Sog: Robert Russell, Frank Ross. Scen.: Garson Kanin, Robert Russell, Frank Ross, Richard Flournoy, Lewis R. Foster. F: Ted Tetzlaff. M: Otto Meyer. Scgf: Lionel Banks, Rudolph Sternad. Mus: Leigh Harline. Int: Jean Arthur (Connie Milligan), Joel McCrea (Joe Carter), Charles Coburn (Benjamin Dingle), Richard Gaines (Charles J. Pendergast), Bruce Bennett (agente Evans), Frank Sully (agente Pike), Don Douglas (agente Harding), Clyde Fillmore (senatore Noonan), Stanley Clements (Morton Rodakiewicz). Prod: George Stevens per Columbia Pictures. DCP.
In this, George Stevens’s most sophisticated comedy, the wartime housing (and male species) shortage in Washington DC is the main excuse for the mischievous Charles Coburn – sharing a tiny flat with Jean Arthur – to sublet his half of the living space to Joel McCrea, deliberately pushing the two younger flatmates into a shared bed. The credit for the script should go to the uncredited Garson Kanin who wrote it for, and was paid by, the scrupulous Arthur, in search of a script that she could like (she was temporarily suspended from Columbia for rejecting too many). When the script finally reached Stevens’s hands in June 1942, it had a different ending in which the three characters continue to share the flat – typically of Stevens, he altered it. Here, Stevens relies on one of his recurring motifs in order to shape the mise-en-scene and the new ending: when forced proximity creates chaos, the best way out is to trim the existing group to its smallest unit – a couple. The sprightly use of the delayed encounter – with space as a delaying element – which Stevens had learned from Laurel & Hardy comedies, provides one of the climaxes of the film. As usual, Stevens makes much use of windows and doors but here, in addition to accentuating his mise-en-scene, they become part of the story. As barriers that need to be removed, they enhance, deceive and invite. After Lubitsch and Dreyer, no one has directed doors so effectively! A tour de force of filmmaking, its director never saw his finished work, as he rushed to North Africa to pay his dues in the war. It was there that he heard the film had been nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture and best director. It won only best supporting role, awarded to Coburn. The film was remade as the Tokyo-set Walk, Don’t Run (Charles Walters, 1966) with Cary Grant, whom Stevens originally wanted for the role that eventually went to McCrea. But make no mistake, McCrea, with his air of innocence, is fantastic for the job.