Tuesday 18 August 2015

Movie Review: Eternally Yours (1939)

A rather bland romantic comedy, Eternally Yours is the story of a magician pursuing his girl, but the film suffers from an obnoxious central character, a plodding pace and an absence of wit.

Tony "The Great Arturo" (David Niven) is a magician and hypnotist popular with the ladies. As soon as he sets eyes on Anita (Loretta Young) they fall in love. She breaks off her engagement to Don (Broderick Crawford), marries Tony, and becomes his assistant. They live a life of travel and touring, but Anita eventually longs to return to some stability and a quiet life in a dream rural home. But one drunken night Tony promises a journalist that he can jump out of an airplane in handcuffs and free his hands in time to activate the parachute. To Anita's horror he goes ahead with the stunt, and this makes him even more popular.

When Tony commits to another long international tour to capitalize on his airplane jump trick, Anita decides that she has had enough. She leaves him, secures a divorce and marries Don. But Tony realizes that he cannot find happiness without Anita, and he starts a long pursuit to win her back.

Directed by Tay Garnett, Eternally Yours is a formulaic romance only marginally brightened by the world of magic and trickery occupied by Tony. The film has some promising raw material to work with, and refreshingly treats magic as almost just another profession. The secrets behind most of Tony's deceptive tricks are casually revealed, and the special effects deployed for the airplane jump are rudimentary although passable for the era.

Niven and Young offer decent star power, and they generate good heat as a couple very much passionately in love but also operating on different frequencies. She wants stability, he wants to capitalize on fame, and as much as she can tolerate his womanizing, she reaches a breaking point with his broken promises and lack of sensitivity. The central characters do remain quite shallow, with barely any background context, and their love-at-first-sight encounter is laughably unconvincing. The willing supporting cast includes C. Aubrey Smith as Anita's Grandpa, Zasu Pitts and Eve Arden.

But otherwise, the script gets bogged down in routine territory, and fails miserably to make Tony a sympathetic character. And once Anita dumps Tony, life steadily seeps out of the entirely predictable back half of the film. Don as the replacement romantic interest is a wooden doofus, and Tony's single-minded attempts to win back Anita border on cruel. Garnett's directing is generally pedestrian and does nothing to overcome the lacklustre dialogue exchanges.

While not a total loss, Eternally Yours tries to pull a rabbit out of a hat, but finds an ungainly chicken instead.

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