' Cinema Romantico: Friday Old's Fashioned: Government Girl

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Old's Fashioned: Government Girl

In war torn America in 1943 Dudley Nichols decided to make a film about the effort on the home front and how the simple but crucial desire to assist those men overseas risking their lives was so unavoidably tied to the bickering and backstabbing and "red tape" of the bureaucrats back in Washington D.C. Of course, to make this film in the midst of war torn America in 1943, with everyone on edge about that wackadoo with the mustache and his merry band of idiots, to make this film shining at least a moderately harsh light, would not necessarily lift the spirits of anyone. Thus, he injected a little romance into the proceedings to ensure the presence of the grand, often meddlesome, Hollywood notion that there should be something for everyone. Unfortunately so often in that case everyone goes home wishing for something else.


Lucky for Nichols he had Dame Olivia de Havilland* in the lead role, elicting the sensation of a resistant woman standing in front of a faltering dam and plugging each new leak as it springs up. She is Elizabeth "Smokey" Allard (why "Smokey? probably because it was easier to say than "Elizabeth") and as the film opens she becomes incensed when the hotel suite set aside for the honeymoon of her war secretary and best pal (Anne Shirley) is appropriated by Ed Browne (Sonny Tufts) - who appears to be "a mild, easygoing, good natured sap" but is really a "determined, shrewd, domineering, fast-thinking, pigh-headed jackass" - an engineer in from Detroit who has been called upon by Washington to assist in manufacturing bombers for the European theater. This helpfully gets Smokey and Ed off on the wrong foot and that foot just gets wronger when it turns out the secretary set aside to specially assist Ed in all matters is......wait for it......Smokey!

Despite this requisite roadblock, "Smokey" can't bring herself to sabotage the man in charge and instead helps him hack through the red tape he despises so much with a whimsical machete all while teaching him the finer points of circumventing glad-handing politicians who oddly seem less concerned with hastily and properly winning the war than with initiating Senate inquiries to take down those who have done them wrong. And as she does so, the love flame mutually flickers and then grows warmer as "Smokey's" current boyfriend, the lecherous but smooth Dana McGuire (Jess Barker), clearly not the right man for our leading lady, leads the charge to discredit this Ed Browne. And, as we all know, burning incriminating papers and giving passionate speeches on the senate floor is always a harbinger of True Love.

Only after seeing the movie did I learn that Dame Olivia did not want to make "Government Girl" - like, at all. Alas, her contract with Warner Bros. stipulated her involvement and this was what set in motion the legendary De Havilland Decision in which she fought back against the studios and won the right to work with whomever she wanted on whatever she wanted for whatever fee she negotiated. And you are forced to wonder if her dissatisfaction with his particular project centered around the romance. There was likely a very interesting project to be made around a Government Girl.


Remember Debi Mazar in "The Insider"? Any time Al Pacino needed something, any time he needed anything, he just asked Debi and she would nod and maybe jot down a note and it was as good as done. She was his right-hand woman and a great deal of what was accomplished in that film was on account of her significant abilities. Of course, because this was based on a true story and because Pacino's Lowell Bergman was a real person they were not required to fall in love, not like Ed Browne and "Smokey." And there was more than a little Debi Mazar in "Smokey." Ed Browne not only gets nowhere without her, he's probably rotting in jail.

The one killer shot in "Government Girl" features Dame Olivia in Ed Browne's office alone, sitting at his desk with her feet up, reading a book, smoking a cigarette and, man, does she look in charge. You are left wondering if we would have liberated Paris a lot sooner if "Smokey" had been made to do just her job rather than get involved in lovey-dovey shenanigans with her boss.

*While Britain has not officially bestowed the title of Dame on Olivia de Havilland, Cinema Romantico has.

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