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One for the Book (1947)
Remind Me

One for the Book (aka The Voice of the Turtle)

John Van Druten isn't a well known name in the theater and yet two of his creations are historic. One of them, I am a Camera, became the basis for the world famous and highly regarded Cabaret. The other, Voice of the Turtle, became one of the biggest hits on Broadway ever. In fact, sticking strictly to plays (instead of shows which covers everything from one person revues to big budget musicals), it is still one of the top five longest running plays in Broadway history. Dealing with the difficulties of the single life for a woman in New York City during the war, and handling its bedroom antics with both frankness and deft skill, it was a given that Hollywood would snatch it up for an adaptation, which it did in 1947. The movie wasn't as big a hit as the play, but it was faithful to the text, if a little sanitized for the production code, and had a stellar cast in Eleanor Parker, Eve Arden and top-billed Ronald Reagan. When it was released for television showings in the fifties, the titled was changed to One for the Book, a title many still know it by today.

The story opens in 1944 with Sally Middleton being dumped by her long time lover, Kenneth Bartlett (Kent Smith). He's married and is afraid Sally's ruining the affair by falling in love with him. He lets her down gently and Sally, highly prone to broken hearts, spends the next few weeks mourning her loss. That is, until she runs into her old friend Olive (Eve Arden) who's got a date with Bill Page, a Sergeant serving overseas, in New York on furlough. Olive wants to see Sally's new apartment and calls Bill's service to tell him to meet her there. In the meantime, at the apartment, another lover from overseas, also in town, calls up and Olive decides he's the better deal and stands up Bill for the night. That leaves Sally to awkwardly entertain him while Olive sees her other man.

The surprising thing about the movie is how effortlessly it combines hijinks with wit and frank discussion. Oh, the discussions aren't as frank as anything in the play but the ideas remain intact. Sally is afraid that she falls in love too easily and was taught to not make love to a man until she was married, but does anyway. In a very clever scene, she discusses this with Olive and uses the phrase "making love," commonly used before the seventies to mean wooing and courting, in a very slippery way, aided by Arden's arched eyebrows. The terminology still means wooing but the implication hints at something more physical.

In fact, for much of the movie, it's the implications of things that concern both Sally and Bill. Both have been hurt by love in the past and both are mindful of how it can happen again. Stifling them more than their own past, however, are their concerns about what people might think. On the first night they meet, Bill sleeps over, on the day bed of course. In a deli later, as they talk about it, the patrons get the wrong idea. And when Olive shows up when Bill and Sally are having breakfast together, they go into a mad scramble to hide the fact that Bill was ever there, despite there being nothing wrong with their relationship in the first place. (Reagan and Parker handle physical comedy in this sequence extremely well).

The dialogue is both witty and sincere and it's no mystery why it was such a huge hit on Broadway but the real treat of the movie is Eleanor Parker. Parker is probably best known today for playing the cold and impersonal Baroness in The Sound of Music (1965) and so it would be surprising to fans of that movie to see her play vulnerable and sweet so well here, although it wouldn't surprise anyone familiar with Parker's talent. She was called the "Woman of a Thousand Faces" for her incredible range of performances over the course of her career but despite three Oscar® nominations, she never took home the top prize.

Top billing goes to Ronald Reagan in a performance that probably ranks as one of his most comfortable. He plays Sergeant Bill Page as a kind soul with a quick wit and a gentle delivery. Reagan didn't get a lot of A list pictures but his casual ease with romantic comedy signals a career that could have taken off with only a few different choices.

Eve Arden is, as always, a delight, both brilliant and sharp, stealing every moment of every scene she inhabits. Arden had a gift for playing sardonic that few could match and it would go on to serve her well in the popular radio sitcom, Our Miss Brooks, starting in 1948. Four years later, the show was brought to television and Arden became one of the medium's first major stars.

Irving Rapper directs the adaptation with a sure hand, befitting the director who became known for his skill with adaptations. From One Foot in Heaven (1941) and Now, Voyager (1942) to The Corn Is Green (1945), The Glass Menagerie (1950) and Marjorie Morningstar (1958), he always seemed to be directing an adaptation from a play or novel and it's a skill that's not to be underestimated. Taking a play that essentially stays in one apartment for its entirety, Rapper moves the action around and keeps the camera from sitting in the corner, motionless. And the actors help. Eleanor Parker's alternately sweet and troubled face alone keeps the visuals as interesting as they need to be.

One for the Book, aka, The Voice of the Turtle, still enjoys success on the stage today in regular revivals, both nationally and in local community theaters. And the film still entertains, proving that a play about sexual mores in the 1940s still has something to say in today's world. It also proves, once again, that Eleanor Parker was a great actress, a "Woman of a Thousand Faces" indeed.

Director: Irving Rapper Screenplay: John Van Druten, Charles Hoffman Producer: Charles Hoffman Original Music: Max Steiner Cinematography: Sol Polito Film Editing: Rudi Fehr Art Direction: Robert M. Haas Set Decoration: William L. Kuehl Costume Design: Leah Rhodes Cast: Ronald Reagan (Sergeant Bill Page), Eleanor Parker (Sally Middleton), Eve Arden (Olive Lashbrooke), Wayne Morris (Comm. Ned Burling), Kent Smith (Kenneth Bartlett), John Emery (George Harrington), Erskine Sanford (Storekeeper), John Holland (Henry Atherton)

By Greg Ferrara