I find myself reserving certain films for future viewings when I love a star. Sometimes–as with Barbara Stanwyck–I try to watch her lesser films, putting off a great one so at least one is still waiting in reserve for me, like some wonderful present under the tree.
So I didn’t go into My Reputation (1946) with any illusions that it would be a masterpiece, but I thought I could enjoy a little Stanwyck magic. Alas, I neglected to look up her costar: George Brent, who somehow manages to be even duller and less charismatic onscreen than Herbert Marshall. Was his lethargy enough to destroy her energy? The answer: Yes. And no.
The premise is a simple one: Jessica Drummond (Stanwyck) has lost her husband after a long illness, and an attraction to army major Scott Landis (Brent) revives her spirit, but harms her reputation as a chaste, loyal widow.
You see the problem already, don’t you? Some serious miscasting is going on here. I can buy Brent as a restful, chill companion after say, a bad marriage to a philandering playboy. But Brent AS a playboy? Who REVIVES her? Ummmm. Exactly how old was her husband?
I don’t think I’m alone in finding Brent a sleep aid, and his looks don’t even provide eye candy that can dispel that impression. After a while, I simply stopped the film in boredom. Had anyone said, “That guy? Maybe you need some Vivarin, lady,” I would have been fine with Jessica’s choice of Landis, but it seems everyone in the film (even Eve Arden!) thinks he’s the dapper, fun lady’s man Brent may have been in real life, but sure wasn’t onscreen.
So….In his scenes with her? I’m falling asleep. And unlike in Baby Face (in which he’s slightly more tolerable), he’s on the screen a lot. Only when Jessica first enters his apartment; her every gesture displaying her discomfort, reserve, fearfulness, and lingering prudery; does Stanwyck command the screen enough to blot Brent’s presence out.
BUT when Brent’s not around, there’s interesting stuff going on, and Stanwyck nails it. Jessica’s boys’ anger at her replacing their dad is visceral.
The whole time you’ve been sympathizing with Jessica for wanting to get her groove on, as gossips and prudes (including her mother) tsk tsk at her. But then you realize that she’s told these boys nothing, has just invited Landis over for Christmas Eve, gone to fights with him, taken off on trips that last till the wee hours with him (apparently leaving the kids with the housekeeper), without so much as an “I’ll always love your dad” talk. True, it’s a different era, but a wee bit of explanation was required here, and never given. Jessica’s slow-burn realization of her screw-up is almost as riveting to watch as her takedown of a gossip queen earlier.
Most of the strong scenes, unfortunately, don’t even show up till about 30 minutes are left in the film. Way too much time is spent establishing Jessica’s already obvious infatuation, and giving her love the bedroom eyes. I’d suggest skipping around, enjoying some striking Stanwyck outfits, beautifully rendered lines, and wonderful chemistry with everyone but her leading man.