I caught In Person on TCM the other day, excited at the prospect of a Ginger Rogers/George Brent film that I hadn’t seen. I quickly found out why I hadn’t seen it.
The film opens in a crowded elevator. A woman, who we can correctly assume is Ginger Rogers, but can’t tell yet because a massive scarf is draped over her entire face, stands in the back. Now when I say scarf, I don’t mean a cute netted veil. I mean that she appears to have accidentally walked into a piece of cloth that went airborne and just kept walking, then stuck a hat on it…a look that, for some reason, everyone finds completely normal, except for Emory Muir (George Brent), who (rightly) gives her the side eye then proceeds to follow her outside.
After getting stuck in a crowd, the mystery woman nearly faints, but is rescued by Muir who escorts her into a taxi and invites himself along for the ride. Muir chatters on nonchalantly for an entire cab ride with a woman who looks like a posh Cousin It from the Adams Family until they end up in front of her apartment. Once there, she bids him adieu and finally reveals herself as a bespectacled, buck-toothed brunette – a look Muir reacts to with the line every woman wants to hear, “Ouch!” He then tries to make her feel better about her Ouch-face by offering that maybe it looks that way due to an accident or the mumps. What a dreamboat!
Ginger (because it is Ginger in disguise) removes the glasses, wig, and fake teeth once Muir has left and she’s in the privacy of her home, blonde radiance in tact. Perhaps because her actual face is not the one being insulted, she doesn’t feel the true sting of Muir’s slights and describes him to her psychiatrist Dr. Sylvester (Samuel S. Hinds) as “a nice young man,” a line that prompted me to rewind and replay it to make sure I heard it correctly.
It is later revealed that she is Carol Corliss, an actress whose fame has gotten so intense that she now has to don a disguise (or face blanket) to be comfortable enough to appear in public.
Before and after she removes her “ouch face”
Mere minutes after their Meet-Cute, Emory and Carol end up sitting near each other in the same restaurant. Carol’s ouch-face disguise once again incites positive attention, this time from Emory’s uncle Thaddeus (Grant Mitchell) who, after his eyes pop out from the shock of seeing her, sarcastically comments that she’s “a pretty little thing,” and cringes away from her in horror, as one does when confronted with a normal looking person minding her own business in a nice restaurant.
Carol proceeds to invite herself along on Emory’s upcoming vacation in the great outdoors, despite his obvious repulsion of her and displeasure at the suggestion. At this point they have known each other a full 10 minutes. The psychiatrist reveals to the uncle (whaddaya know, they’re friends!) Carol’s real identity and they join together to support the proposition, finally cowing Emory into agreeing to it.
While Emory is repulsed by Carol’s perceived physical unattractiveness in her disguise, he also professes that he doesn’t care how pretty she is without it and additionally assures her that he is unimpressed by her fame once he finds out who she is. This is complete bullshit. The scene where his eyes practically pop out of his head at the sight of an un-disguised Carol in a bathing suit, prompting him to chase her through the woods with a camera, says otherwise.
As the main characters, you are supposed to be rooting for Carol and Emory’s developing relationship. However, the film’s groan inducing approach to male-female roles and relationships takes a sledgehammer to whatever good feelings you may have started out with. Emory Muir is a pretty gross excuse for a love interest. He spends the majority of the movie sulking when he is not hinting or outright stating that what he’s really looking for in a girl is someone who will cook and clean the house for him while he goes fishing. Plus, how is one supposed to like a guy who doesn’t even crack a smile following a ridiculously cute tap dance routine (by Rogers) on and around the living room furniture?
At its core, the film feels like a muster roll of ex-boyfriends that you desperately wish to forget, a how-to guide for who not to date. Possibly the best of the bunch (and that’s not saying much) is Jay Holmes (played by the fabulous Alan Mowbray), a fellow actor who professes he’s in love with Carol while in the same breath states that she’s basically a no-talent with a pretty face. However, though he is portrayed as the obvious bad choice, a shallow and frivolous wrench in the spokes of Carol and Emory’s potential romance, it’s Jay who helps Carol wash the dishes when Emory is stewing in his masculinity and sticks around even though his role is basically that of a glorified punching bag for the second half of the film. He even manages to pose merrily for photographers in a crushed top hat after being abducted and held at gunpoint by a gang of mountain men. Again, it’s really not saying much, but in comparison to the stodgy Emory who is constantly leaving the scene in a huff, Jay is a downright blast.
With some added wince-worthy exchanges like,
Muir’s uncle – “How are all your lunatics?”
Psychiatrist – “Oh, they’re still crazy. At least, I hope so!”
it’s easy to see other reasons why this film didn’t exactly stand the test of time. In just under an hour and a half, it is made apparent how far down the ladder women had fallen by In Person‘s 1935 release, just one year following the end of the pre-code era of powerhouse females. Though Brent’s character was by far the most loathsome, Rogers’ character was also hard to sympathize with. Though she had moments of moxie, the majority of what we learned about Carol was that she was a person who was willing to pursue a man with no discernible good qualities and who actively treated her like garbage throughout their entire relationship. As both a feminist and lover of both Rogers and Brent, it was downright painful to watch.
Directed by William A. Seiter, with dance sequences directed by Hermes Pan, and songs by Oscar Levant (whose music is well and good, but whose physical presence and self-deprecating wit is sorely missed in this drab dud), this film really should have been better.
Ginger admits, in her autobiography My Story, that several RKO stars turned down parts in the film. However, she seems to believe that this is because none of the stars shared her self-described “absurd sense of humor” which allowed her to “look ridiculous” in the disguise. What they may have seen and she didn’t was that the film itself was absurd and ridiculous, not just the disguise.
To sum up, if I could use one word to describe this film, I would borrow one from Emory Muir, in his infinite magnanimity, when I say,