That Uncertain Feeling
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Sandwiched between two Ernst Lubitsch masterpieces, The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and To Be or Not to Be (1942), That Uncertain Feeling (1941) was a loose remake of the director's own 1925 silent film Kiss Me Again. Both films were drawn from the Victorien Sardou play Divorcons, with That Uncertain Feeling being updated to modern times. In fact, it's Lubitsch's only film with a contemporary American setting.
It's a screwball comedy about an unhappily married couple, Merle Oberon and Melvyn Douglas, with Oberon seeking psychiatric help when the mere mention of marriage causes her to fall into fits of hiccups. With the arrival of eccentric pianist Burgess Meredith, a romantic triangle ensues. In all, it's one of Lubitsch's lesser films, but even lesser Lubitsch is better than most, and his famed "Touch" is on display, as in the sequence where Oberon tries to trap a nonexistent woman in Douglas's hotel room.
That Certain Feeling was the first picture Lubitsch made under the new independent production company he'd formed with producer Sol Lesser. Their distribution deal with United Artists called for them to deliver two films a year, but the partnership was short-lived. That Uncertain Feeling opened to mediocre business, perhaps because the story was rather weak, and mixed reviews, with The New York Times saying, "Whipped up by those master confectioners Ernst Lubitsch and [writer] Donald Ogden Stewart, it is so light that were one to breathe on it, it quite probably would vanish." One consolation, however, was the fact that Werner Heymann's score was nominated for an Academy Award.
Lesser and Lubitsch parted ways after this one picture, but years later Lesser explained that the reason wasn't just because the movie hadn't been a hit. Lubitsch was not happy being on his own, said Lesser, and he missed "contact with the stars and other professionals he associated with at MGM." Lubitsch still owed UA one more movie under his deal, and it would be one of his great ones, To Be or Not to Be. After that, Lubitsch went to Twentieth Century Fox for the remainder of his career, before his untimely death of a heart attack in 1947.
Despite the indifferent reception That Uncertain Feeling received, the cast treasured its experience with the master director and the atmosphere he created on set. Burgess Meredith later recalled, "I don't know when I had a better time in my whole career than during that period. [Lubitsch] was very psychic. I'd fall down laughing because right away he'd improvise, in the middle of a scene he was doing for me, some very personal thing about my life, with his big cigar in his mouth, and he knew I'd come over and say, 'How did you know about that?' And he'd say, 'I have ways of knowing.'"
Melvyn Douglas said working with Lubitsch on three films (Angel, 1937, Ninotchka, 1939, and That Uncertain Feeling) was one of the highlights of his career because the director worked with his actors painstakingly and intensely. "He collaborated with his actors," said Douglas. "Lubitsch usually gathered the cast together to look at the day's shooting, and often re-did scenes which could be improved. He used to maintain that time spent on rehearsing more than paid for itself in increased actor involvement once the cameras started to roll."
Regarding the product placement of the DeBeers diamonds: The DeBeers company allowed Hollywood to use their diamonds as props in exchange for certain restrictions on how the diamonds were used. DeBeers mandated that the diamonds always be used as romantic gifts, always from the man to the woman (not as a joint purchase), and always as a surprise. This was part of a very successful strategy to increase diamond sales in post-depression America.
Producer: Ernst Lubitsch, Sol Lesser
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Screenplay: Walter Reisch, Donald Ogden Stewart, Victorien Sardou (play), Emile DeNajac (play)
Cinematography: George Barnes
Film Editing: William Shea
Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen
Music: Werner R. Heymann
Cast: Merle Oberon (Mrs. Jill Baker), Melvyn Douglas (Larry Baker), Burgess Meredith (Alexander Sebastian), Alan Mowbray (Dr. Vengard), Olive Blakeney (Margie Stallings), Harry Davenport (Jones).
by Jeremy Arnold