For Reel

The Shopworn Angel (1938)
May 27, 2014, 2:11 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: H.C. Potter
4 Stars
The Shopworn AngelThe second of four films that paired Margaret Sullavan with James Stewart, The Shopworn Angel is an unusual, enormously touching tearjerker that defies one’s expectations of the romantic comedy genre. Dana Burnet’s short story “Private Pettigrew’s Girl” was first published in 1918 and Hollywood would directly adapt the material three times between 1918 and 1938. The central role of a chorus girl has been upgraded to a musical star and her gangster lover to a producer in this version, but otherwise the picture follows the story of a woman conceding to marry the man who loves her shortly before he goes to war. Sullavan and Stewart have such a tangible chemistry on screen that it feels radical when the romance doesn’t develop in quite the same way that was expected of the period. It’s a nice role for the terrific Sullavan, who is never vilified for being with two men for very different reasons. She’s a complex heroine, pulled in multiple directions without her sense of morality ever being called into question. Stewart’s country-bumpkin is irresistibly charming while also possessing a certain melancholy that comes through with his aside remarks about his potential death on the battlefield. As the producer, Walter Pidgeon doesn’t fare quite as well as his co-stars–although he has a couple of fine moments near the end of the film, he is largely a blank canvas for too long. In addition to being a highly-affecting melodrama, there’s an elegiac quality given to subject matter, as if it serves as a sort of ideological rehearsal for a country on the brink of another war.

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