Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon co-starred in eight pictures at MGM, most famously Mrs. Miniver, which forever epitomized Garson as a strong, classy, stiff-upper-lip type to Pidgeon’s reliably stodgy husband. As David Shipman puts it in The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years, “to millions of war-weary women she represented an ideal of nobility and matronhood, clear-browed, capable and unruffled: you really felt she could do her own marketing if called upon to do so.” This was a great career boon for a few years but ultimately limiting, as both actors were capable of more. They tried to prove it in Julia Misbehaves, their fifth teaming and the only comedy.
Letting her hair down, Greer Garson plays a wacky actress estranged from rich hubby Pidgeon (a Canadian who always played Englishmen). She returns to the family estate for the wedding of their daughter, played by a radiant Elizabeth Taylor, so profoundly different in her debutante era than she would be in her matron era that she doesn’t seem the same actress. It turns out the girl is marrying some reliable duffer instead of the poor but insufferable artist (Peter Lawford) who’s really meant for her. Oh well, maybe mama can encourage her to go wild by falling into lakes and suchlike antics, and maybe daughter can play “parent trap” by transparently manipulating her estranged elders.
In short, it’s as predictable as possible, and finally forgettable. Still, Garson is lively and charismatic even when her character is silly, and her rapport with Pidgeon is obvious even in brazenly contrived material. If their characters weren’t still married, their rampant sexual attraction would have been too hot for the Production Code. As that professional MGM gloss unfurls amid the presence of such reliable characters as Cesar Romero, Nigel Bruce, Lucile Watson and Reginald Owen, you can’t help admitting that the machine could turn out watchable pleasantries with its eyes closed, as long as the audience’s eyes remained at least half-open.
// Notes from the Road
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