Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942)

Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942), directed by Leo McCarey.

A very odd combination of genres: screwball comedy, wartime thriller and patriotic propaganda effort. Might be a good companion to To Be or Not to Be (1942), a higher rated film.

Made when WW2 had been raging for a while but the US was not in it yet, like Casablanca (1942), also from Warner. During a scene in Paris, Eiffel Tower in the background, our lovers sip champagne on a cafe balcony when the Nazis march in to town; my wife and I both said "Where's Rick and Ilsa?"

It starts in a familiar zany way: "dancer" Ginger Rogers pretends to be Society so she can marry Baron Walter Slezak who is a Nazi stooge pretending to be a patriotic Austrian. Newsman Cary Grant pretends to be a diplomat and then a dress fitter so he can do a story on the Baron ... and so on. Lots of good physical comedy in this part.

She does marry the Baron and they travel the continent, Grant in pursuit. Strangely enough wherever the Baron goes the German armies soon follow. Grant convinces her that the Baron is a bad guy and she transforms from a shallow gold-digger into a concerned patriot and then into an undercover agent. Of course they fall in love: given the choice between Cary Grant and a Nazi stooge, what's an all-American girl to do?

The story bogs down in a couple of places, notably when Rogers recites the Pledge of Allegiance with a secret agent who recruits her for a mission.

Things take an ominous and unsettling turn in Poland. The assassination of a Polish general is surprisingly bloody. After Rogers helps a Jewish family escape the country she and Grant are arrested as Jews and sent to a concentration camp. This is not wacky camp humor, but a very grim episode. Fortunately for our stars they are sprung and go on to further adventures and eventually more comedy. It is very strange to see this material presented at this time and in this sort of film.

The European characters almost always speak their own languages here; no pretending that the world speaks English on film.

Gary Grant: there has never been anything like him. He's in his light-hearted mode here. Ginger Rogers always had the girl-next-door appeal, but she was also called the hardest working woman in Hollywood: "she could do everything Fred Astaire did, backwards and in heels." No dancing this time.

Warner Archive title, available for rent from ClassicFlix.

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