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Tom Dick and Harry (1941) was one of the many romantic comedies to spotlight Ginger Rogers' underrated talents as a deft comedienne after she left her screen partnership with Fred Astaire and the successful musicals that made her fame. It was her first film after Kitty Foyle (1940), one of her rare dramatic leads, and both a critical and commercial hit for the studio (it would become RKO's biggest moneymaker of 1940 and earn five Academy Award nominations) and for Rogers herself, who earned her first and only Oscar® nomination for her performance. Tom Dick and Harry would bring her back to light comedy, specifically romantic fantasy. Rogers once again plays a working class girl, though her delightfully dreamy and somewhat dizzy telephone operator Janie is a far cry from Kitty. Janie has a steady boy, an ambitious salesman named Tom (George Murphy), who is eagerly pursuing the American Dream, but she has her own dreams of being swept off her feet by a millionaire. Even after accepting Tom's marriage proposal, she leaps into dates with two new suitors: Harry (Burgess Meredith), a down-to-earth mechanic that she mistakes for a millionaire when he drives by in a foreign sports car, and actual millionaire playboy R.J. Hamilton, aka Dick (Alan Marshal), who just happens to be one of Harry's many acquaintances. Keeping with the dream theme, Janie drifts off to sleep with fantasies of married life with all three men, all of them played as elaborate caricatures on cardboard sets like absurdist comedy sketches.
Director Garson Kanin made his fame as a playwright and screenwriter, often in collaboration with his wife Ruth Gordon, and as a Broadway director (Gordon and Kanin, by the way, wrote the original play and screen adaption of Born Yesterday  and the original screenplay for Adam's Rib ). But before his Oscar®-nominated screenwriting career, he was a successful Hollywood director in the pre-war years and had previously directed Rogers in Bachelor Mother (1939). His presence behind the camera was one of the attractions to the project for Rogers. "We had had a wonderful time working together on our previous picture," she wrote in her autobiography Ginger: My Story. "I knew this would again be a happy experience. I was right."
Song-and-dance man George Murphy, a former Astaire dance partner (they hoofed a double-act in Broadway Melody of 1940), was an amiable but lightweight minor star; he brings an all-American ambition and gee-whiz pep to the part of a real go-getter with no romantic impulses. Alan Marshal, a handsome Australian whose career was largely in secondary roles and light romantic leads, cuts a convincing figure as a charming man about town who was genuinely sincere under the glamour and glitz. Both actors are outshone by Burgess Meredith, who made his name on Broadway and in Hollywood as the star of the John Steinbeck drama, Of Mice and Men (Director Lewis Milestone filmed it in 1939). Harry is an easy-going nonconformist with a romantic streak, a snappy wit and a kiss that inspires music and Meredith plays him with an impish smile and a playful sense of fun. Janie is constantly distracted when she's out with aspiring Horatio Alger Tom and lost in her fantasies of a Cinderella marriage when out on the town with Dick. But when she's with Harry, she's attracted to his down-to-Earth ideas of success, modest ambition and living life to its potential, even if she doesn't subscribe to his philosophy herself. "I don't believe in this every man for himself," he explains to Janie. "I get lonely." Their chemistry was apparently just as strong off screen, according to Rogers. As she writes in her autobiography, Meredith "wooed" his co-star with ever-more elaborate gag gifts, from fake candy and phony flowers to fake jewelry and even a car, all of which Rogers proudly showed off to the cast and crew, who became as caught up in the joke as she was.
Rogers' own performance verges on the overly cute, with her baby-doll voice and dreamy gazes. Still, she manages to make it all quite adorable and convincingly makes herself not merely the object of affection for three men but so desirable that she gets-and accepts-three proposals of marriage in under a week. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote in his review: "Ginger Rogers plays the girl, as no other actress we know could, with a perfect combination of skepticism and daffiness." Paul Jarrico's original script (which earned the film its sole Academy Award® nomination) softens her often brash and snappy persona and gives her plenty of opportunities for both pin-up glamour and screwball comedy, especially in the cartoonish dream sequences. Phil Silvers, in his third screen appearance, adds to the humor outside the dream sequences as an insistent ice cream salesman who interrupts the lovebirds at their make-out spot to hawk his concessions.
The 1940 Academy Awards took place during the shooting of Tom Dick and Harry. Ginger Rogers received her first and only Best Actress nomination as the working class girl Kitty Foyle, and was an underdog against such powerhouse dramatic stars as Bette Davis (The Letter), Joan Fontaine (Rebecca) and Katharine Hepburn (The Philadelphia Story). Her surprise win was the film's sole award from five nominations and it boosted her profile at a key moment in her career: Tom Dick and Harry was her last film on a seven-year contract with RKO. Her next contract as a freelance actress gave her far more control to accept or pass on the scripts that RKO offered and the opportunity to accept offers from other studios, an opportunity she made the most of for the next couple of years. Ginger Rogers was her own woman at last.
Producer: Robert Sisk
Director: Garson Kanin
Screenplay: Paul Jarrico (story and screenplay)
Cinematography: Merritt Gerstad
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Music: Roy Webb
Film Editing: John Sturges
Cast: Ginger Rogers (Janie), George Murphy (Tom), Alan Marshal (Dick), Burgess Meredith (Harry), Joe Cunningham (Pop), Jane Seymour (Ma), Lenore Lonergan (Barbara aka Butch), Vicki Lester (Paula), Phil Silvers (Phil - Ice Cream Vendor).
BW-87m. Closed Captioning.
by Sean Axmaker