Friday, 24 May 2013

No Time for Love (1943)

Mitchell Leisen's "No Time for Love", starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray is a slightly unusual romantic comedy of the 1940s. The key element that makes it different is its sexual politics, by how obviously it states that the attraction of its two leads is sexual, not romantic. This is highlighted by the fact that it is a socially unequal pairing (i.e. not a match of minds); he is a construction worker, she's a sophisticated photographer. This social inequality is a theme recurrent in Leisen's comedies of the early 40s, particularly "Take a Letter, Darling". Moreover, the audience's point of view (this being 1943 was expected to be mostly female) is Colbert's and Fred MacMurray is treated, from the first time we see him, as a sex object (shirtless and sweaty, see also his terrible portrait in a poster below).

In fact, the whole film works around this. Having seen him, and felt attracted to him, Colbert is unable to forget him (or stop lusting after him). When she inadvertently causes him to be suspended from his job; she offers him a temporary one, hoping (?) that spending time with him will cure her from her "problem". The film objectifies him as a masculine object of desire even further by pairing Colbert at the start with a man who isn't terribly different from her gay friends (something the film also doesn't shy from). And it is sexual jealousy they both feel, not a romantic one: she, when he has sex with the dancer; he, when feels less masculine than the model she's photographing.

(Slight spoilers ahead:) Perhaps feeling that all this was too overt, the characters' social differences are toned down slightly (turns out he's an engineer, not a worker - just doing the job of one for macguffin reasons), but by the time her most present (and hungry) gay friend joins them up, sex has resurfaced (their exit from scene and her last line should be enough). But, in difference to what would happen later in the decade, none conceded to the other. This is still a union of equals.

Both leads are great, Colbert exuding her usual charm and MacMurray giving one of his best comedic performances. It's also one of their best pairings. I also had a soft spot for Ilka Chase and Richard Haydn as Colbert's sister and aforementioned friend.

Claudette Colbert and Fred McMurray worked together in seven films. Six are available on DVD. The one missing is their second outing directed by Mitchell Leisen, "Practically Yours" which I would like very much to watch. Last screening I know of was in 2008, in Paris. But my bigger question is why was it missed from a boxset collecting some of their films?

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