Close Quarters

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Today we’ve got a free-for-all movie for CineMaven’s Free For All Blogathon, and it’s a doozy.

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We’re back in Washington D.C., people. The war is still on, folks are still crammed into the city like sardines, and there’s more craziness to be had. Only instead of an apartment building, we’re checking in at the fanciest hotel in town in 1944’s The Doughgirls. Based on the 1942 play of the same name, the movie is relentlessly crazy fun.

The film opens in Pottsville, Maryland, at the Justice of the Peace’s house. A young couple, Arthur (Jack Carson) and Vivian (Jane Wyman) pull up in a roadster with a black poodle, Duke in the back seat and happily go in to be married. In an ironic harbinger of things to come, the two lovebirds on the perch outside go from nuzzling (if that’s possible with a beak) to pecking each other. When Arthur and Vivian come out a few minutes later, they’re followed by the Justice of the Peace, an awfully stern fellow who looks like a prizefighter. “Thank you, we’ll come again!” Vivian trills.

Vivian comes across as a little ditzy and sometimes pouty, but she knows what she wants. And what she wants is a posh honeymoon suite for she and Arthur. Problem is, rooms are so hard to come by, all it takes is one word from their hotel’s front desk and people start dropping from the ceiling trying to get in there. Fortunately for Arthur and Vivian, they have a reservation, so up they go to their room on the eleventh floor. As soon as the previous tenants vacate, they’re all set.

vlcsnap-2018-03-01-12h11m33s307Only they don’t want to vacate. The wife is in the bathtub, and she’s not taking too kindly to being elbowed out of her former hotel suite. Arthur goes off to his new war job, taking Duke with him on a walk and leaving Vivian to get the other people out. When the woman finally does come out, she turns out to be Vivian’s old friend, Edna (Ann Sheridan), from their chorus line days. They’re overjoyed to reunite, but to Vi’s chagrin, Edna runs off and tells her husband, Julian Cadman (John Ridgley) that they’re staying. They’ve been married for a week, and have been blissfully passing the time of day in their opulent abode.

Another lady happens to show up bringing Duke back, and wonder of wonders, it’s yet another member of the old chorus line: Nan Curtiss (Alexis Smith). She’s not married yet, but her fiancee is Lieutenant Thomas Dillon, who’s going to marry her as soon as he gets out of quarantine. Until then, she’s practically Mrs. Dillon, and she doesn’t mind saying so. When the three ladies meet, they can’t resist re-enacting some of their old choreography, set to “Jeepers Creepers.” It goes swimmingly until Nan steps on Edna’s foot.

vlcsnap-2018-03-02-08h25m37s930While everyone is getting recquainted, Arthur’s new boss, Mr. Slade (Charles Ruggins) pays a visit. He’s an older fellow who likes the ladies, even married ones, and he comes bearing candy. Then Elizabeth Brush Cartwright (Barbara Brown) arrives, in her full War Widows Relief Fund uniform and pince-nez, to invite the ladies to serve in day care centers for war workers. Julian also comes by with a famous Russian sergeant, Natalia Moskoroff (Eve Arden), who wants to see American life up close.

Well, she gets an eyeful.

Before things get confusing, I should mention that Grand Central Station has nothing on Arthur and Vivian’s honeymoon suite. People come and go alllllllll the time. Cleaning people, valets, the laundry service, room service, the concierge. And that’s just the hotel staff. There’s also a guy who keeps coming in looking for a place to sleep. There’s a famous radio broadcaster, Breckenridge Drake (Alan Mowbray) who has a standing reservation for the suite whenever he’s in Washington D.C., but he doesn’t mind sharing it with four charming ladies. As long as they let him hang his hunting trophies on the wall and stay out of the way when he’s recording, that is.

vlcsnap-2018-03-02-07h59m49s564As if that weren’t enough, Julian’s ex-wife, Sylvia (Irene Manning) shows up, only she’s not his ex. Julian married Edna under the impression that his divorce was already final. Heh. Not quite.

Nan has her own troubles. Her lieutenant gets out of quarantine and shows up at the suite with a judge expecting to get married, but Nan can’t find the license because Vivian used it for a laundry list. Derp.

Speaking of Vivian, she and Arthur aren’t safe, either. That Justice of the Peace who married them? He turns out to be a runaway convict who had the real Justice of the Peace tied up in a closet. Oops.

vlcsnap-2018-03-02-08h31m55s081Not surprisingly, Arthur refuses to stay in the suite with it being so crowded and everything, so it’s up to the four ladies to make ends meet. Vivian gets a job as a secretary to Mr. Slade, but it’s not enough when staying in a fancy hotel with fancy bills. Fortunately for our four intrepid women, there’s always the last refuge of the would-be well-to-do: the pawnbroker. Natalia and her rifle are effective liasons for those dealings. All in fun, of course.

The Doughgirls is absurdist in structure, meaning the plot is circular instead of linear. The action happens around these four women and there’s nothing they can really do to stop it. When it doesn’t seem to be able to handle more, more shows up, and they just have to stand there and take it. All they want to do is get married, for the love of Pete! Well, except for Natalia.

vlcsnap-2018-03-02-08h41m24s734What I like best about the film is that it’s pure World War Two satire, and it’s done very cleverly. It pokes fun at the housing shortage, of course, and wartime industry (“You can make anything out of soybeans.”), not to mention rationing, such as when the ladies send Natalia to the pawnbroker. Vi tells her, “Bring home the bacon.” Natalia replies, “No bacon. It’s meatless Tuesday.” It’s a lot of fun from beginning to end, albeit dizzying in pace. However, if, like the ladies, audiences can just sit back and let things happen, it’s a wonderful time.

For more of the Free For All Blogathon, please see Cinemaven at Essays From the CouchThanks for reading, everyone, and see you on Wednesday for a new “Stage To Screen” post! 🙂


Buy this film on Amazon.

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7 thoughts on “Close Quarters

  1. A fine review of a charming farce. Great cast, for starters. This one really works for me and I’m not sure why, since this kind of broad, loud, cluttered ’40s comedy isn’t generally my thing. But this one has a sweetness about it that helps it go down easier. Anyway, I love that you chose it because it’s not much talked about and it really is a swell comedy. Thanks for putting a spotlight on it.

    Liked by 1 person

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