The House of Improv

mollyandme1945
Amazon

After the last three years we can all relate to wanting change, right? Big change. Quiet quitting. Quiet hiring. Packing up and moving out of the city for greener pastures. Some of the guys in my life, including my husband, have felt the need to grow facial hair this year. Or sometimes we find ourselves in a place we never expected, like Molly and her thespian friends in the 1945 quickie, Molly and Me.

The movie opens with actress Molly (Gracie Fields) racing back to her boarding house. She’s got to pare down all the show biz trappings in the place because her potential employer, the Lord John Graham (Monty Woolley) is not too keen on performers and she wants to be his new housekeeper. The only thing she’s forgotten to take care of are her references, but fortunately her friend, Lady Kitty Goode-Burroughs (Natalie Schafer) is visiting that day and she reluctantly agrees to pretend Molly’s been working for her for five years. Molly puts on an understated dress and slicks her hair back in a bun with austere glasses, looking more like a substitute teacher from 1910 than a housekeeper, but she doesn’t stay that way for the whole movie, thankfully.

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Thing is, we never find out for sure why Molly wants to switch to domestic service except maybe that her age is catching up with her or acting jobs are scarce because too many theaters have been destroyed in the war. Who knows. The war is never mentioned once the entire film. Either way, Molly is shocked when John’s butler, Harry (Reginald Gardner) shows up to interview her and she recognizes him as another actor. He recognizes her, too, for that matter, but he doesn’t let on until the end of the interview. Harry tells Molly he can’t hire her because he’s afraid having another actor around will blow his cover.

Molly understands and invites Harry to a party she’s giving at the pub that night, where Harry gets falling-over drunk. Good lady that she is, Molly drags Harry back to John’s mansion and accidentally-on-purpose lays him him out on the floor with blankets and pillows while she makes herself comfortable on the bed. Naturally Harry oversleeps and wakes up with a gigundo hangover, but Molly trills around the house opening windows and singing, pretending she’s the new housekeeper.

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Even though Molly has never been a housekeeper before, she somehow keeps her job and does her best not to let on that she’s an actress. It gets a little tough though, seeing as she doesn’t get along with the household staff, and after firing the lot of them except for Harry she asks her friends from the boardinghouse to take their places. They all quickly settle in and make friends with John’s lonely son, Jimmy (Roddy McDowell).

When John gives a dinner party and wants to know what’s on the menu Molly gives out a string of random French phrases that make it sound like they’re going to serve duck paté with red wine sauce and potatoes Marseille. It’s really a meat pie and fried potatoes, but it delights John’s guests all the same. John is pleasantly surprised until he comes into the kitchen and hears the help all singing and partying with Jimmy, who’s having a midnight snack. John is incensed because he realizes his household staff aren’t really household staff, but our hearty group of thespians aren’t completely down and out yet.

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I can’t help but feel divided about Molly and Me, even though it’s immensely enjoyable. Gracie Fields is brisk, cheerful and completely natural in front of the screen, and when she sings it’s like good medicine. It’s easy to see why audiences loved this woman. Monty Woolley is gruff and slightly stormy as John Graham, with a twinkle lurking just under the surface, so he’s basically playing himself. Roddy McDowell plays a very sweet boy who matures a lot over the course of the film; he and Gracie bonded in real life and stayed friends for the rest of their lives.

The rest of the cast are recognizable character actors, even if we may not know their names right off the bat. I especially enjoyed seeing Edith Barrett, who, among her many roles, played Mrs. Fairfax in 1944’s Jane Eyre and Croisine in 1943’s The Song Of Bernadette. 

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What’s nice about the movie is how off-the-cuff a lot of the performances are. None of it is stagey; it’s just what actors tend to do when they have downtime, and that’s entertain each other. It’s not so much that they’re on, but performing is like breathing. And the camera seems to let them just be, as if director Lewis Seiler decided to plop the camera in front of the actors and let them go to town. Mostly it works.

On the other hand, the camerawork feels a little bit tentative, and this may have been due to the fact that Seiler was more accustomed to directing action films. Gracie Fields later said, “He didn’t seem to know quite what to do with me, so in the end he wrote a pub scene with a few songs in it, and called it a musical!”

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Molly and Me‘s other flaw is that the plot is a wee bit weak. Towards the end there’s a subplot with John’s estranged wife who comes around demanding a thousand pounds, and the actors bait her but good, which she snaps at like a striped bass, but I wish that arc had been introduced sooner. It would have filled out the characters a bit more and allowed more of what made the movie work.

None of this matters in the end, though. The plot may be incidental, the direction and cinematography could have used more punch, but as long as the actors are doing their thing all is right with the world. Sometimes a nice light movie is really welcome, and 1945’s Molly and Me is one of those.

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A new installment of “During World War Two” is coming up tomorrow. Thanks for reading, all, and have a good one…


Molly and Me is available to own on DVD from Amazon, as well as being free to stream for Prime customers.

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If you’re enjoying what you see on Taking Up Room, please look for additional content on Substack, where you’ll find both free and subscriber-only articles. I publish every Wednesday and Saturday.


Bibliography

Braun, Eric. Doris Day. London: Orion Publishing Group, 2010.

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