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11.12.08

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Phaedra

One Touch of Venus

One disc; $14.98; Lionsgate

Reviewed by Michael S. Gant


Actor Robert Walker had a short, troubled life and career; an early marriage to Jennifer Jones derailed after David O. Selznick spotted Jones, leaving Walker severely depressed. After a breakdown, Walker looked on the mend, but he died of a bad reaction to a combination of alcohol and sodium amytal, in 1951. He gave one great, indelible performance—as the insinuating and charming psychopath Bruno in Strangers on a Train. Hitchcock's trading-murders classic had its sly moments, but the 1948 black-and-white oddity One Touch of Venus shows that comedy was not really Walker's strong suit. As Eddie Hatch, a department store drone who becomes the love object of a statue of Venus when she comes to life (Ava Gardner), Walker is squeaky-voiced and jittery. He mugs helplessly as everyone around him races in and out of the slamming doors of creaky farce. The film is based on a popular Broadway musical comedy (directed by Elia Kazan and starring Mary Martin), but the screen version loses most of the songs, which featured lyrics by Ogden Nash and S.J. Perelman and music by Kurt Weill (Bertold Brecht must have been appalled). That was probably a strategic move, since neither Gardner nor Walker was much of a singer. But what's left is a pale patch on Pygmalion. Store owner Whitfield Savory II (Tom Conway, as suave as only George Sanders' brother could be) buys a marble statue of Venus and orders Eddie to prep it for an unveiling. But when the statue makes a magical transformation and runs off with the hapless clerk, an escalating series of misadventures ensues. Eddie tries to hide Venus in a model bedroom, while the police engage in some excruciating slapstick as they pursue the runaway goddess. At the lowest moment, Venus casts a spell on a policeman, turning him into an owl, and the man has to flap his arms and make hooting noises in response. Gardner is gorgeous in her off-the-shoulder toga, but Eve Arden steals the movie as Savory's long-suffering secretary. No extras.


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