Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Gay Sisters (1942)

When their mother dies in sinking of the “Lusitania” and their father soon follows while fighting in WWI, the three young Gaylord sisters are set to become rich heiresses. Alas, twenty odd years later, they still haven’t touched their inheritance and are living with few means, as the will has been contested several times since their father death. There is sibling rivalry, romantic entanglements and some skeletons hanging in the sisters' closets.

The three sisters are Barbara Stanwyck, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Nancy Coleman. The latter plays the goody good sister rather insipidly, but the other two are good. Stanwyck is a delight in her flashback (narration as well as acting) and Fitzgerald, as the man-eater sister, runs away with her scenes and almost the film. To support them, George Brent (acceptably bland) and Donald Crisp (not up to his best) are around, doing very little. Gig Young (changing his screen name to that of his character) also makes an appearance.

Directed by Irving Rapper, “The Gay Sisters” is hardly a classic. It is nevertheless entertaining, albeit it a slight camp way. There is some rhythm, and the plot is both slightly preposterous and amusing, thus the higher than usual camp value. The plot twists can be seen a mile ahead but still, there is something about it. I confess to have liked it – but would hardly feature it in a list of the great films of the 1940s although Rapper's other film of 1942 is a serious contender for that list: Bette Davis' "Now, Voyager".

From a plot construction point of view, and knowing nothing about inheritance laws, I was annoyed by the whole delay setting - it sounded completely preposterous. If the sisters were willing to make the allowance required, and their house (the main issue of contend) was not in their father's inheritance, why would the whole process drag for so long? The obvious answer is the house acted as MacGuffin - but that is from a scriptwriter's point of view, not the character's reality, and it did spoil a bit of the fun: but take it out and all crumbles.

The "almost was" casting is almost as interesting as the real one: the film was originally designed with Bette Davis in mind and Mary Astor was one of the possibilities for the Fitzgerald role, basically redoing their "The Great Lie" pairing. I wonder if it would have increased the camp factor. There almost was a sequel as well. That I think I would have enjoyed watching.

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