Sunday, January 24, 2010

MRS. PARKINGTON (MGM 1944) Warner Archive Collection

In the annals of great film couples, the inspired teaming of Irish charmer, Greer Garson and American star Walter Pigeon is legendary. The films they made together at MGM are largely exercises in patient restraint and poignant reflection of the idealized romance after marriage.

On screen, Garson and Pigeon represent marriage as a triumphant - though not perhaps perfect, celebration of all too human spirits joined for better or worse. Indeed, many outside Hollywood thought Garson and Pigeon married in real life, while others who knew better, clung to the hope that perhaps someday they might marry for real to live out the fairytale so prolifically treasured on the big screen.

Of their seven screen outings as a couple, only four of Garson and Pigeon's movies have made the happy transition to DVD. Of these, Tay Garnett's Mrs. Parkington (1944) is a memorable masterpiece, lavishly produced at the height of MGM's ultra glamorous period in film making. Based on Louis Bromfield's celebrated novel, the screenplay from Robert Thoeren and Polly James tells the story of Mrs. Susie 'Sparrow' Parkington (Garson) largely in flashback, several years after the death of her beloved husband, Maj. Augustus 'Gus' Parkington (Pigeon).

It seems that the Parkington family of the immediate present are in a very bad way - socially speaking. Susie's grand daughter, Jane (Frances Rafferty) is engaged to Ned Talbot (Tom Drake); a promising, though stubbornly head strong accountant, once in her father, Amory's (Edward Arnold) employ.

However, Ned has resigned after learning that a pair of government agents are investigating Amory for fraud. After Suzie confronts Ned and Amory with the truth, Amory attempts suicide, much to the nonchalant chagrin of his wife, Helen (Helen Freeman) - who is far more interested in keeping up appearances than she is in the welfare of her husband. Amory's son, Jack (Dan Duryea) is a heartless, calculating sponge who openly disassociates himself from his father as the whole mess unravels.

As for the rest of the family, Mrs. Parkington's daughter Alice (Gladys Cooper) is a sullen dowager, while her daughter, Madeleine (Lee Patrick) is on her third marriage - this time to a rather likable Texan, Al Swann (Rod Cameron); a man who just happens to be from Mrs. Parkington's home town - Leaping Rock.

Al's association with Mrs. Parkington's past sets up the first of many flashbacks in the film. We see Suzie as a young maid scrubbing floors inside Graham's Hotel; a residence run by her mother (Mary Servoss) for silver miners toiling under unsafe conditions for Augustus Parkington.
After paying an impromptu visit to the mine, Augustus openly flirts with Suzie. She accepts his advances to a point, but bars her emotions without the genuine prospect of marriage. A cave in at the mine claims Mrs. Graham's life and Augustus - feeling personally responsible - marries Suzie to save her from a life of servitude.

By all accounts, their marriage is a happy one. Suzie is befriended by Baroness Aspasia Conti (Agnes Moorehead); Gus' former mistress, but now a loyal and mutual friend to them both. On their third wedding anniversary, Gus presents Suzie with a lavish mansion. However, polite New York society does not take kindly to Gus's ostentatious manner. After virtually all of his invited guests refuse to attempt a party given in Suzie's honor, Gus vows to destroy each and every one by dismantling their fortunes.

Learning of this plot only after one of the men Gus has ruined has committed suicide, Suzie tells Gus she is ashamed to be his wife and leaves him for a country retreat. Gus, however, is not about to let Suzie go. He wins back her affections and the two resume their life together.

Tragedy strikes with the death of their son and Suzie descends into a dark depression, leaving Gus to venture to England and take up with Lady Nora Ebbsworth (Tala Birell). Aspasia convinces Suzie to rejoin the human race and they make journey to England to surprise Gus.
Arriving at Gus' stately country house while he, Lady Nora and a veritable entourage of fair-weather friends are on a fox hunt, Suzie inadvertently befriends Edward, Prince of Whales (Cecil Kellaway) before she realizes who he is. The Prince, however, is enchanted by her vivaciousness and cantor.

Learning of her husband's romance with Lady Nora, Suzie attempts to reclaim what is rightfully hers. After a tug of wills between Lady Nora and Suzie plays itself out during a game billiards, Edward intercedes on Suzie's behalf, issuing a command that Lady Nora attend his mother, Queen Victoria as her newest lady in waiting - thereby exiling her to a life at court and away from Gus.

Later that evening, Aspasia confides to Suzie that she has bought a home in her native France. She will not be returning with them to America. In the meantime, Gus professes his undying love for Suzie and she, realizing that in Gus' heart at least, his affections are genuine, takes him back.

From here the film reverts back to the present. Having failed in her attempt to convince the family that their inheritance might save Amory from going to prison, Mrs. Parkington informs them that she has nevertheless decided to give away her wealth to the people Amory has swindled, thereby restoring the Parkington name but leaving everyone penniless as a direct result. The story ends with Mrs. Parkington informing her devoted maid, Mattie Tournsen (Selena Royale) that they will be moving back to Leaping Rock.

Mrs. Parkington is Hollywood film making on a grand and opulent scale. Utilizing portions of sets, props and costumes from Marie Antoinette (1938) and other MGM period films, Mrs. Parkington manages to capture a resplendent atmosphere of elegance and refinement. Although the flashback device is overused throughout, it does not impact the story telling in general, and, under Tay Garnett's direction, the narrative moves effortlessly forward.

Garson was justly Oscar nominated for her performance, as was Agnes Moorehead as Supporting Actress: neither winning. As for Pigeon - be plays the dutiful husband much more selectively and with greater believability than he does the philandering rake. Nevertheless, the on screen chemistry between Pigeon and his costar is poignant and sublime. This is a great film and one that deserves renewed viewing.

Mrs. Parkington is a Warner Archive release. However, the film elements are in exceptional shape, owing to at least some restoration work having been performed somewhere along the way. The gray scale is beautifully rendered with strong tonality. Contrast levels are bang on and fine detail is evident throughout. Age related artifacts have been reduced to a bare minimum. There are several brief instances where edge enhancement and shimmering of fine details are apparent, but nothing to distract from one's overall enjoyment of this movie. The only extra is a theatrical trailer. Highly recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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