Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Darling, How Could You! ( 1951 )

Scottish novelist James M. Barrie is today best remembered for penning the children's classic "Peter Pan" ( 1905 ), but during the turn-of-the-century he was one of the most popular playwrights in England writing such plays as "The Little Minister", "Quality Street", and "The Admirable Crichton". He had a flair for comedy and one of his best comedic plays "Alice-Sit-by-the-Fire" ( 1905 ) - a story of a couple's reunion with their children after several years absence - was brought to the screen in 1951 as the charming Darling, How Could You! which starred John Lund and Joan Fontaine.

Dr. Mark Gray ( Lund ) and his wife Alice ( Fontaine ) return home to Boston after having spent five years in Panama aiding in the yellow fever epidemic during the construction of the Panama canal in 1900. Their three children, Amy ( Mona Freeman ), Cosmo ( David Stollery ), and baby Molly ( Maureen Lynn Reimer ) had remained in Boston and were being cared for by Mark's mother and a nursemaid ( Angela Clarke ).


Both Mark and Alice are impatient to be reunited with their children, but while Mark builds a rapport with the children in a snap, Alice is overly-anxious for instant love and finds the initial greetings awkward. She also has to contend with jealousy from the nursemaid who grew attached to baby Molly while they were away. Meanwhile, their imaginative daughter Amy is convinced their mother is having an affair with a friend of the family ( Peter Hansen ) after having accidentally seen a theatrical play that portrayed the "seamy side of life". 

Darling, How Could You! is a little-remembered comedy today and yet it boasts a great cast of pros that handle their parts with ease and features some very humorous moments ...two qualities which should make it more memorable. John Lund is especially charming as the understanding Victorian father of the family, Dr. Gray. He cuts a dashing figure and is an admirably loving husband to Alice. Joan Fontaine didn't often get a chance to play comedy parts so she tackled her part with gusto and looked particularly beautiful while doing so. And the children were perfectly cast : David Stollery, later a veteran of Walt Disney television series such as Spin and Marty, is adorable as Cosmo, their little tough-talking son, while the underrated Mona Freeman displays perfect comedic timing as their winsome teenage daughter Amy. 

It may seem strange today that any young couple would choose to be separated from their children, but James Barrie's original play was set in London with the Grays returning home from British India. It was quite common at the time for couples who were residing in India to send their children back to England to be cared for by family members or nannies due to the risk of disease or uprisings. For the film, the setting was changed to Boston to appeal to American audiences, and so the yellow fever epidemic in Panama was given as the reason for the Grays absence for such a long period. Pretty clever. 
While the film starts off rather slow it builds up considerably when Lund and Fontaine enter the scene and ends with a tickling good comedic sequence involving Alice's misunderstood romantic entanglement.

Darling, How Could You! is currently not available on DVD but can be rented and viewed online through Amazon. 

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