Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Eve Knew Her Apples (Columbia, 1944)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was Eve Knew Her Apples, a 1944 Columbia “B” musical starring Ann Miller ( identifies the release date as April 12, 1945 but the copyright date is 1944) that — contrary to the dismissal by the usually reliable Don Miller in his book “B” Movies” (“a credit to no one involved”) — turned out to be a quite charming film, an uncredited remake of It Happened One Night (which got an “official” musical remake in 1956, You Can’t Run Away from It, with Jack Lemmon and June Allyson in the roles originally played by Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert). The major difference is that Eve Porter (Ann Miller) is not an heiress, but a radio singing star who for five years has been the headliner on the “Happy Cigarettes” program (she’s known, natch, as the “Happy Girl of Radio”), and she’s now demanding that she get her 13-week summer layoff as a real vacation while her manager, Steve Ormond (Robert Williams), and her press agent, George McGrew (Ray Walker), want her to work straight through the summer on guest radio spots, live appearances and a film deal with “Emperor Pictures” — a carrot they’ve been dangling in front of her for five years now.

She flees to Las Vegas — by bus, since this being the middle of World War II all space on planes and trains is taken — and holes up in a cheap hotel until she’s recognized and spots Ormond and McGrew coming after her. She trips them up with an outstretched phone cord and hides in an old jalopy that, unbeknownst to her, belongs to reporter Ward Williams (William Wright) of the Los Angeles Bulletin, on the outs with his city editor Joe Gordon (Charles D. Brown) and desperate to come up with a big story lest he get fired. At the same time, in a misunderstanding Rian James (“original” story) and Eddie Moran (script) added to the original by Samuel Hopkins Adams and Robert Riskin, some artfully contrived dialogue convinces Ward that his fugitive passenger is really Edith Porter, a serial killer that had just escaped from prison after being convicted of murdering at least seven people, the gimmick being that she had a professional-quality voice and sang to her victims just before knocking them off.

The film cops a lot of the most famous sequences from It Happened One Night, including the love scene in the hay bales after the leads get stranded in the middle of nowhere and the ending, in which Eve is about to go through with her long-planned marriage to useless rich guy Walter W. Walter, II (John Eldredge, who seems to have made a career out of these sorts of hapless/helpless roles!), when the city editor persuades the reluctant Ward to carry her off instead — they even cop Riskin’s funny bit of having the reporter ask only for the expenses he incurred in helping Eve flee, not the $5,000 Ormond and McGrew offered for her safe return in time to start the long-awaited movie deal with Emperor.

There are a few things James and Moran could have done to make their movie even more artful — like having Miller play a double role in which Eve Porter and Edith Palmer actually confront each other before the singing serial murderess is recaptured (as it is, once Ward realizes that his fugitive passenger is not a serial killer and is fleeing something less severe than a prison sentence, the Edith Palmer story line is dropped completely and we never find out what happened to her), and a metafictional Seven Keys to Baldpate-style ending in which the whole story is revealed to be the plot of Eve Porter’s movie (the last scene is of Ward and Eve driving off in his old car and we never find out if she makes her film or abandons her career to be Mrs. Ward Williams full-time), but for the most part this is a quite charming movie and it showcases Ann Miller in a rather surprising way: she doesn’t dance (offhand I can’t think of another Ann Miller musical in which she didn’t dance) and her four songs — “I’ll Remember April” by Don Raye, Gene DePaul and Pat Johnson (surprising to hear a Universal song in a Columbia movie!); “An Hour Never Passes” by Jimmy Kennedy; “I’ve Waited a Lifetime” by Edward A. Brandt; and “Someone to Love” by Robert Warren (interesting that director Will Jason, best known as a songwriter — his biggest hit and one real standard is “Penthouse Serenade” — didn’t include any of his own songs the way Victor Schertzinger, the only other songwriter-turned-director I can think of, regularly did in his films!) — are all romantic ballads and show that Miller had a far more beautiful, sensual voice than you’d think from all those rough, intense romps like “Shakin’ the Blues Away” in Easter Parade and “I’ll Be Hard to Handle” in Lovely to Look At.

Eve Knew Her Apples gets more It Happened One Night-like as it progresses — by the end of the movie William Wright is even spitting out his lines (written by Robert Riskin, not Eddie Moran!) in the staccato style of Clark Gable — and while it’s hardly a patch on the Capra classic it is a quite nice little “B” that reveals an unexpectedly subtle vocal side to its star.