Monday, May 11, 2015

My Second Favorite 'My Favorite Wife': "Move Over, Darling" (1963)

This remake of "My Favorite Wife" has a surefire story that should have worked.

Widowed lawyer Nicholas (James Garner) is marrying Bianca (Polly Bergen) the same day he is having his first wife declared legally dead. Ellen (Doris Day) has been missing after a plane crash for five years, and Nicholas is finally moving on after living with his mother (the always wonderful Thelma Ritter) and his and Ellen's two young daughters. The problem is, Ellen has just been rescued by the military and hurries home as quickly as she can.

Ellen tracks Nicholas and Bianca to their honeymoon hotel, and they are finally reunited before the complications begin. Nicholas has a huge problem telling Bianca, Ellen is a stranger to their children, and soon it's discovered that Ellen wasn't alone on a tropical island for five years. She was stranded with the very hunky Steve (Chuck Connors), and has a little more to answer for.

This remake started as a George Cukor-directed film starring Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin, and Cyd Charisse in the roles of Ellen, Nicholas, and Bianca. Monroe was fired after a few scenes were filmed due to budget overruns, Martin threatened to walk, then Monroe was rehired but died before the project was completed. Thirty-seven minutes of "Something's Gotta Give" was eventually shown as part of a documentary on Monroe, but the entire film was revamped- save some of the sets, character names, and general plot.

While the main trio here is fine, some of the high comic scenes had me cringing. Often, the film resorts to slapstick that is difficult to watch (the Swedish nurse bit is simply unfunny), accented by an obnoxious musical score from Lionel Newman. The supporting cast is full of familiar faces including Max Showalter, Don Knotts, Alan Sues, and John Astin, and aside from Ritter, Edgar Buchanan as the judge is nothing short of hysterical. Gordon's direction is alright, the widescreen is nice, but beware of a lot of badly done special effects- especially in a car chase that runs too short. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the hotel scenes where Nicholas must juggle two women claiming to be his wife while the hotel manager (Fred Clark) skulks around runs way too long, bringing the film to a complete stop while I found myself yelling at Garner to just tell Bergen the truth already. Some of Day's double takes are funny, but out nowhere we have to make sure she gets to sing a song, too.

"Move Over, Darling" can't decide whether it is wacky or sophisticated. It's kind of sexist when you think about it- Nicholas moves on with his life after five years and everyone but Ellen is okay with that, yet it is automatically assumed Ellen and Steve were sleeping together after spending that time on the island. We can wonder all we want about what could have been with "Something's Gotta Give," but this film makes a mediocre substitute. (* * *) out of five stars.