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Friday, November 21, 2014

'Government Girl' DVD: Olivia de Havilland Takes on WWII-era Washington Bureaucracy and Search for True Love

Government Girl
Warner Archive increases its catalog of WWII-era films in releasing the hilarious 1943 Oliva de Havilland comedy "Government Girl" on DVD. Seeing this dramatic actress, best known for "Gone With the Wind," expertly pull off the lead in a screwball comedy is delightful.

The following clip, courtesy of Archive and YouTube, of an early scene from "Girl" conveys much of what you need to know about the WWII vibe and wonderful '40s era comedy sense of the film.

This amusingly goofy take on "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" opens with Marine wannabe automobile production executive Ed Browne joining the ranks of "dollar-a-year" men who come to Washington during WWII to contribute their management expertise or other knowledge to the war effort. The naive Ed shows up without a place to stay in blissful ignorance of the intense housing shortage related to the war-related surge of people into our nation's capital.

It is not so predictable that the status of Browne resulting in a hotel manager denying a couple with a reservation a room to accommodate the newly arrived V.I.P. causes conflict with de Havilland's Elizabeth "Smokey" Allard. Further, this encounter clearly and amusingly establishes that Smokey is a veteran of wartime bureaucracy who proves the adage that secretaries are the ones who truly accomplish things in any large organization.

It is a bit more predictable that Ed comes along when Smokey is in a quasi-desperate situation the next morning and aggravates her at least as much as he assists her.

The level of predictability increases as Smokey gives Ed an earful as he is setting up the office from which he is going to oversee the manufacture of bombers and soon learns that he is her new boss.

The task-oriented Ed continues exasperating his gal Friday by disregarding the written and unwritten rules that govern how Washington operates. The most momentous example of this  involves Ed diverting a shipment of steel for use in manufacturing planes.

The arguable hijacking of the raw material provides two Washington power brokers who have Ed on their enemies list for other reasons an opportunity to ruin him. As is typical regarding this type of tyrant, the absence of malice (or profit) regarding the diversion is entirely irrelevant.

On hint regarding the identity of one such broker is that this haughty individual agrees with the philosophy "what fools these mortals be" regarding 99 percent of the human race.

The conflict described above culminates in the style of courtroom scene that is common in many classic films of the era; this development further allows de Havilland to put her drama hat back on and deliver an oration that puts the Jack Nicholson "You can't handle the truth" monolgue from "A Few Good Men."

On a more general level, "Girl" has every element that make the films of the '30s and '40s so much fun.

Scenes in an apartment house for women that a house-mother style manager rules with an iron fist provide wonderful broad comedy and general fun that includes the residents piling together in a car to go to their jobs that support the efforts of the boys overseas.

There is also nice bantering between de Havilland and her leading man; they are no Tracy and Hepburn but have decent chemistry.

Elements of patriotism include highly symbolic footage of the bombers that Ed is helping to produce flying past the Washington monument and a few scenes in which Ed and Smokey throw darts at a caricature of Hitler. Further, the patriot who brings Ed into the fold explains early in the film that our hero is much more valuable devoting his manufacturing expertise to the war effort than he would be fighting on the front lines.

This great combination of factors results in a trifecta in the form of a great old-style screwball romantic comedy, a nostalgic WWII comedy/propaganda piece, and a charming boy-meets-girl story.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Girl" is welcome to either email me or connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.