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Based on a best-selling autobiography by Louise Randall Pierson, Roughly Speaking (1945) is the story of an ordinary woman in the first half of the 20th century who continually overcomes adversity to build a happy life and a large and devoted family. To direct this heartwarming slice of Americana, Warner Brothers assigned a Hungarian immigrant who was known for mangling the English language, Michael Curtiz. Curtiz may have had a shaky grasp of the language, but he had a firm grasp of what appealed to American audiences, and of how to tell a story.
Curtiz also had an eye for unorthodox, but inspired, casting. Jack Carson had been playing mostly supporting parts, usually loudmouthed bores and buffoons. The role of Pierson's feckless second husband in Roughly Speaking was complex, and producer Henry Blanke had suggested Ray Milland or George Brent. Carson was Curtiz's choice, and his vibrant performance nearly stole the film.
Rosalind Russell had gone from being typecast as a pallid ingenue to being typecast as a knockabout comedienne. And while Roughly Speaking had plenty of comedy, Russell proved, with Curtiz's help, that she also had the considerable dramatic range the role required. In an interview at the time, the director said that, along with Ingrid Bergman, Russell was "one of the finest actresses in Hollywood. No phony, no fake, no fool the audience." For her part, Russell spoke fondly of the notoriously volatile Hungarian, calling him "a soft pushover when he's off the set, away from the camera. A perfectionist, a terribly hard-working, able, ambitious man driven by a love for his work."
Author Louise Randall Pierson wrote the screenplay for Roughly Speaking, and was on the set as technical consultant throughout the filming. She and Curtiz fought over the script. "He reduces me to ashes constantly," Pierson said. Curtiz dismissed her work by saying, in his usual fractured English, "God-damned symbolism, terrific dull, take away, do better." But like many victims of Curtiz's criticism, Pierson's reaction was equal parts amusement, annoyance, and acceptance.
The screenplay was unusually long for a film of that era, probably because Roughly Speaking covered so many years. And maybe for the same reason, the film went over budget and over schedule. In preview screenings, Roughly Speaking ran about two and a half hours, though it was cut down to about two hours in the final release version. Some critics complained about the hurried pace of the film, and box office receipts were lower than usual for a Curtiz film.
But even though Roughly Speaking was not a huge hit, it was generally well-received, and was an important film for three participants. Based on her excellent performance in Roughly Speaking, and her rapport with Curtiz, Rosalind Russell was considered the leading contender to play Mildred Pierce (1945), Curtiz's next film. But Joan Crawford, who had recently been signed to a contract by Warner Brothers, lobbied hard to win the part. Even though Russell didn't play Mildred, the range she showed in Roughly Speaking did help her get a string of heavily dramatic roles, including her Oscar®-nominated one in Mourning becomes Electra (1947). Plus, two of her co-stars in Roughly Speaking did win juicy parts in Mildred Pierce - Jack Carson and young Jo Ann Marlowe, who had played one of the Pierson children; she would play Mildred's younger daughter Kay.
Director: Michael Curtiz
Producer: Henry Blanke
Screenplay: Louise Randall Pierson, based on her book
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Editor: David Weisbart
Costume Design: Leah Rhodes, Travis Banton
Art Direction: Robert Haas; Set Designer, George James Hopkins
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Rosalind Russell (Louise Randall), Jack Carson (Harold Pierson), Ann Doran (Alice Abbott), Donald Woods (Rodney Crane), Ray Collins (Mr. Randall), Kathleen Lockhart (Mrs. Randall), Robert Hutton (John, age 20-28), Mona Freeman (Barbara, age 15-20).
by Margarita Landazuri