|'One Touch of Venus': Love at First Sight|
|By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic|
04:14PM / Thursday, March 26, 2020
I wish that I were reviewing one of the half-dozen movies certain to be made when this pox upon our house is no more. But until that glorious return to normality has us resuming all the simple joys of life we take for granted, going to the movies being among my favorites, I'll be retro-reviewing and thereby sharing with you the films that I've come to treasure over the years, most of which can probably be retrieved from one of the movie streaming services. It is my fondest hope that I've barely put a dent into this trove when they let the likes of me back into the Bijou.
When asked to speak somewhere about what I think I know concerning this business of criticizing movies, the first inquiry of the Q&A period is inevitably, "What is your favorite movie?" Of course, I could play it safe by answering, "Citizen Kane" (1941) or "Casablanca" (1942) and head straight for the doughnuts. But it just wouldn't be true. So, I have my confession all prepared, which humbly asserts that your favorite film doesn't necessarily have to be in the top rung of the AFI's 100 Greatest Films.
Rather, like "One Touch of Venus" (1948) is for me, your all-time favorite speaks to you … as if it knew you intimately, and is more indicative of your essence than anything Dr. Freud could unearth.
I was about 9 when WOR-TV Channel 9's "Million Dollar Movie," which showcased one old movie over and over for the entire week, engraved my libido forever with "One Touch of Venus," starring Ava Gardner. I watched every showing I could, and have come to fantasize that so great was this epiphanic event that the station held it over for a second week, perhaps just for me. Thus was the making of a romantic sap and dreamer extraordinaire.
It happens at New York's Savory's Department Store, that sort of elegant purveyor of everything from perfume to the kitchen of the future, lorded over by Tom Conway's Whitfield Savory, the patrician lothario whose penthouse atop the store is a web for debs, unsuspecting and otherwise.
Representing the more democratic end of the spectrum at Savory's is the simple and innocent but darn decent Eddie Hatch, a $50 a week, daydreaming window dresser who would probably later bemoan Adlai Stevenson's failure to win the presidency. Portrayed by Robert Walker, the starry-eyed Eddie is in a dead-end relationship of convenience with Olga San Juan's Gloria, a pert but domineering clerk at Savory's who has Eddie's personal life and career all outlined for him.
And so might have been the unadventurous destiny of Eddie Hatch were it not for the loveliest, soul saving deus ex machina to ever be plopped down in a screwball comedy. To stimulate business while supplying a dilettantish sense of artistic noblesse oblige among his snooty peers and to serve as an identifying symbol of his emporium's class and distinction, pretentious but dapper Whitfield acquires the famed Anatolian Venus statue.
The store is abuzz. The grand unveiling approaches, and who but Eddie gets the call to make sure that the curtain will rise on the marble goddess of love without issue when Whitfield pulls the drawstring? "See, it hitches," the mucky muck complains to his Gal Friday, Molly, magnificently portrayed by Eve Arden, who gives a master clinic in acerbic patter and wit. She assures her boss she's put a good man on it.
When Eddie arrives to the assignment, remnants of the pre-unveiling festivities include an opened bottle of champagne. What the heck … $50 a week? He throws back a swig and, saying, "Gosh you're beautiful" kisses her before swiveling to the troubling curtain. A tap comes at his shoulder. Things will never be the same for Eddie Hatch … or me.
Somewhere in the lore of goddesses it dictates that Venus will fall in love with whoever brings her back to life with a kiss. Eddie rubs his eyes, certain that he is either crazy or hallucinating.
Stretching from her millennium of slumber, she is dreamy and absolutely smitten with this gentle mortal. Laughing, joyful and fearing nothing, Venus wants to frolic and spoon with her fated lover. But Eddie is aghast, afraid of what will befall him when it's found that the Anatolian Venus has up and left her pedestal. Frazzled, he ensconces her in the model apartment of the future, where, of course, Mr. Savory finds her enjoying her beauty sleep. He is gaga for her.
Predictable, but forgiven in light of the heartwarming fantasy to which the necessary clichés play counterpoint, bossy girlfriend Gloria is miffed by Eddie's more-than-usual, scatterbrained behavior; Savory orders Molly, who has secretly loved the inattentive playboy for years, to make sure all the mysterious beauty's dreams come true. And partly because he believes Eddie filched the statue, but mostly because he sees the lowly employee as a challenger for Venus' attentions, he sics the cops on the window dresser.
Eve Arden is both vital complement and down-to-Earth contrast to the exotic Miss Gardner via her running-gag style of self-effacing barbs, such as when Whitfield says Venus reminds him of someone, and she says, "I wish she reminded me of me." Her Oscar-worthy portrayal is the sort of performance that, because it was in a comedy, got overlooked until Marisa Tomei broke the glass ceiling with "My Cousin Vinnie" (1992).
Expect the farcical misunderstandings and tumultuousness common to the genre as Eddie runs for his freedom, fights for his sanity and helplessly falls in love. But it's here where I must embarrassedly admit that flourishing amidst this oyster of standard frivolity is the pearl-laced scene that shaped for life my entire sense of romanticism. Having taken Venus to the park, Kurt Weill's melodies filling the background, an ebullient Eddie says he'd like to give her everything. What would she like? "A bag of popcorn," she says. He goes to get it, and that's all I'll tell you.
Although, I should inform that I'm sure it is purely coincidental that my wife, Joanne, looks a lot like Ava Gardner's Venus.
"One Touch of Venus," released in 1948 by Universal Pictures, is directed by William A. Seiter and Gregory La Cava and stars Ava Gardner, Robert Walker and Eve Arden. Running time: 82 minutes