Never a Dull Moment
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One of the more remarkable aspects of Irene Dunne's 22-year run in Hollywood stems from the fact it commenced when she was 32 years of age, a point at which film actresses are at least looking down the barrel at that inevitable transition to mother roles. Consider then that in the waning phase of her screen career, her classic good looks made heavy makeup a requisite for character roles such as I Remember Mama (1948) and The Mudlark (1950), and that glamour assignments otherwise kept coming her way. Such was the case with her penultimate movie appearance, Never a Dull Moment (1950), an agreeable domestic comedy that showed the actress still capable of working her signature poise and charm.
The scenario opens in New York, as Kay Kingsley (Dunne), successful and beloved show-tune scribe, holds court for the appreciative crowd she's drawn to a benefit rodeo thrown for Manhattan's impoverished kids. One of the most charmed in attendance is one of the cowpunchers, the recently widowed Chris Hayward (Fred MacMurray). Prodded by his insistent sidekick Orvie (Andy Devine), the nervous Chris manages to get a date for drinks out of the bemused songstress. Conveniently enough, things click so quickly that they're at the altar within two weeks, with Kay willingly pitching her lush Park Avenue existence for a life working Chris' modest and slightly dilapidated Wyoming spread.
Once there, Kay's personality lets her make relatively easy conquests of Chris's tomboyish pre-teen daughters, Nan (Natalie Wood) and Tina (Gigi Perreau), as well as Jean Morrow (Ann Doran), the attractive young widow whom the smart money was on receiving Chris's proposal. She likewise works her magic on the various locals, who have no trouble showing up at 2AM for a welcome celebration. Much tougher challenges come from the practical responsibilities of the ranch, which she tackles gamely if comically, and from Chris's crabby neighbor Mears (William Demarest), who has long wielded an iron fist over the much-needed water rights for the Hayward household. Mears' tyranny makes the overtures from Kay's erstwhile collaborator Jed (Philip Ober) to punch up his latest score all the more financially enticing, but Chris chafes at the prospect of having to be bailed out by her.
The goings-on were serviceably delivered by director George Marshall, whose copious credits included many memorable comedies, including the Fred MacMurray-headlined cult comedy Murder, He Says (1945). MacMurray offered up the expected pleasant romantic comic lead effort, and those boomers whose memories of William Demarest extend to watching him run a household alongside MacMurray on TV's My Three Sons may get some grins from seeing them at each other's throats here. The rest of the cast was in good form as well, from Devine in his patented sagebrush second-banana mode to the then-busy child stars Wood and Perreau.
Never a Dull Moment bears interest for its inspiration--Kay Swift, the eminent Broadway composer of the '30s, whose 1943 memoir served as the screenplay's basis. Swift also penned a trio of songs for the soundtrack, which now mark the final on-screen vocal performances for the operatically trained Dunne. Swift had been educated as a classicist, and was cajoled into composing popular music by George Gershwin. She became the first woman to write an entire Broadway score (1930's Fine and Dandy), and also became Gershwin's paramour over the last decade of his short life; until her passing in 1993 at age 96, she was regarded chief among authorities and interpreters of the composer's work. Her memoir, which focused on her 1939 whirlwind courtship and marriage to a rodeo cowboy named Faye Hubbard, was entitled Who Could Ask for Anything More?; apparently, one could, as their union ended in 1946.
Producer: Harriet Parsons
Director: George Marshall
Screenplay: Doris Anderson, Lou Breslow, Kay Swift (novel)
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Film Editing: Robert Swink
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Walter Keller
Music: Frederick Hollander
Cast: Irene Dunne (Kay Kingsley), Fred MacMurray (Chris Hayward), William Demarest (Mears), Gigi Perreau (Tina Hayward), Natalie Wood (Nancy Hayward).
BW-89m. Closed captioning.
by Jay S. Steinberg