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No Time for Love

No Time for Love(1943)

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Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray were both such versatile performers and worked so well with a variety of onscreen partners, that it's easy to forget that they were a terrific screen team who co-starred in six films between 1935 and 1948. No Time for Love (1943), their third film together, is a rowdy opposites-attract romantic comedy that gave the coolly elegant Colbert a rare opportunity to get down and dirty. She plays Katherine Grant, an artsy photographer for a slick magazine who's more interested in shooting shapes, angles and light than people. Her character is clearly based on Margaret Bourke-White, the first female photojournalist hired by Life magazine, whose strikingly stylized photos of industrial subjects launched Life's premiere issue and a new era of photojournalism. Katherine is engaged to her somewhat effete publisher, and has a devoted circle of sophisticated friends. Assigned to photograph the construction of a tunnel under the East River, Katherine clashes with one of the "sandhogs" (the term for tunnel construction workers), a brawny hunk named Jim Ryan, played by MacMurray. After Katherine is responsible for his suspension from his job, she hires him as her assistant. In reality, he's an engineer who's developing a method to freeze mud to prevent cave-ins. Several plot complications later, the two end up in a mud-caked climax in the tunnel where he's testing his invention.

>Both Colbert and MacMurray had worked frequently with director Mitchell Leisen -- MacMurray would make a total of nine films with him, and Colbert four (she had also worked with Leisen during his days as costume designer, notably in Cecil B. DeMille's 1932 epic, The Sign of the Cross). Leisen told his biographer that No Time for Love was a happy collaboration. "Fred and Claudette worked so wonderfully together. Many times when I was setting up the next scene, they'd go off in a corner and work it up themselves. They'd show me how they wanted to do it and it would be just right." Because of wartime restrictions on film stock, they rehearsed extensively before shooting, and Leisen usually printed the first take.

The tunnel was built on Paramount's largest stage. It was 25 feet long, and in the climactic scene, filled with mud. According to Leisen, set designers tried all sorts of combinations of material to avoid using real mud, but nothing looked right except the real thing. In the end, they used adobe and water, keeping a cement mixer going on the stage to get the right consistency. "I never asked the actors to do anything I wouldn't do," Leisen recalled, "so on our first day in the tunnel, I dove right into the mud, head first. I came up and said, 'All right, let's go.'" Colbert got the worst of it, in one scene struggling through mud up to her neck. After the first take, Leisen noticed she didn't have any mud on her face. "I said, 'Come here, honey,' and took a handful of the mud and slapped it on her face. She went right back in and did it again."

Wartime austerity measures limited the amount of money that could be spent on construction materials. Staying within those limits required considerable ingenuity, but Leisen, a former art director, was up to the task. The sets for Colbert's previous film, The Palm Beach Story (1942), which had been built with her preferred camera angle in mind, were still standing. With paint and Victorian furniture from the prop department, one of those sets was turned into Colbert's boudoir in No Time for Love. A Dali-esque dream sequence with MacMurray as Superman saving Colbert from the clutches of a villain required a minimal set and might have been Leisen's warm-up for the more elaborate dream sequences in his next film, Lady in the Dark (1944). No Time for Love was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction, but lost to Gaslight (1944).

No Time for Love proved to be a pleasant diversion for war-weary audiences. After praising the film and performances, Bosley Crowther wrote in the New York Times, "Of course, one might argue that this picture is too frivolous for this day and time. But we'd call it a first-class example of the inconsequential put to highly diverting use."

The following year, the Colbert-McMurray-Leisen team reunited for another romantic comedy, Practically Yours (1944). According to Leisen, MacMurray told Colbert, "The trouble with this picture is that we're both too damned old for it." Even though it was one of the year's top grossing films, he was probably right. It was Colbert's final film under contract to Paramount. That same year, she took on her first role as the mother of teenagers, in Since You Went Away (1944). MacMurray segued brilliantly into film noir in Double Indemnity (1944). In their last two films together, The Egg and I (1947) and Family Honeymoon (1949), Colbert and MacMurray would no longer play boy-meets-girl, but husband and wife.

Director: Mitchell Leisen
Producer: Fred Kohlmar, Mitchell Leisen
Screenplay: Claude Binyon, adapted by Warren Duff from a story by Robert Lees and Frederic I. Rinaldo
Cinematography: Charles Lang, Jr.
Editor: Alma Macrorie
Costume Design: Edith Head, Irene
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Robert Usher
Music: Victor Young
Principal Cast: Claudette Colbert (Katherine Grant), Fred MacMurray (Jim Ryan), Ilka Chase (Hoppy Grant), Richard Haydn (Roger), Paul McGrath (Henry Fulton), June Havoc (Darlene), Marjorie Gateson (Sophie), Bill Goodwin (Christley), Robert Herrick (Kent), Rhys Williams (Clancy).
BW-83m.

by Margarita Landazuri

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