William Holden is not an actor I pay much attention too. Though I’ve seen many of his films, I usually watch them due to interest in his co-stars more so than him.
But when The Wonderful World of Cinema, The Flapper Dame & Love Letters to Old Hollywood announced a blogthon in his honor which just happens to coincide with his 100th birthday, I decided now is the time for me to take another look at William Holden. Luckily, TCM is also celebrating Holden this month and airing many of his movies.
The Wilkins family is your typical American family. Traffic cop judge Harry Wilkins (Edward Arnold) shares a happy and balanced marriage with wife Edie (Mary Philips) and their two daughters Ruth (Joan Caulfield) and Miriam (Mona Freeman). The only conflict in their household generally arises from teenaged Miriam’s passion for political causes. Not to mention her general meddling in the lives of her family members. For her part, Ruth is a mature young woman, ready to settle down to marriage and a home of her own with her long term beau, Albert.
The status quo of the household is suddenly upset by the unexpected arrival of Lt. William Seacroft (William Holden). Bill has arrived to claim the hand of Ruth who he has fallen in love with via their long term correspondence. The only problem is Ruth has neglected to mention Bill to her parents who are rather bewildered to find a strange man on their doorstep ready to marry their daughter. Even more confusing is the fact that Ruth herself has no idea who Bill is either! But Miriam does. When she confesses that she has been writing to Bill all this time posing as Ruth, the family agrees to a conspiracy of kindness.
They decide to keep the secret, while Ruth spends time with Bill before he must ship out again. But Bill is rather persistent in his intent to marry Ruth who is already engaged to a very frustrated Albert. And of course, the best laid plans often go awry as the Wilkins family will discover.
A WINNING LITTLE ROMANTIC COMEDY
Oh my goodness, ya’ll. Being a romantic comedy film fan, how did Dear Ruth ever escape my notice?! This is just the frothy, charming, bubbly little type of story I love to watch on film. The case of mistaken identity, the small neighborhood, family focus, characters with personality and an idealized view of the world make this movie an easy way to pass the time.
By the time of its’ release in 1947, William Holden had several years of credited experience under his belt, but had not yet become a “star”. That fate yet awaited him three years in the future with his casting in Sunset Boulevard which would help launch his reputation as a more dramatic actor. But in the years since his debut in Golden Boy in 1939, he had been mostly appearing in lighter film fare such as Dear Ruth.
I have to say, I actually prefer him in roles such as this which seem to fit his surfer boy good looks and easy charm. Yet, I have to admit, they do not showcase his true skill as an actor. He is irrepressible and likeable as the starry-eyed Lieutenant, much like a playful puppy. But this exact quality of his performance also makes his role one of the less memorable of Dear Ruth.
For me the strength of the story lies in the Wilkins family. Films sometimes have difficulties portraying realistic families onscreen, but not so here. Each of the Wilkins family members are unique individuals with their own personalities which complement the family as a whole. The bicker and tease, fuss and argue, but the undercurrent of love and acceptance among them runs strong. At times, I found Miriam annoying and in need of some reigning in. But then, isn’t that true of most teenage girls? Especially those that are fifteen going on thirty. I loved the partnership of equals between Judge and Mrs. Wilkins. Their playfulness balanced with mutual respect are my #relationshipgoals. I’m a big fan of Edward Arnold and I really think this may be one of my favorite of his performances as an outwardly tough, but secretly indulgent husband and father.
It’s funny, but with all the classic films I’ve watched over the years, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Joan Caulfield before. I’m currently reading Jean Arthur’s biography which mentions Joan as the woman who married Jean’s ex-husband after their divorce. I had no idea of who she was and next thing I know I’m unintentionally introduced to her through my viewing of Dear Ruth! Though she never became a big star, she has a nice girl next door aura. I found her sympathetic as a woman trying to keep her fiance happy while not breaking the heart of the stranger who claims to love her. She is sweet but not cloying. Assertive, but not brash.
Dear Ruth is a film I will definitely watch again. I am trying to branch out in my classic film watching habits by viewing more films by actors I’m not a fan of or films that may be a bit more obscure. While, I don’t always have success in this endeavor, I have found many new favorites this way, Dear Ruth among them. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go track down Dear Wife so I can continue following the hijinks of Miriam and the Wilkins family.
This has been my contribution to the William Holden Blogathon.