Sunday, July 31, 2016

Good Sam (Leo McCarey, 1948)

MOMA screened the rare 130-minute version of Leo McCarey's Good Sam (1948) last night in their Seriously Funny: The Films of Leo McCarey series. The print was a 2K scan done by the Library of Congress and looked washed out save for the last reel. The recent Blu-ray would please the quality queens a great deal more. But that contains the 114-minute version. Here are the differences, some worthy inclusions, some not:

A brief conversation between Sam and Claude right before the bus sequence where we discover that he's no war hero and that he received his injury during a fight at the USO.

A scene where the family watches home movies of a front lawn football game and then play a game of jacks. Dave Kehr calls this scene "magnificent;" I found it de trop.

The scene in which Sam asks Shirley Mae why she's quitting was missing. I'm ambivalent about this exclusion. It's not necessary for the story since the information is conveyed by a saleswoman before and Lu after. But the elision makes the viewer wonder what transpired. I assumed the following scene would show Sam bringing her home for a place to stay. Instead, it fades to the scene above.
I might be misremembering this but a brief moment was missing from the 130-minute version: Mr. Nelson says "Nice people, the Claytons" to his wife on the Claytons' doorstep after ringing the doorbell.

There's a bit more dialogue in the dinner scene with the Nelsons and the soapy meat sauce.

A flashback in which Lu explains (to Shirley Mae if I'm remembering correctly) how she met Sam.

A brief exchange where Sam tells the Nelsons he cannot sign the closing papers for the house since he no longer has the money.

An intense extension of the final dinner scene where both children cry at the thought that Sam might be dead.

Finally, there's a shot/scene in which little Lulu recites "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" in its entirety while Lu cries. I'm not surprised this was cut; it's too much even in McCarey's gag syntax. Perhaps a fade out on a closeup of Lu crying in the middle would have worked.

So nothing earth-shattering. A solid 120-minute could result from all this. But McCarey addicts will want to consume each needless diversion. My take is that while no masterpiece, Good Sam is an incontestably great film. Its most winning quality is its thorough unpleasantness, yet another rejoinder to those who think classical Hollywood films were all pleasant utopias. Narratively, it's a mess if you care about such things. McCarey retards forward motion by alternating between episodes of people's inherent greediness (and occasional goodness too) leaving him with not much recourse for an ending. So he throws several unconvincing dei ex machina (are there any other kind?) at us which stop the film instead of ending it, more modernist than classical in feel.

Oh and here's cutie pie Dick Ross who went on to direct after playing Claude, his only film role according to IMDb.



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