Once Upon a Honeymoon
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1942 was a particularly busy time for Cary Grant. Early in the year, he completed work on George Stevens' The Talk of the Town, which would be released in August. On April 25, he began work opposite Ginger Rogers on Leo McCarey's Once Upon a Honeymoon, a production which would be interrupted a few times due to Grant's personal affairs. Grant planned to enlist in the Army Air Corps after this movie wrapped. But he was 38, too old to join, and so he asked Lt. Col. Jack Warner to contact the Army on his behalf. It worked. On June 24, the Army wrote to Warner, "It is felt that Mr. Leach's case is an exceptional one and his services to the Army Air Forces will be of inestimable value."
Two days later, Grant became an American citizen and legally changed his name from Archibald Leach to Cary Grant. The next day, he signed enlistment papers, hoping to report to officer candidate school in Miami Beach, Florida. In late August, the War Dept. notified Grant that he was to report to a Los Angeles recruiting office on Sept. 15 and from there would be sent to Miami Beach. It never happened. By mid-December, Washington had decided to save Grant for specialized service throughout the war of a nature to be determined and which would help publicize the war effort. Grant took the decision in stride, issuing a statement that read in part, "Wherever Uncle Sam orders my utilization to the best purposes, there I will willingly go, as should every other man. I feel that Uncle Sam knows best."
While all this was going on, Grant was pursuing the Woolworth store heiress Barbara Hutton, who had just finalized her second divorce. Hutton had inherited a $40 million fortune, leading some members of the press to label the couple "Cash and Cary," but in reality they signed a pre-nuptial agreement. They were married on July 8 at Lake Arrowhead, California. In a twist of irony, Grant had to report the next day for continuing work on Once Upon a Honeymoon, which meant that he and Hutton never had a honeymoon themselves!
In a way, all of these off-set happenings matched the all-over-the-place feel of Once Upon a Honeymoon, a picture which mixes comedy, drama, romance and adventure quite freely. The script, originally titled The New Order, is about a reporter (Grant) stationed in Warsaw during the bombing. He falls for an American stripper (Ginger Rogers) who has naively married a Nazi leader (Walter Slezak). Grant rescues her and they breeze through occupied, war-torn Europe. At one point, they are mistaken for Jews and briefly placed in a concentration camp, a scene which caused outrage among critics. The New York Times called this sequence "downright offensive" and declared that the overall film made "the fatal error of mixing romantic comedy with a theme which is essentially tragic and far from frivolous...It is a very strange and stark lark."
Uneven despite patches of brilliance, Once Upon a Honeymoon makes for a fascinating case study of the nature of comedy. Are there subjects which are simply off-limits for laughs? It's been said that comedy equals tragedy plus time; if that's true, then evidently not enough time had gone by for a lot of people's tastes when Once Upon a Honeymoon was released in November 1942. Then again, many movies over the years have successfully made fun of Hitler and the Nazis, including another film from 1942 (To Be or Not to Be), so perhaps the reason for Honeymoon's poor reception had more to do with the tone of its type of comedy than it did with the concept of the film itself.
In any event, the comedy scenes between Grant and Rogers play quite well, with rock-solid timing. Rogers even noted this in her autobiography: "Cary's comic timing rated a ten. His gentle humor was infectious. I admired and adored him. As for Leo McCarey, you felt you had struck it rich with him. He was full of good ideas and directorial nuances." But Rogers and Grant weren't always cuddly with one another. They had such a nasty dispute over who would receive top billing that RKO settled the matter by releasing half the publicity with Rogers' name first and the other half with Grant's name first.
Grant described McCarey as one of the five best directors he ever worked with, along with Howard Hawks, George Stevens, George Cukor and Alfred Hitchcock. "Each of those directors," he later wrote, "permitted me the release of improvisation during the rehearsing of each scene...They permitted me to discover how far I could go with confidence, while guided by their quiet, sensitive directorial approval."
Producer/Director: Leo McCarey
Screenplay: Sheridan Gibney, Leo McCarey
Cinematography: George Barnes
Film Editing: Theron Warth
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Alfred Herman
Music: Robert Emmett Dolan
Cast: Ginger Rogers (Katie O'Hara), Cary Grant (Pat O'Toole), Walter Slezak (Baron Von Luber), Albert Dekker (Gaston Leblanc), Albert Bassermann (Marshal Borelski), Ferike Boros (Elsa).
by Jeremy Arnold