Sunday, 20 September 2020

Movie Review: Without Reservations (1946)

A romantic comedy, Without Reservations invests in a complicated premise but then abandons it in favour of an underdeveloped jealousy ploy.

Author Christopher "Kit" Madden (Claudette Colbert) is the talk of the nation, as her inspiring novel Here Is Tomorrow, a call for post-war nation building, sits for 16 weeks at the top of the bestseller charts. Hollywood producer Henry Baldwin (Thurston Hall) has optioned the book and is eagerly awaiting Kit's arrival in Los Angeles. Just before she boards the train Kit is disappointed to learn Cary Grant has passed on the role of the book's hero Mark Winston. 

But she soon spots Marine Captain "Rusty" Thomas (John Wayne) and his traveling buddy Lieutenant "Dink" Watson (Don DeFore), and decides Rusty would be perfect for the role. On the train ride Kit befriends Rusty and Dink but hides her identity, eager to find out if Rusty shares her passion for large-scale societal and governmental reforms. Although disappointed to find him more down to earth, Kit starts to fall in love with Rusty, but winning his heart will not be easy.

An adaptation of the book Thanks, God! I'll Take It From Here by Jane Allen and Mae Livingston, Without Reservations is directed by Mervyn LeRoy from an Andrew Solt script. The film combines a long and rather tedious road trip with romance and comedy. The original noble intention delves into the post-war national psyche and occupies plenty of screen time, Madden's book seemingly a forward-looking manifesto (disguised as a romance) for overhauling everything from childhood education to land development patterns. 

Discussions of the book are surprisingly the best parts of the movie's first two acts, because Solt and LeRoy are unable to do much else within the confines of the moving train. The humour is choppy, and the supporting characters are dominated by the exceptionally irritating Connie (Anne Triola), appropriately nicknamed Beetle. After switching from one train to another and then into a car, the story meanders along with Kit, Rusty and Dink into a quite bland adventure, the would-be lovers irritating each other before the romance even blossoms.

A long stop at a ranch occupied by the Mexican Ortega immigrant family gives the alluring Dona Drake as Dolores Ortega every opportunity to throw herself at Rusty and inflame Kit's jealousy. Once Kit finally arrives in Los Angeles she returns the favour in a final act running on fumes, the film stumbling into a dry exchange of letters. The story stalls into the gossip columns, the lovers not even sharing the screen together, the movie-casting project and the social commentary entirely discarded.

Claudette Colbert and John Wayne are game but share little chemistry, and the supporting cast is thin, although Cary Grant pops us as himself in an uncredited cameo. Without Reservations spends a long time on the train, but gets comprehensively sidetracked.



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