Carole Lombard may have left us in January 1942 -- slightly more than a year after this still from "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" -- but people in the film industry still remembered her, and the type of movies she made, for years after her death. With wartime, the screwball comedy naturally faded from the scene, and the national rebuilding of the first few postwar years also did little to aid the genre.
However, by the end of the 1940s, with the film industry reeling from both court-ordered divestiture of studio-owned theaters and the assault from the new medium of television, Hollywood was desperate to try just about anything, and so screwball -- or at least its mid-century equivalent -- was revived. Yesterday, on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S., you could see one example of it, a 1951 film called "A Millionaire For Christy."
This isn't a homage, unlike later examples of screwball such as "What's Up, Doc" or "Seems Like Old Times," but an honest effort to revive a genre some in the industry believed was still active. It's got some of the elements of classic screwball, most notably one of its leading, if often unheralded, leading men in Fred MacMurray. Una Merkel, who worked with Fred and Carole in 1937's "True Confession," has a supporting part. And who is the leading lady trying to fill Lombard's legendary shoes? Someone you don't usually associate with her...none other than Eleanor Parker.
Parker, now age 88, isn't often remembered as a comedic actress; she's best known for films such as "Caged" (1950), "Detective Story" (1951) and "The Man With The Golden Arm" (1955). (She also had the second female lead in "The Sound Of Music.") But here, she gets the chance to show off her comedy chops, and truth be told, she's pretty good, playing a secretary who comes to Los Angeles to inform MacMurray, a radio actor planning to get married, that he's inherited two million dollars. But through an array of misunderstandings, Fred loses out on his bride, Eleanor's character is believed to be insane and they have to spend a night together (since this is 1951, there is of course no hanky-panky) with a group of Mexicans in an abandoned railroad car.
"A Millionaire For Christy" is, at best, a programmer, and the writing isn't quite up to the best 1930s screwball. But it has its charms, not the least of which is Parker trying to channel the spirit of Lombard and the other great screwball actresses (and generally succeeding). It's an OK little film, but understandably not something that lured audiences en masse away from TV sets and into theaters.
With MacMurray on board, one would think this was a Paramount release -- but actually, it was made at Twentieth Century-Fox (although Warners now owns the rights to the film). One also wonders, had this been made a year later, whether Fox might have lobbied for one of its up-and-coming contract players to get the female lead...a lady four years younger than Parker named Marilyn Monroe.