s more original moments play out, if only because there’s only three minutes to finish the picture. Another affecting part of the film is Carlson’s psychiatrist’s real concern for poor people with mental illnesses. It’s a serious subject and when it comes up during Carlson’s fantastic drunk sense, it fosters a resentment of the film for being superfluous, not just this one, but the medium in general. It’s off-putting and it’s hard for the scene to recover after it… and when it does, it’s only because of Carlson and Parker’s acting.
Also, the title is a bit of a misdirection. Parker’s Christabel is only called Christy once in the whole film, but it also suggests it’s a search for a millionaire, the other side of Seven Chances perhaps. But still, it’s worthwhile for Parker, Carlson, and MacMurray when he’s with Parker–not to mention as an example of location shooting’s effect on filmic storytelling.
Directed by George Marshall; screenplay by Ken Englund, based on a story by Robert Harari; director of photography, Harry Stradling Sr.; edited by Daniel Mandell; music by David Chudnow and Victor Young; produced by Bert E. Friedlob; released by 20th Century Fox.
Starring Fred MacMurray (Peter Ulysses Lockwood), Eleanor Parker (Christabel ‘Christy’ Sloane), Richard Carlson (Dr. Roland Cook), Kay Buckley (June Chandler), Una Merkel (Patsy Clifford), Douglass Dumbrille (A.K. Thompson), Raymond Greenleaf (Benjamin Chandler) and Nestor Paiva (Mr. Rapello).