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Goodbye, My Fancy
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Warner Brothers. 107 minutes.
US release: 5/30/51.
Warner Archive DVD release: 3/23/09.
Cast: Joan Crawford (as "Agatha Reed"), Robert Young, Frank Lovejoy, Eve Arden, Janice Rule, Lurene Tuttle, Howard St. John, Viola Roache, Ellen Corby, Morgan Farley, Virginia Gibson, John Qualen, Ann Robin, Mary Carver.
Credits: Based on the play by Fay Kanin. Screenplay: Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts. Producer: Henry Blanke. Director: Vincent Sherman. Camera: Ted McCord. Art Director: Stanley Fleischer. Music: Ray Heindorf. Wardrobe: Sheila O'Brien.
Plot Summary: Based on a play by Fay Kanin, this comedy drama follows a successful congresswoman's emotional journey back to her alma mater. When Agatha Reed (Joan Crawford) is offered an honorary degree at her former college, she is forced to remember the reason she was expelled to begin with. Nearly twenty years prior, Agatha (Crawford) had an affair with Dr. James Merrill (Robert Young), one of her professors. After her departure, Dr. Merrill (Young) slowly rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the president of the school. Despite having left under less than desirable circumstances, Agatha is excited to see him and hopes to rekindle their relationship. Meanwhile, newspaper reporter Matt Cole (Frank Lovejoy), not only follows Agatha to her former university, but unsucessfully proposes marriage. Unfortunately for him, the alumna's eyes are set firmly towards her old flame. However, once Matt (Lovejoy) and Agatha team up in a passionate attempt to update the school's outdated curriculum, she realizes who she truly loves. ~ Tracie Cooper, All Movie Guide
Bosley Crowther in the New York Times
May 30, 1951
Filling the figurative footwear Madeleine Carroll so neatly occupied in Fay Kanin's play, "Goodbye, My Fancy," Joan Crawford is working extra hard to make romance and liberalism attractive in the Warner's film version of that play on the Holiday's screen. And when Miss Crawford makes a mighty effort to do what she obviously regards as a significant piece of performing, the atmosphere is electrically charged.
At least, it is loaded with tension—or a reasonable facsimile thereof—when Miss Crawford herself is posing or parading within the camera's range. For the lady is famously given to striking aggressive attitudes and to carrying herself in a manner that is both formidable and cold.
That is the principal misfortune of "Goodbye, My Fancy" on the screen. Miss Crawford's errant Congresswoman is as aloof and imposing as the Capitol's dome. As a liberal-minded alumna who returns to her alma mater's halls to enjoy some sentimental indulgence and runs into a nest of reaction instead, she is adamantine and frigid where she should be pliant and warm, humorless and acrimonious where she should be good-natured and sweetly riled.
And that is a serious misfortune, for Mrs. Kanin's play, adapted by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, is not a notably sober or solemn work. Indeed, in its slickly stage-wise jumble of glib sophistication and romance, of sentiment and capsuled propaganda, it is just this side of farce. And all of the characters in it—with the exception of the heroine, perhaps—are nimble and limpid creations that might easily be taken for caricatures.
The president of the college, for instance—the man whom the lady had loved with a passionately girlish devotion when she was a student and he an instructor years ago—is a pleasant but somewhat artificial representation of the knight with a sword who has become slightly weary of causes and a little bit creaky in the joints. He is amiable and nice as Robert Young plays him. He will pass for a weak and frightened man. But he is essentially a symbol of faded romance in an intentionally lighthearted play.
Likewise, the lady's secretary, whom Eve Arden angularly performs, is a perfectly packaged wisecracker right out of the glittering Broadway bin. The Life magazine photographer, whom Frank Lovejoy makes a strident noise, is the ever-wise, ever-glorious newshawk who has been heroic since "The Front Page." And certainly the rock-ribbed college trustee played by Howard St. John, the old college roommate of Lurene Tuttle, the sweet young thing of Janice Rule, and the whole daisy-chain of college students that pops in now and then are farcical.
Thus does Miss Crawford's cold aloofness clash with the spirit of the play and create a discord of temper that shows up the artificial moods. For this, Vincent Sherman's direction is probably to blame—at least, in part—and the heavy garrulity of some of the scenes makes for more tedious toil. Only occasionally does the humor and the purposed lightness of the script pop through. Then it comes close to suggesting the amiability of the play.
As it happens, the bone of contention in the story is a documentary film entitled "Command to the Future," which is supposed to be a strong liberal appeal. It is, we're told, a blast for academic freedom, as is "Goodbye, My Fancy," in part. But we are never permitted to see it. Perhaps it would help if we were.
Performances are very slick, under Vincent Sherman's direction. Miss Crawford, recently involved in only heavily dramatic roles, sustains the romantic, middle-aged congresswoman with a light touch that is excellent.
Austin Chronicle review (2001).
If you've seen Goodbye My Fancy and would like to share your review here, please e-mail me. Include, if you like, a picture of yourself to accompany your review, as well as a star-rating (with 5 stars the best) and any of your favorite lines from the film.
Michael Lia (January 2010)
Rating: - 1/2 of 5
Going, going, almost gone.
Goodbye to Miss Crawford’s Hollywood. Goodbye to my Hollywood. The queen of the Warner Bros. lot (Miss Davis, the real Queen, left in 1949) is in her second-to-last film for the studio and the studio system. It was falling apart bit by bit or unraveling like Miss Crawford’s knitting ball, and “Queen," when no longer a powerful position, becomes an empty, vapid title. This is the real situation on hand here with this film. Miss Crawford gallantly and with some trepidation forges ahead like a buffalo looking for water. It is all about survival at this point and maybe the luck of getting a good role worthy of her expert talents. Thanks anyway, Jack.
The fact that she is given a tried-and-true successful stage play starring the beautiful Madeline Carroll should be considered a wonderful gesture on the part of Miss Crawford’s employers and maybe a vote of confidence, but the prevailing winds of change (the public, and Television) are too strong and unpredictable, even for moguls.
In consideration and appeal to the success of Miss Crawford’s performance and the film: The political times (similar to today) of 1951 and Hollywood were unstable, and I do not think the director Vincent Sherman wanted to “change” the world; he just had a job to do. He did think about how to get a performance out of Miss Crawford, and I’ll be damned if she doesn't pull it off.
This film is not on the top of my Crawford films or one I ever think about, but once in a while I have to look at it. Most of the time I grin and clench my teeth because it is a bad film. Not only because Joan may have possibly been miscast, but when things got tuff in the script she needed to (or I expected her to) grab her fur and a gun and take care of the situation at hand -- even if it is political and concerns education and civil liberties. Instead she had to talk. Miss Crawford has to settle everything for everyone and herself and that can be boring.
Miss Crawford’s co-star from the 30s, Mr. Robert Young, is signed on, and there are no sparks! Frank Lovejoy (love him on TV) seems to have gotten on the set by mistake, having just come from a B movie. (Where is Jack Carson)? Put it this way: from Henry Fonda to Dana Andrews to these guys!? The writing is on the wall at Warner’s. History is repeating itself: at the end of MGM, Joan was getting Phillip Dorn and John Wayne. Up Next are Kent Smith and David Brian (both nice guys) for the final descent.
The end is really near, and Miss Crawford is preparing for a really big change and not just her hair. From about 1948 to 1957, Miss Crawford’s hair got shorter and shorter and she barely let it hang down for ten years. I missed it; the Joan hair of the 40s was remarkable and severe in the 50s. Miss Crawford still had a strong impact in the 50s because even until the 90s I had some aunts and neighbors who had or still maintained a Joan Crawford “look."
Her gowns in this film by Sheila O’Brien seem a lot like pajamas, and my guests laugh at them. The bare shoulder and one strap can bug me, but except for the eyebrows, it is all part of the “change." Somehow her face is still pretty to look at, if you can get beyond everything else.
Keeping an audience coming to your films is a difficult job. In this film Miss Crawford gets some help, but it is not enough; she is supported with two holdovers from Harriet Craig: Viola Roache and Ellen Corby, who are both wasted. But it was work that week, and they gave it the old college try.
Lurene Tuttle (Joan’s old college friend) was a nuisance, but that was her character. She is married to Howard St. John (Born Yesterday), who plays his old stuffy self. Miss Crawford should have cut his head off then and there instead of waiting for Strait Jacket in 1964!
Eve Arden is appealing...and then she’s not; her hair got short, too, and she looks like a lady I know who sells Budweiser at my bowling alley and wears my uncle's eyeglasses. She should have fallen in love with Frank Lovejoy, and Miss Crawford could have high-tailed it back to D.C. and started a communist raid and a New Path for the Future of America (especially for the Housewife).
Miss Crawford’s scenes with Janice Rule deliver no “Veda” oomph, though Rule is pretty and charming. We need a murder or a college raid to spice things up; instead, all we get is a happy ending, and I do not see Miss Crawford being a happy, contented congresswoman married to a Life photographer. Do you?
Jon Denson (March 2008)
Although not a milestone in Joan Crawford's great film career, Goodbye, My Fancy is passable entertainment and an intelligent plea for freedom of speech and thought. In the role of congresswoman Agatha Reed, who returns to her old college to collect an honorary degree, Crawford is miscast and stern. Offset by a talented group of actors, including always humorous Eve Arden and reliable leading man Robert Young, Crawford struggles to find the light touch, necessary to bring charm to her portrayal. In spite of this, Crawford acquits herself professionally to the role and brings star sparkle to a film lacking in excitement. Photographed beautifully throughout the film, and reteamed with Young for the first time since her MGM days, she seems to be enjoying herself.
Goodbye, My Fancy begins as an airy comedy which comes off flat, due to Vincent Sherman's static, stage-bound direction. When the film takes a serious turn in its second half, and focuses on the dangers of censorship and McCarthyism paranoia, it finds a reason for being and improves somewhat. The daring message unfortunately hinges on a phony love triangle (the chemistry between Crawford and her two male co-stars never rings true), which erodes the impact.However, there are several dramatic scenes along the way in which Crawford excels.
The love triangle includes magazine photographer Frank Lovejoy, who is trying to win over Crawford by exposing Young (the college president) as a weakling unable to stand up for what he believes. Crawford still has a torch burning for Young from her college days, when they had an affair, and resents Lovejoy's interference. Lovejoy's plan works when Crawford discovers flame Young is unwilling to show her political film due to a disagreement with one of the school's funders. She realizes Young is really a stranger to her, willing to pander to the money people instead of standing up for education, and not the man of courage and integrity she believed he was. The realization prompts Crawford to reconsider the two men in her life, and which one is ultimately the most genuine. She must let go of her youthful romantic illusions about Young in order to find the truth -- that he is afraid of the same freedom that she, as a congresswoman, is working to protect.
Along with its potent message concerning free speech, Goodbye, My Fancy provides an interesting glimpse of backdoor political dealings. In one scene, Crawford counters Young's insistence on not showing her controversial film with a threat of blackmail. The scene is effectively played out, and achieves just the right note of urgency in regard to Agatha's passionate beliefs about free speech. When Young is shocked at her reaction, Crawford replies, "You learn all kinds of cute tricks in my profession, including never to play fair unless you respect the man you're dealing with." Over fifty years later, it still seems an incisive comment on political games.
Regardless of its shortcomings, Goodbye, My Fancy is solid, and certainly worth a look. As a Crawford vehicle, it is not ideal, but does allow its star to develop another fully-realized characterization of an emancipated and independent woman, in an era when women too often lost sight of their own beliefs in order to please men. It is well-plotted, but also stale and dry enough in its execution to be slightly underwhelming. The underwhelming quality of the film is, unfortunately, what has caused it to be relegated to a long list of forgotten, undiscovered classics.
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