John Van Druten’s ‘The Girl from Jones Beach’ and ‘The Voice of the Turtle’

Ronald Reagan starred in a couple of late 1940s comedies that flirt with progressive ideas about women and sex, although their messages are mixed. Both are now available on demand from Warner Archives.

The complicated situation in The Girl from Jones Beach is that calendar artist Bob Randolph (Reagan) has fabricated an ideal woman from the body parts of 12 models – not in a laboratory, just on his easel. When an agent (Eddie Bracken) spots the living ideal in the person of Ruth Wilson (Virginia Mayo). (This idea has similarities to an older movie called Page Miss Glory.) Bob tries to woo Ruth for monetary purposes, but she’s a teacher who wants to be admired for her mind. This means she drops a lot of literary quotes borrowed from Bartlett’s Quotations. Amid far too many complications and lies, which begin with Bob pretending to be a Czech immigrant, the plot has to maneuver Ruth into demanding her right to be ogled in a bathing suit and even be proud of her status as a sex object. This is managed by recasting the issue regarding civil liberties and progress against the “bluenoses” who fire her over the bathing suit publicity.

The script by Billy Wilder’s frequent partner I.A.L. Diamond throws in lots of saucy, winking, half-sophisticated one-liners of varying subtlety. For example, when Bracken abruptly asks a model if she’s ever been to Egypt to see the pyramids, she says, “No, why are you bringing that up?” It’s a sight gag, albeit staged by director Peter Godfrey in such a way that the gag is out of sight and left to our imagination. More visual jokes include shots where Bob imagines Ruth in a bathing suit and a final gag in which her female gaze imagines Bob in swimming trunks – not that he’s a comparable prize. Diamond reaches for urban wisecrackery with lots of blasé suicide gags directed at Bracken, so this thing is full of tossed-off quips on sex and death. The whole thing lacks only Wilder’s touch.

John Van Druten’s script for The Voice of the Turtle is based on his enormous hit play, which remains Broadway’s ninth longest-running non-musical. This romantic comedy was controversial for being set in a world where people had sex outside of marriage, and its heroine was recovering from an affair with a married man. The entire play is set in her apartment, where a soldier on leave stays for lack of a hotel room, and they get over their skittishness and fall in love.

Such a project couldn’t pass Hollywood’s Breen Office without tailoring. For example, the heroine’s ex-lover isn’t married and stops it before they go “too far”. And when the couple (Reagan and Eleanor Parker) kiss to a fade-out, there’s a brief shot of Reagan exiting the hotel to indicate that he doesn’t sleep over, and then a shot of the woman waking up alone in bed, smiling to beat the band. We couldn’t swear as to what didn’t happen, but there’s plausible deniability.

Despite the Hollywooding, the story remains charming, a New York wartime romance poised between The Clock and Miracle in the Rain. Van Druten takes the opportunity to get out of the apartment and scatter scenes all over a busy city, bustlingly directed by Irving Rapper with lots of sweeping pans. Eve Arden plays the Eve Arden role, the worldly acerbic friend who can sound as slutty as she wants but gets frustrated. She has a great line that implies an unmentionable epithet starting with a “B”; Van Druten pulled off a similar one-liner in Bell, Book and Candle. He was a great implier.

RATING 4 / 10