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Vivacious Lady (1938) is a screwball comedy with a kick (not to mention a lot of punches and slaps). Ginger Rogers plays nightclub performer Frances Brent who, in one night, meets, falls in love with and marries small-town botany professor Peter Morgan (James Stewart). Now how to tell not only his conservative parents but the fiancee (Frances Mercer) he left behind?
As the professor delays explaining the presence of this beautiful young woman, the complications build and build leading to one of the most hilarious scenes ever shot. A meeting between the new bride and the former fiancee'slowly builds from a few harsh words to a slap to a knockdown brawl. Ginger Rogers recalled, "The entire scene came out of director George Stevens' immense gift for comedy and was choreographed as carefully as any ballet. It starts with words, moves to slaps and kicks, and culminates in a pseudo-wrestling match. Since I was on the receiving end of the kicks, the prop department wrapped my legs with boards. When Frances Mercer slammed her high heels against my shins, I was protected by the padding, though you wouldn't know it by my pained facial reactions."
Director George Stevens is best known today for his serious films such as A Place in the Sun (1951) and Giant (1956). He made his start, however, working on the classic short comedies of Laurel and Hardy and adapted one of the team's funniest gags here: the minor confrontation that builds and builds to utter destruction. Stevens had worked before with Ginger Rogers directing her and Fred Astaire in one of their most successful musicals, Swing Time (1936).
For her co-star, Ginger Rogers chose James Stewart. At the time this film was made Stewart had not yet become the major star he would soon become, but he and Rogers had dated a couple of years before and she thought he could provide both the shyness and the romantic spark for his role. George Stevens was very happy with Stewart's performance: "He is an instinctual rather than a trained actor, but he has a wonderful knack for paradox and surprise and character-transformation, and in Vivacious Lady he rang all the changes!"
Beulah Bondi, then best known for costume dramas such as Of Human Hearts (1938) and The Gorgeous Hussy (1936), also performs a great comic turn as the professor's mother, feigning heart seizures at the threat of any upsetting news. Rounding out the cast are such professional scene-stealers as Franklin Pangborn, Jack Carson and Grady Sutton. Rogers sings "You'll Be Reminded of Me" and dances to "The Big Apple." This excellent comedy concoction received two Academy Award nominations for Best Sound and Best Cinematography.
Producer/Director: George Stevens
Screenplay: Ernest Pagano, P.J. Wolfson
Art Direction: Carroll Clark, Van Nest Polglase
Cinematography: Robert de Grasse
Editing: Henry Berman
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Ginger Rogers (Francey Brent), James Stewart (Peter Morgan), James Ellison (Keith Morgan), Beulah Bondi (Martha Morgan).
BW-91m. Closed captioning.
by Brian Cady