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Monday, 22 July 2013

Classic Film Review: Government Girl (1943)

Government Girl stars Olivia de Havilland as Smokey, secretary to a new man in Washington, Ed Browne (Sonny Tufts). Browne needs to oversee the production of as many bomber planes as he can but finds himself faced with a wall of bureaucracy. He circumvents it but ultimately comes up against angry people who would rather he respect the red tape. Meanwhile, his feelings for Smokey have been growing but she's seeing Dana McGuire (Jess Barker), an ambitious man who finds himself on the opposite side to Browne and Smokey.

The problem with this film is that it tries to be two things at once. It could either be a drama about bureaucracy impeding the war effort or it could be a romance. It tries to be both and this just doesn't work. Sonny Tufts is ill-fitted to the role of leading man with very little character consistency. Olivia de Havilland saves the film from complete disgrace simply by being Olivia de Havilland but it's not enough. The plot is fragmented, trying to focus on the subplot relationship between May (Anne Shirley) and Joe Blake (James Dunn) who are desperately trying to have their honeymoon. There is a mad motorcycle ride involving Smokey and Browne then a completely nonsensical subplot involving a spy trying to obtain secrets from Smokey and May. It all adds up to a bizarre film.

The patriotism is undeniably and to be expected. However, it hammers home the messages of 'bureaucratic mess' and those 'good government girls' to the point where I ceased to care. It switches between seriousness and farce, quite badly in my opinion, and that is ultimately its failure. Even the rich character played by Agnes Moorhead disappointed through a complete lack of characterisation. It's interested as a piece of wartime propaganda but perhaps not as a film of artistic merit, although the mad motorcycle scene is quite amusing in its way.

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