The Body Beautiful

Movies about medical students are either sensitive (the unattractively-titled but sweet GROSS ANATOMY) or vulgar (nameless hordes of t&a US comedies), but they always end up straying into some hinterland of conflicted response at some point, due to the strange nature of medicine and the peculiarities involved in acquiring knowledge of it.

MISS SUSIE SLAGLE’S is a very obscure ’40s drama set in a boarding house for aspirant doctors, run by Lillian Gish. Miss Susie is of course an ANGEL (Gish enters ablaze with backlight, so we know this, but the casting is already a heavy hint), but she does run a household stocked with skeletons, and the above Varga pin-up on the bathroom ceiling. Like I said, weird.

The film is noteworthy for being directed by the soon-to-be blacklisted John Berry, who does a nice, discrete job, benefitting from Charles Lang’s dramatic cinematography. Berry is one of the unfortunate ones whose career was just getting going, whose style was just emerging, and whose loss to the American cinema can’t really be accurately estimated.

The other noteworthy thing is Veronica Lake, top-billed despite quite a small role in what is very much an ensemble piece (Sonny Tufts gets the most screen time — regrettably, perhaps, but he’s not bad here). Lake is minus her trademark peekaboo curl, sacrificed to the war effort, but proves, in her few scenes, that she was more than just that gimmick. I suspect the prominent credit/small role reflects  confusion at Paramount as to what to do with her — they paired her with Alan Ladd again, stuck her in a western (a good one, RAMROD, but westerns are often the sign of a female star on the slide), and had her play in the English-language version of STRONGHOLD while Sarita Montiel took the role in the Spanish-language version. It feels like there was a lack of confidence in her.

Here’s her first, and biggest, scene in MISS SUSIE SLAGLE’S, which I find quite affecting. I could have saved it for Christmas, but it doesn’t seem quite fair to hit you with a scene like this at such a vulnerable time ~

Amazing how effective a distant foghorn can be…

15 Responses to “The Body Beautiful”

  1. That’s a lovely scene, but I have to confess that I’ve never really “got” Veronica Lake. Maybe it’s that she never seems to do anything with her eyebrows… (Not that I tend to think of myself as being overly concerned with eyebrows in general.)

  2. David Boxwell Says:

    From this to THE BAD NEWS BEARS GO TO JAPAN and BOESMAN AND LENA via HE RAN ALL THE WAY (which is almost too painful to watch) and TAMANGO (and uncredited work on Ophuls’s CAUGHT): Berry had one helluva wayward career over more than half a century.

    One of my favorites of his is FROM THIS DAY FORWARD (46), where he even manages to get a badly miscast Joan Fontaine to “keep it real.” I also like TENSION, with Audrey Totter as one of the coldest of all film noir femme fatales.

  3. My favorite is Casbah, Berry’s musical version of Pepe le Moko with Tony Martin, Marta Toren, Yvonne de Carlo, Peter Lorre (again) and a great Harold Arlen score that incudes “Hooray For Love” and the exquisite “It Was Written in the Stars.”

  4. Berry, interestingly, claimed that there was no sign that John Garfield was dying during He Ran All the Way. So you may be able to watch that performance with less of an inward wince: he’s acting.

    I’m looking forward to seeing all those films, having only seen Tamango.

    Lake’s eyebrows express volumes to me — skeptically arched through a lot of Sullivan’s Travels… She was the first ’40s actress I fell for, and although I think there are other, more important and compelling stars, she still hits me the same way.

  5. Of course, with her trademark ‘do, Lake had only one eyebrow to play with.

  6. Christopher Says:

    LOL..gee I’m sorry,but GOODBYE!
    nice, cozy..christmasy..

  7. Her voice is so beautiful.

  8. I find that bathroom ceiling mural to be very creepy.

  9. Christopher Says:

    poor little elize..we see her as she really is.

  10. Yeah, can’t imagine enjoying a bath with Elize smiling down at me. Maybe if I was Clive Barker…

  11. Well, Gross Anatomy often got shown on UK television under the more attractive (yet still punning) title of A Cut Above!

    And on the sensitive or vulgar poles, I guess Flatliners falls under the vulgar?

  12. It leans a little more that way, yes.

    I don’t know if this is true, but somebody once told me that the reason they stole the red mac kid from Don’t Look Now… was that “They tried a different look and it didn’t work.” I love that. They tried one other look, and then they were FORCED to steal the red mac because clearly a different look just wouldn’t work. High Hollywood Dumbness.

  13. What was their excuse for stealing Donald Sutherland’s son?

  14. Heh. Well, they only borrowed him.

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