Monday, May 6, 2013

Vivacious Lady (1938)

2 Nominations, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Cinematography - Robert De Grasse
Nomination: Best Sound, Recording - James Wilkinson (RKO Radio SSD)

George Stevens was one of the great "actors' directors" in film history, directing performers to 18 Academy Award nominations and two Oscars in his career, while picking up a pair of Best Director trophies for himself in the process.  Though he had made a couple of dozen short films prior to Vivacious Lady, he was relatively new to feature films, and only Alice Adams in 1935 had earned an Oscar nomination for a performer (though three of his other films - Swing Time, Quality Street, and A Damsel in Distress - had earned nominations in other categories).

For Vivacious Lady, Stevens teamed up with two performers undergoing periods of transition in their careers.  James Stewart had found success in his early roles, but was just beginning his partnership with Frank Capra that would result in many of his greatest films and make him a screen legend.  Ginger Rogers was in the process of ending her partnership with Fred Astaire and was moving toward a greater focus on non-musical films.

Vivacious Lady saw these three legends-in-the-making come together to make a lighthearted and largely forgettable film.  The film is the story of a young botanist (Stewart) who falls in love with a nightclub singer (Rogers) on a trip to bring home his ne'er-do-well cousin (James Ellison).  The two marry after only one day of knowing each other, and Stewart's character must figure out how to tell his father (Charles Coburn), the president of the university where he works.  Once the cat is out of the bag, everyone is predictably displeased, and hijinks predictably ensue.

Vivacious Lady is one of those romantic comedies that is neither terribly romantic nor comedic.  The film gets by on the boyish charm of a young Jimmy Stewart and the lighthearted sass of Ginger Rogers.  Both give safe but likable performances, relying on their considerable charisma more than any acting chops.  The script moves along briskly and mostly effortlessly, and the film is entertaining enough without offering anything terribly unique.

Each of the triumvirate of major talents associated this film would quickly move on to bigger and better things, and Vivacious Lady feels like an easy interlude for the trio.  It's an enjoyable enough film to watch if you can catch it on television, but it's a largely forgettable effort by some very talented filmmakers.

Remaining: 3145 films, 871 Oscars, 5402 nominations

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