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Embraceable You

Embraceable You(1948)

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teaser Embraceable You (1948)

As is often the case, criminality and sentimentality are intertwined in Embraceable You (1948). Despite its gangster milieu, it's essentially a romantic melodrama in which Dane Clark and Geraldine Brooks literally and romantically collide after the car he's driving throws her to the pavement and a getaway turns into a hit-and-run. Part of the film's appeal is its modesty, although, as Winston Churchill said of his political rival, Clement Atlee, it has a lot to be modest about. That it has not entirely tumbled into obscurity is due to a couple of neat plot twists in Edna Anhalt's screenplay.

They nudge Clark's gangland chauffeur, Eddie Novoc, into a couple of dangerous situations. When Eddie, troubled by his conscience, visits Brooks's Marie in the hospital with a made-up story to conceal his identity, he's relieved to learn she's recovering from the injuries he inflicted on her. And of course he falls for her. What he also doesn't count on is Wallace Ford's homicide detective spotting him and tying the hit-and-run to Eddie's boss gunning down a gambler, from which Eddie was whisking his employer, hulking Richard Rober, at top speed. The cop can't prove anything. But he lets Eddie know he plans to keep bulldogging him. He also tells Eddie he'll jail him on the hit-and-run unless he does the right thing by Brooks.

We immediately like her when we learn she's faking the extent of her injuries in hope of an insurance jackpot, broke as she is and having just been tossed out of her furnished room. What the doc doesn't tell her is that in examining her he discovered that she has an inoperable embolism and could die at any moment. Eddie finds this out, and given the cop's ultimatum, he does his best to right things, stuck as he is between two rocks (the cop and his murderous boss) and a soft place (Brooks). But when his boss tells him to get lost, he quickly exhausts his meager resources keeping Brooks in a style (flat in a Manhattan brownstone for the princely sum of $150 a month, nights on the town, and other diversions) to which she had been unaccustomed. To her annoyance, though, he's hesitant about dancing with her and insists on getting her home early.

Brooklyn-born Clark (1912-1998), who earned a law degree but couldn't find work in the '30s, bounced from employment as a boxer, baseball player, construction worker and model to acting after meeting arts-related connections in modeling. He went the customary film biz route, from small stage roles to small film roles to larger ones. He never quite made the A-list, but appeared opposite Bogart, Cary Grant, Bette Davis and Raymond Massey and enjoyed a solid, decades-long career. He prided himself on roles he described as "Joe Average" and liked working at Warner Brothers where, he maintained, you didn't need pretty boy looks to get ahead.

In Embraceable You, however, he's at a bit of a disadvantage. Because he knows how fragile she is and she doesn't (she finally learns toward the end), he's stuck with playing hesitancy while she's playing ardor in their scenes together. He comes across as halting - not what you want to see in a lover. Not that he has much choice when he knows one enthusiastic hug might kill her. With his callous, dismissive boss, it's a different story. When he runs out of money, he barges into Mr. Big's office and shakes him down for $1000 to keep silent about the murder. This, of course, turns him into target practice for the boss's thugs, and there's an exciting ambulance chase when the cop whisks Eddie and Marie to safety. Well, temporary safety.

Brooks, who died tragically young at 52, is, in the manner of doomed heroines, luminous, a brunette beauty with shining eyes and a dazzling smile. And her down-to-earth working-girl moxie is a plus. The script works to keep the treacle at a minimum, and she's a big reason it does. Embraceable You is also another reminder of how deep the studio rosters were in supporting talent. S.Z. Sakall, the jowly, cherubic Hungarian, pretty much only ever gave one performance since his breakthrough role as the waiter in Casablanca (1942). But it was enough. Here, he plays the sweetly beset proprietor of a soda and candy store, and is an asset as a foot soldier on the side of the angels.

As the persistent cop who knows when to ease up on the pedal, stocky, cigar-chomping Ford dominates every scene he's in. When he plants his feet, he doesn't just plant them on the sidewalk; he plants them on the moral high ground and is a pillar of strength and savvy. Amusingly, having paid George Gershwin to use his song (introduced on the Broadway stage in 1930 by Ginger Rogers in Girl Crazy and sung by Judy Garland in the 1943 film version), Warners made sure they got lots of mileage from it. It's heard five times, including when Eddie shows Marie the bedroom of the flat he rented for her! No strangers to frugality, Warners also used prewar stock footage for the film's opening Manhattan montage, reducing the cost of living in postwar Manhattan even more.

By Jay Carr

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