The Feminine Touch (1941, W.S. Van Dyke)

Don Ameche is a university professor working on his book revealing jealousy as an outdated concept. Rosalind Russell is his wife, who wishes Ameche would get jealous over her. Enter Kay Francis and Van Heflin as their extra-martial temptations (though, not really, because Ameche’s not interested in Francis and he’s right about Russell too). Actually, only Heflin is interested. Anyway, as a romantic comedy The Feminine Touch establishes rather early what it’s going to need to get itself sorted out and then takes around ninety minutes getting there. The performances are good for the most part (Russell gets tiresome after about seventy minutes) and it’s decently written–until the third act, there are some rather amusing scenes.

The problem with the film is it doesn’t play to its strengths. Until the third act and the lead-up to it, Francis and Heflin are basically fodder. Heflin’s fantastic as the would-be philanderer, but his character is useless, around to give Russell something to do (ignore his advances). The film’s greatest strength is Ameche and Russell’s happy marriage, which provides for some very good scenes. Their chemistry is so strong and with W.S. Van Dyke directing, it’s hard not to wonder if The Feminine Touch wasn’t originally a project for William Powell and Myrna Loy. But when it choses the necessary path for standard martial comedy conflict, it gets unpleasant. The third act tries to force joke after joke, reducing Ameche to something out of Tex Avery. It gets silly, instead of smart and, as opposed to the beginning, when it really felt like Joseph L. Mankiewicz was producing the film, by the end it felt like he went home after a while to read a book.

Van Dyke’s direction is excellent, of course, subtle but comedic, while maintaining a sympathetic connection to the protagonists of each scene. However, there’s a terrible dream sequence–it looks like someone aped a bunch of Dali on a wall and had Ameche and Russell walk in front of it. Van Dyke does not do well with the fantastic (or, apparently, insuring the set decorators in charge of painting backdrops had heard of perspective–the dream sequence is particularly bad because it’s two dimensional).

The strong start but the small scope of the story (there are five actors credited at the beginning and it’d be hard, after seeing it, to list more than eight) combined with turning Ameche into a caricature and Russell into a manipulative jerk–not to mention the really poor handling of a one month gap between scenes–makes The Feminine Touch decidedly lacking. Especially in terms of a title. It really has nothing to do with the film….

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; written by George Oppenheimer, Edmund L. Hartmann and Ogden Nash; director of photography, Ray June; edited by Albert Akst; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Rosalind Russell (Julie Hathaway), Don Ameche (Prof. John Hathaway), Kay Francis (Nellie Woods), Van Heflin (Elliott Morgan, Publisher), Donald Meek (Captain Makepeace Liveright), Gordon Jones (Rubber-Legs Ryan), Henry Daniell (Shelley Mason, Critic), Sidney Blackmer (Freddie Bond, Elliott’s Lawyer), Grant Mitchell (Dean Hutchinson, Digby College) and David Clyde (Brighton, Elliot’s Butler).


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