PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

'I've Always Loved You' and 'Magnificent Doll' Are Intelligent Romantic Nonsense

Anti-romances of those who shouldn't be together.

I've Always Loved You

Director: Frank Borzage
Cast: Philip Dorn, William Carter
Distributor: Olive Films
Year: 1946
US DVD release date: 2014-08-26

Above photo: Ginger Rogers in Magnificent Doll (1946)

As a director, Frank Borzage brought style, taste, intelligence, and commitment to the most romantic nonsense. In other words: he was invaluable to Hollywood. Two examples from 1946 are now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Olive Films. Under the frivolous tosh, both films focus on the strength and independence of women who must free themselves from dominating men in order to find happiness in more equal partnerships. It helps that both have scripts by top popular novelists who knew how to construct a story.

Borzage produced and directed I've Always Loved You, written by Borden Chase from his story "Concerto". (This versatile writer is best remembered for westerns, including the novel and screenplay of Red River.) The story follows Myra Hassman (Catherine McLeod), a brilliant classical pianist tutored for her Carnegie Hall debut by the charming and mercurial Leopold Goronoff (Philip Dorn). He whisks her through the capitals of Europe and South America, where she idolizes him while he discards women like tissues.

Meanwhile, back in her lovely country home of rolling hills and shirtless farmers, she's quietly loved by a tall strapping hunk next door, described as a simple good man (William Carter). No less an authority than the maestro's mother (Maria Ouspenskaya, famous from many a werewolf picture) tells him to fight for Myra against her son.

The long, complicated plot drags on for many years before Myra can resolve herself psychologically. This is one of those highbrow studio films that celebrate classical music, a literal melodrama that showcases works like Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto. It's handled (twice) as a major plot point and expression of character, not as a mere pause where the film grinds to a halt. The first performance is presented with many "notes" of the common people appreciating the longhair music and serving as a chorus to observe and explain the struggle between student and teacher for "who is master".

Goronoff declares there's no place for a woman in music because she will always submit to some man. His ego is clear, and Myra's problem is lacking sufficient ego to do justice to the music. In this way, a romantic triangle uses music as the context for expressing women's yearning for self-assertion, something she must learn to do in a male-dominated field. There's also a postwar subtext about decadent European despotism vs. wholesome American strength, although this would be clearer if all the music weren't European. By the way, the piano performances are dubbed by Artur Rubinstein, though McLeod fakes it convincingly.

Dorn, a Dutch-born actor of moderate success in Hollywood character roles, has his meatiest lead here, as does the harshly pretty McLeod, who faded into '50s TV roles. Carter's portrayal of a blandly understanding husband doesn't promise more, and it never came for him. Felix Bressart, Elizabeth Patterson, Fritz Feld, and Vanessa Brown fill out the supporting cast. Tony Gaudio's photography and Ernst Fegté's design are lovely in creamy Technicolor, a surprising expense for the B factory of Republic Pictures.

I've Always Loved You was the first of three films Borzage made under a Republic contract that gave him complete artistic control; it was the studio's first Technicolor film. He next made That's My Man, which has also been released by Olive Films, and his Republic output culminated in the brilliant romantic noir Moonrise, but the other film that concerns us today is the epic that Borzage made for Universal just before moving to Republic, Magnificent Doll.

DVD: Magnificent Doll

Film: Magnificent Doll

Director: Frank Borzage

Cast: Ginger Rogers, David Niven

Year: 1946

Rating: Not rated

US DVD release date: 2014-08-19

Distributor: Olive Films

Rating: 7

Extras rating: N/A

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/m/magnificentdoll_brart_200.jpg

Universal films were tightly budgeted too, but they lent themselves to Technicolor more often, so it's a bit surprising that they didn't fork out for Magnificent Doll, a prestige historical picture that fairly cries out for color with its lavish sets and outdoor sequences. Still, Joseph Valentine's chiaroscuro tones are typically excellent in suggestive fire-lit scenes. More importantly, the script by Irving Stone is more literate and articulate and the performances a shade more graceful in their star power.

Ginger Rogers plays Dolley Madison, seen as the forthright and opinionated yet lovely and diplomatic wife of fourth U.S. President James Madison (Burgess Meredith), presented as quietly brilliant and self-effacing. He's seen as a supporting character in his own presidency, and in fact, the story doesn't get that far aside from a brief opening sequence of bustle during the War of 1812.

Rogers' co-star is David Niven, who teamed with her memorably in Bachelor Mother. He plays Senator Aaron Burr, who's famous for being Thomas Jefferson's vice-president, for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, and for being tried for treason. Accurately or not, he's portrayed as a complex mixture of sophistication, gallantry, and the demonic. He's inherently a more dramatic character than Madison, and his presence in the film is justified by his friendship with Dolley, which began when he was a lodger at her widowed mother's home.

The plot detours into fanciful scenes alleging Burr's romantic designs on Dolley and culminating with passionate speeches in which our heroine pacifies a lynch mob. The package quotes Bosley Crowther's New York Times review: "Heaven help the poor school children whose minds are supposedly informed about the American Federalist period by the film Magnificent Doll." Notwithstanding this condescending tone, children and adults could do worse. There have been too few films about this period to dismiss this one lightly.

This film is fascinating, fluid, and enjoyable from beginning to end, and all the made-up romantic nonsense serves to dramatize serious ideas in a political dialectic about the nature of freedom. If Burr is the unlikely anti-hero of this romantic drama, it's because his dominating presence represents the seductive nature of power and its desire to control, something the film says (correctly) appeals to the submissive will of many people.

Dolley's sympathy and growing revulsion for his would-be tyranny (over herself and the country) represents a struggle within her own spirit and its coming to fruition as an individual, and these feelings are complemented by her harmony with the personality and politics of Madison. As vivacious as she reputedly was, it seems unlikely that Dolley was quite the political manipulator depicted here, but this behavior serves her symbolic function as America itself wrestling with these ideas, and she manages this always in the context of being conscious of women's social roles in her society.

There are many memorable scenes, beginning with her father's dramatic return from the Revolutionary War with a renewed commitment to Quakerism, the freeing of his slaves, and (in an irony she feels keenly) his promising Dolley to a husband she doesn't want. Her scenes with that husband (Stephen McNally) are as well-handled as those with her parents (Peggy Wood, Robert Barrat), and she also has interesting scenes of comradeship with a black servant and confidante (Frances Williams).

This unusual biopic is presented as the anti-romance of two characters who ultimately cannot and should not be together--just as in I've Always Loved You. That's why neither film quite fits the conventional romantic pattern so neatly, not to mention the pattern of many Borzage movies about lovers who overcome great odds to be together. Perhaps, one might reasonably conclude, this lack of convention has led the films to be underrated or misunderstood.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.