My blog today is for the Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon, being hosted by a great classic movie blogger, The Girl With the White Parasol. July 16th would have been Ms. Stanwyck’s 106th birthday and in her honor the Blogathon was created. If you click on the link The Girl With the White Parasol, you will be able to read other blog tributes to the late actress.
My Reputation, a 1946 Warner Brothers film, happened to air on Turner Classic Movies this past winter and I recorded it with our family’s dvr system. I have always enjoyed Barbara Stanwyck’s work as an actress. Whether the film be a drama or a comedy, Stanwyck could deliver her roles with intelligence and energy. Since I had also recently viewed her in Sturges’s comedy The Lady Eve, I decided to see her in a drama and My Reputation fit the bill.
Barbara plays Jessica Drummond, recently widowed with two sons: 14 year old Kim and 12 year old Keith. They live in a rich suburb of Chicago( I loved the exteriors of her ranch style home!) Jessica’s husband died from a long illness and he was her high school sweetheart. Fortunately for her and her sons, her late husband’s will was set up well, and the family will not want for anything monetarily. The only other thorn in Jessica’s side is her mother, imperiously played by Lucille Watson, who seemed to specialize in either playing irritating mothers or aunts or wise and kindly mothers and aunts. Jessica also has a faithful housekeeper and cook in Anna, played by Esther Dale, with a dash of common sense and spunk.
It isn’t explained too well as to why Jessica’s mother is so bossy, but when she demands that Jessica must continue to wear black the rest of her life because she is now a widow, one can’t help but cheer for Jessica when she politely but firmly tells her mother that no, she’ll wear other colors when she wants to.
Jessica has a new would-be suitor, the family friend and lawyer, Frank Everett(Warner Anderson) who lets it be known that when she is ready to date again, he’d like to be the one to court her. Jessica’s mother approves of Frank heartily, which will not help his cause in Jessica’s eyes. Frank is nice and a gentleman, but so boring!!!
As Jessica begins her new life without her husband, she busies herself with volunteer work; her sons are back east at their boarding school. One evening, she reluctantly agrees to go out on the town with other couples, couples that she and her late husband were socially connected with. One husband, George Van Orman(Jerome Cowan), drives Jessica back to her house after he has dropped off his wife, and he promptly grabs Jessica in the car and makes a pass at her!!!!
Jessica is so upset by Van Orman’s behaviour that she calls her good friend, Ginna Abbott played by Eve Arden, her wit and candor shining through in her small part. Ginna and her husband Cary,(John Ridgely) invite Jessica to leave with them in the morning and spend a week-long vacation with them at Lake Tahoe, in a cozy cabin they’re renting. Jessica hesitates but at Ginna’s urging, she does go with them for a nice break from her routines.
Of course, out skiing one afternoon, Jessica has a “meet cute” with a tall, handsome fellow, one Army Major Scott Landis, played by George Brent. Major Landis is also skiiing solo, and sees Jessica with her broken ski, and after he falls into the snow, she helps him up. As it is getting late, he convinces her to get on the back of his skis, and together they swoop down the hills to the cabin where Ginna and Cary are waiting.
As the week goes on, Major Landis is obviously attracted to Jessica and she is also attracted to him, but she isn’t sure if she wants to start dating another man yet. She definitely likes him a lot more than Frank! When the end of the week at Tahoe is up, Jessica and the Major say good-bye and wish each other well. Some weeks go by and one evening at home, when Jessica is having dinner with Frank, a phone call comes from Ginna. She tells Jessica that she and Cary are at a Chicago hotel bar/ball room and Major Landis has just walked in! Jessica rushes off to dress and gets poor Frank to drive her to that hotel, not telling him that a certain Army Major is there. Frank figures it all out and Jessica and Major Landis begin seeing one another as he has been assigned to a duty post in Chicago for several months.
Tongues start wagging, rumors start flying, Jessica’s mother is quite unhappy with Jessica, and then more vicious rumors start to swirl about Jessica and the Major and those are overheard by Jessica’s two sons, who are home for Christmas break. Jessica finds out who her true friends are, confronts the rumor mongers, deals with her mother, and finally has a long heart-to-heart talk with her sons. After all of this happens, we still don’t know if a future for Jessica and Major Landis will occur. I’m also not going to tell so potential viewers will have to find this out for themselves!
I only have a few bones to pick with My Reputation, but none of them are with Barbara Stanwyck. She is great as Jessica. She is shell-shocked in the movie’s beginning, like she is in a mental fog, and that makes sense as her husband has died, and now this new life has to begin, one which she didn’t ask for or want. She is a warm and loving mother to her two sons. There is a genuine camadarie between the three of them in all of their scenes. She also has that same relationship with her maid, and with her dear friend Ginna. Her mother is a pill, and Jessica, at first, looks like she’ll let mother call the shots with her life, but Jessica stands up to her, in small bits at first and then in larger amounts as her relationship with Major Landis grows. My bones of contention? Eve Arden should have been in the movie more, and the movie posters. I don’t know who makes the advertising decisions for a movie, but most of the posters depict Jessica as a tawdry woman with tag lines telling folks to get off her back about her reputation. The posters make one think the movie is about a loose woman and all of her man problems, instead of portraying Jessica as a widow with two sons. If the movie going public in 1946 went to see this movie based on what the posters were advertising, they were in for a surprise!
My Reputation has great music by Max Steiner, was lensed by James Wong Howe, and the screenplay was adapted by Catharine Turney from Clare Janes 1942 book, Instruct My Sorrows. Its available to purchase through Amazon, appears from time to time on Turner Classic Movies, and is also available to rent throught Netflix. My Reputation is a woman’s picture, with Stanwyck giving it her all and for her fans, a movie not to miss.