On Approval (1944)

“Poor George — it must be very sad coming back to your own house as a guest.”

Synopsis:
A penniless Brit (Roland Culver) attends a soiree hosted at the house of his poverty-stricken friend, the Duke of Bristol (Clive Brook), which Brook is renting to a young American heiress (Googie Withers). A wealthy widow (Beatrice Lillie) offers to live with Culver for a month “on approval” at her island in Scotland, to see if they’re compatible as marriage partners, and they’re soon joined by Brook and Withers as well. Will Culver live up to Lille’s expectations — and will Brook finally realize Withers has a crush on him?

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Review:
Clive Brook’s adaptation of Frederick Lonsdale’s 1926 play is a minor but engaging historic trifle that slowly grows on you, and pays off nicely in the end. The premise itself — about a middle-aged widow proposing spending a month together with her new fiance to ensure they get along well — is an intriguing one, and makes complete sense; why not try such a momentous choice “on approval” before purchase? The film opens with a clever sequence of news clips ensuring 1944’s audiences that they’re NOT about to watch yet another noisy war film — in fact, they’ll be taken back in time to a much gentler (Victorian) era, and allowed to escape for awhile into this former milieu. (The closing scenes of the film are also highly creative, utilizing sped-up footage and surreal imagery to show how the sticky situation finally resolves itself.) Lillie (primarily a stage actress) is perfectly cast in the leading female role, and it’s fun to see Withers — a strikingly unique looker — playing someone so diametrically opposed to her character in Night and the City (1950) just a few years later. The two leading men are fine, but it’s the women who really make a splash here — purposely so, as it’s the penniless boys who ultimately need to prove themselves worthy of the gals’ affections.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine lead performances

  • The surreal closing dream sequence

  • A clever script

Must See?
Yes, as a droll and witty surprise. Listed in the back of Peary’s book as a film with Historical Importance.

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