Thursday, December 31, 2020

The 12 Days of Doris Day: Move Over, Darling (1963)

Nick Arden is a newly remarried widower, finally ready to settle down again after the tragic disappearance of his old wife Ellen five years ago. Trouble ensues however when Ellen shows up, very much alive, and horrified by his new relationship. With the help of her mother-in-law, she tries to win Nick back, while he tries to keep both women happy while not being arrested for bigamy...

Move Over, Darling is hardly new territory, being yet another comedic update on the Enoch Arden story. It entertains though, and is never boring.

This is a lot more one-sided than these stories usually are. Oftentimes both parties are sympathetic, and which husband/wife the poor sap ends up with is completely up to the fates. But here we know how everything is gonna wrap up. How it gets there though is where things will hopefully get interesting, and sure enough they do.

Ellen is a good protagonist, with a well-crafted dilemma. She never comes across as bitchy, which is a must for a story like this. It's also funny seeing the culture shock, like how this woman from the 50s suddenly has to contend with answering machines, and things like that. These are highlights of the film, though it doesn't give them a huge focus. Perhaps that's good, it means they're not pushing the joke on too thick.

Nicky meanwhile has his moments here and there, both positive and negative. He's never completely unreasonable, but is also flawed enough. Overall he is a good egg, and he and Ellen share good chemistry together.

Grace is a funny old bird. Despite being Nicky's mother, she is Ellen's confidante for the movie. She's mainly comic relief, but gets an active role in the climax.

The presence of the children singlehandedly gives the movie a sense of drama and pathos that really grounds it, and makes the overall plot and characters have more stakes.

One issue the movie does have thanks to the one-sided narrative is that we never really get to see much of Bianca. Although Ellen does at least have the decency to outright say she doesn't blame her for the whole debacle (she blames Nicky). The other 'rival' of the piece is the other man who Ellen was stranded on the island with, which leads to some amusing jealousy from Nicky, though what felt like a last-minute cop-out to smooth things over.

The dialogue here is great, and the characters would frequently say exactly what I was thinking! That's the mark of a great script right there (well, or a predictable one if done poorly, but you know that ain't the case here). There's also a bizarrely meta moment where Ellen actually mentions the original movie!

The problems with Move Over, Darling are few and far between, but the big one is the length. at 103 minutes it's not egregiously long, but still longer than it really has any right to be. You could trim off 20 minutes and it wouldn't be missed. To put it into perspective, the hotel honeymoon takes half the film, and Bianca doesn't find out Ellen is alive until well over an hour in. And after this point she disappears entirely until the final 10 minutes.

Swinging back to the positives though, you may remember the previous Day-Garner vehicle The Thrill of It All pissing me off enough to drop the C-bomb. Naturally this left me a touch apprehensive going into Move Over, Darling, though I kept an open mind, and I was quickly proven right. For anyone who watched Thrill and found it as unpleasant as I did, never fear, this is not a repeat.

The cast do fine jobs here. Day and Garner are great leads, sharing good chemistry and sparring well. Thelma Ritter is in a delightfully fun supporting role, where she gets to be her usual sarcastic self. Polly Bergen is enjoyably frosty. The remainder of the cast has many familiar faces, such as Chuck Connors, John Astin, Don Knotts, Fred Clark, and TV alumni Edgar Buchanan also has a small but distinctive role as the disapproving judge.

Move Over, Darling is a real gem. Nothing classic, but a more than decent way of spending an afternoon...

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