Rosalind Russell is one of the under-rated talents of classic film, in my opinion. In her forty year career, she played opposite some of Hollywood’s most popular leading men, appeared in more than one hundred films in a mix of genres and was nominated for an Oscar four times. She also appeared on stage multiple times and even won a Tony Award.
But for some reason, she’s not often listed as anyone’s favorite actress or ranked among the great actresses of her time. Well, thanks to Crystal of In The Good Old Days of Hollywood, Russell is getting some well-deserved recognition and remembrance with her very own blogathon.
I’ve seen many of Rosalind Russell’s films knowing I can always count on her to give her best in any performance. Of course, she’s excellent in dramatic roles, but I often think she is overlooked as a comedienne and not just because of her stand-out role in My Girl Friday. I recently ran across one of her lesser known films Tell It to the Judge and found it to be an absolute delight.
ABOUT THE FILM
Once again playing a career woman, Russell is Marsha Meredith, a lawyer nominated for a position as a judge. Unfortunately her recent divorce has put her potential appointment in jeopardy. And although she testifies that it is her husband’s bad behavior which is responsible for her single state, he has a very different perspective on the matter.
It turns out that Peter Webb is still in love with his wife. He is determined to convince her that the events leading to their divorce were a big misunderstanding and to ultimately win her back. But he is continually foiled by his wife’s prejudice against him and her interfering grandfather, who is so close to the fruition to his plans to see Marsha become a judge. Then there is the little matter of the blonde who led to their break-up continually reappearing at the least opportune moments. Yes, it’s one of those folks, a divorce/remarriage comedy with hijinks, misunderstandings, innuendo and even a little slapstick humor. We all know how these end, but it’s the process of getting there that is so much fun.
In the annals of remarriage comedies, one thinks of titles like The Awful Truth, The Philadelphia Story and of course, His Girl Friday among others. But I had never heard of Tell It to the Judge. Which is a shame, because it has all the ingredients these great films had and yet none of the attention. I found myself giggling multiple times as I watched this picture.
Rosalind Russell is a genius in this role which perfectly blends her skill for playing serious career women with her knack for comedy. It’s so easy to believe her as a woman of great professional standing who also has all the femininity and foibles of a wife still in love with her husband, but unwilling to admit she has misjudged him. She has poise and gravitas when needed but also often appears silly and petty. The scenes of her “cooking a fish” and also of her dancing with her new beau were hilarious. You can see her insecurities peeking out from behind that confident facade. In other hands Marsha might appear a bit ridiculous, constantly jumping to conclusions, getting herself into jams while trying to avoid her husband. But Russell makes her human in both her strength and weakness.
I have to say that Robert Cummings as Marsha’s estranged husband Pete almost steals the film right out from under her. This is probably my favorite performance of his. I had no idea he could play comedy, but he makes faces and takes prat falls like the best of them. The jokes often come at his expense and one has to wonder why he is so determined to win back a woman who refuses to believe him and who continually doubts him and runs away. But honestly, he’s rather charming in his sincerity and perplexity.
The rest of the cast is also excellent with Gig Young standing out as a smarmy rival for Marsha’s affection. That mustache of his alone adds to the humor of the film. Louise Beavers gets short shrift as Marsha’s maid, but makes the most of it. Then there is Harry Davenport as Marsha’s grandfather who wants to see her follow in his footsteps so much that he’s willing to wreck havoc in her marriage. Douglas Dumbrille has a surprising performance as a drunk gangster client of Peter’s whose shenanigans are partially responsible for Peter’s marriage problems. And I loved the way Marie McDonald portrayed the role of the gangster’s girlfriend as a bit more than a cliche.
Like most comedies of this ilk, some of the situations become a bit ridiculous and far-fetched. But who expects a comedy to be realistic? This one sports a great mix of physical humor, with situational comedy, as well as a little bit of the fast-paced, biting repartee for which My Girl Friday is so renowned. Altogether, Tell It to the Judge is an amusing bit of entertainment which is definitely going on my list of favorite comedies.
This has been my entry in The Rosalind Russell Blogathon hosted by Crystal of In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Make sure to stop by and read the other entries about this wonderful actress.