Government Girl 1943

There’s nothing like a good drunk scene to really put the cherry on top of a great movie. 

When Annstj lent me Olivia de Havilland’s Government Girl it was under the guise that it was a little like The More The Merrier I was hesitant. See, the parts about more the merrier I liked best had nothing to do with the government parts, the war heroes or the state of Washington. Frankly, a film with the word government in it doesn’t entice me at all. To each their own, right? Well, I confess, I loved it. Not for any merit-able film critic reasons of course. It definitely has it’s flaws.  But, there are a bunch of reasons you should definitely give it a try if you haven’t seen this one.  Part of the Warner Brothers Archive Collection, I feel like it will take a lifetime to watch all the newly restored films. So glad we found this one!

The Story

Sonny Tufts, the veritable English sheepdog of Classic Hollywood leading men, plays Mr. Brown- the new government man. Newly arrived in Washington D.C to tackle the shortage of bombers for the war, Brown does things his own way, and knows what needs to be done where bombers are concerned. But he doesn’t know much about anything else.

Olivia de Havilland plays Smokey, the girl he thinks is married as a result of an engagement ring mix-up in the first scene. She also ends up being his secretary and the girl who knows everything he doesn’t. Obviously the perfect pair.

The Housing Shortage in Washington D.C during wartime

Such an interesting problem! And one I’m glad we have old movies to show us. Having only seen this issue in old films, it’s strange to me that something like a housing shortage was actually endured. Apparently for a long time.  In Government Girl we see the issue with our newlyweds unable to find an apartment and properly get their life started. So May and Joe simply have to go on living apart until an opportunity comes open. As a wacky, kooky couple you’re rooting for them the whole time.

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The Man Shortage during WW II

I love that old films give us a snapshot of the trials of the time. And the big one during the war is that there are NO MEN!  10 girls to every man in fact.  Another issue I’ve only seen in films. And of course everyone is shocked Smokey is still single- because she seriously is the perfect catch. Smokey alone is able to wait it out for a guy going places, which is what she’s hoping to do with her current squeeze. (Even though he parades around with the Senators daughter like it’s his job!)

So here’s the thing? The girls are like vultures going in for the carrion left behind when it comes to available men. But what happens to the girls that get left behind? Where’s the movie that shows that?

Romance Novels and How to be Happily Married

Mr. Brown has no idea what love is. But seems to have some rules around it. Women who are married should wear wedding rings so as not to confuse other interested men. When Smokey commits and says she won’t leave Mr. Brown’s office unless he leaves, he’s given a new lease on life. One that makes him a little more aware of his feelings and left wondering what to do about it. As a result he starts reading Smokey’s romance novel and an instructional manual on marriage.

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Anne Shirley

Previously, I’ve had no other experience with Anne Shirley as an actress. From memory I can’t even recall what she’s been in. That said, she is really quite amazing in this role, which makes me wonder what I’ve been missing. She brings a naivete to the role of newlywed unsure of what to do with her newfound husband, though obviously madly in love with him. She’s unabashedly preoccupied with food, another indication that this is a wartime movie.

The Drunk Scene

Smokey and May are commissioned to play along with a scheme involving a spy bent on exploiting information from government girls. And of course the champagne is supposed to be cider but any spy worth his salt brings his own liquor. Thus begins an unfortunately short, but wonderful, scene where Smokey and May attempt to make up ways that the US is going to take down the foreign army. Hilarious.

Olivia de Havilland in a Romantic Comedy Role!

Apparently Olivia didn’t love doing romantic comedies. Probably for some sort of notion that they weren’t really that formidable a film as they were when she got her start. This flick is no Gone with the Wind or the dramas she later mastered. She brings a slapstick hilarity to much of the film. Her character is such that she is gorgeous, desired, practical, romantic, supportive, and funny. It reminds me of why I loved her in Princess O’Rourke. Another flick to get your hands on if you haven’t already.

The Courtroom Scene

Another reviewer of this film mentioned that the courtroom scene with Smokey defending Mr. Brown  seemed overdone. But if we remember that this film was being shown overseas to the forces, we can see the purpose of the scene a little better. And may forgive the preachy length of Smokey’s speech. Our boys overseas surely had doubts about the pluck of our men in Washington and if they would ever get our troops out of this mess. This little scene proves that Yes- we do have folks doing what they can and their women are supporting them too! It is such a feel good motive you can’t help but forgive the hard handed way in which the film shows the American public what’s important. Beating Hitler and Hirohito at all costs.

Is it like The More the Merrier? 

Sonny Tufts is no Joel McCrea. And Mr. Brown doesn’t know what he wants like Joe Carter.  But the commitment to the USA is commendable and our men in both films prove it. But the reason I love The More the Merrier isn’t for it’s wartime oddities or the honest way in which wartime is shown. It’s because as an obsessive lover of all things Jane Austen there’s a relationship that has some tension with love being more on one side than the other, a bunch of misunderstandings, and eventually a resolve. Good problem solving gets me every time. You could be portraying this relationship framework in a zombie film and I would adore it. Personal preference. Thankfully Government Girl follows this formula to a T.

If you love a little slapstick, some great acting and a glimpse at the US during wartime, this film can give you a little American History history lesson. Watch it on a rainy Sunday afternoon and don’t miss a line.

 

 

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