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Goodbye, My Fancy
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Warner Brothers. 107 minutes.
US general release: 5/19/51.
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 However, once Matt (Lovejoy) and Agatha team up in a passionate attempt to update the school's outdated curriculum, she realizes who she truly loves.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
The title of the film comes from the 1891 Walt Whitman poem from Leaves of Grass. (Joan's character reads a portion of the poem in the film.)
Filmed on location at Occidental College, Los Angeles.
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.
If you've seen Goodbye, My Fancy and would like to share your review here, please e-mail me. Feel free to include a picture of yourself, a star-rating (with 5 stars the best), as well as any of your favorite lines from the film.
Vincent Estrada (November 2015)
Rating: - 1/2 of 5
Of all the films in the Crawford filmography, her one 1951 cinematic effort is perhaps the most curious. Nothing about this romantic triangle drama with a political background is quite what you expect it to be.
Under the banner of comedy, Warner Bros. released this film treatment of the 1948 stage play with an equally curious cast headed by Crawford, Robert Young, and Frank Lovejoy.
The plot of the film concerns Congresswoman Crawford returning to the college she was expelled from to receive an honorary degree from college president and former flame, Robert Young. A brusque Life Magazine photographer, Frank Lovejoy, who was jilted by Crawford five years before reappears, further complicating the situation and completing the love triangle.
Crawford is no stranger to cinematic love triangles. However, the undercurrent of this film is purely political, with a liberal and intellectual slant. It has been written that in real life Crawford was known not to discuss religion or politics. This principle appears to carry over into her performance as Crawford is visibly uneasy in her role and delivers an uneven yet dedicated performance.
When approaching Goodbye, My Fancy, the viewer should take into consideration the hysterical political climate enveloping Hollywood in 1951. The threat of Communism had swept Washington and molded politicians into towering pillars of pious liberty. Paranoia was rampant and liberalism was an ideology considered akin to Communism.
Into this demonizing arena steps Crawford, portraying a character that is challenging, persuasive, and whose principles are not negotiable. The role is decidedly in step with many of the women in the Crawford filmography, and in certain scenes Crawford effectively captures the intensity and ruthlessness of a woman that will not buckle at the first sign of difficulty.
Goodbye, My Fancy, however, is a comedy, or advertised as such, and that is where the film jackknifes. The film doesn’t know what it wants to be and does not effervescently navigate from political drama to romantic comedy the way its theatrical component apparently did.
In accepting this assignment, Crawford was brave and evidently appeared to be shaping her career into a new direction. It was a noble attempt and calculated career move that is often missed by historians and audiences. Crawford, surprisingly, is at her best in her comedic scenes with former college roommate Lurene Tuttle. Both actresses have good chemistry, and their reunion scene is thoroughly genuine and believable.
Crawford’s best scene comes near the end of the film after a confrontation with Frank Lovejoy on the college stadium steps. Her emotional upheaval and distress at abruptly leaving the commencement activities and abandoning her speech because she “would choke on every word” is exceptionally well played. This arresting scene, opposite Robert Young, is the one highlight in an otherwise insipid film.
The film’s “glowing salute to youth” would have been better executed had Warner Bros. cast the film with its contract stars Jane Wyman and Jack Carson in the roles handed to Crawford and Frank Lovejoy. This combination, together with the stately Robert Young, would have significantly altered the appeal and direction of the film.
Crawford would have been seen to better advantage had she accepted the spunky leading role in Jerry Wald’s production of Storm Warning. Crawford was more than a match for the Nazis in 1943’s Above Suspicion. The KKK would have realized much the same had she agreed to star in Storm Warning.
Ricoh Vigen (June 2013)
Rating: - 1/2 of 5
Not the stinker I thought it would be. It's alright but not something I pull out to see over and over. Definitely more gripping than This Woman is Dangerous from the same era but still somehow lacking. I have read that censorship took some of the bite out of the story. Maybe. Joan said she thought it would've been better for someone like Katharine Hepburn and I have to agree. As a congresswoman Joan seems to have all the right parts in all the right places, and the perfect diction you'd expect, but still just not very believable.
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.
Above: Goodbye, My Fancy at an Augusta, Georgia, theater.
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