You have to wonder sometimes what goes through movie executives' minds (assuming, of course, that they have minds) when you watch a film like 1948's One Touch of Venus. Based on a hit Broadway musical featuring a gorgeous score by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash (yes, of "remember, Kublai Khan and Immanuel Kant" fame), and starring a glamorous Mary Martin in one of her signature roles, Universal International (not exactly known for its great musical films) instead stripped this adaptation of all but two songs (with a reworked third) from the Broadway production. They then plopped down a lovely if miscast Ava Gardner, as a statue of Venus come to life, amid a Frank Tashlin penned script that posits Robert Walker as a sort of Darrin to Gardner's Samantha in a late 40s precursor to Bewitched. What a waste.
One Touch of Venus, a bit like My Fair Lady a decade and a half later, takes the Pygmalion myth as its source material (though of course in Lady's case it's used as a metaphor). In this filmic version, hapless department store window dresser Eddie Hatch (Walker) gets a little drunk and kisses a priceless statue of Venus recently purchased by the store's owner, Whitfield Savory (Tom Conway), bringing it to life. Soon Walker's girlfriend (Olga San Juan) and best friend (Dick Haymes) are pretty much convinced he's crazy, while Savory is convinced Hatch has made off with his priceless treasure, since the now living Venus manages to avoid being seen by everyone but Hatch, at least for the opening half of the film.
What was a charming and dreamlike escapade in its Broadway incarnation, with direction by Elia Kazan (one of only two musicals he ever worked on) and choreography by Agnes de Mille, is just a pedestrian piece of farce here, and unfortunately never very funny farce at that. Walker tries admirably to make his Hatch a lovable buffoon, but he's simply too intense to be a light comedian. Gardner seems ill at ease with the strange juxtaposition of a Hellenic goddess confronting the mores of 1940s America, something the original Nash and S.J. Perelman book mined to great effect, but which is largely ignored in the film. The best performance here by far is Eve Arden's, doing her patented love struck, smart alecky secretary routine to Conway's foppish boss. San Juan gets a couple of good moments in when she loses it with Walker, ultimately falling for Haymes. Haymes' singing voice is spectacular, which doesn't help mask the fact that he's one of the most wooden actors of this era.
The biggest complaint I have about One Touch of Venus is the insane decision to make it more or less a non-musical, keeping only the Broadway version's signature hit "Speak Low" (which is recast here to serve as a duet between Gardner--dubbed by Eileen Wilson--and Haymes, weirdly enough, and even rewritten to make its final cadence and lyric completely different from the original version) and an excerpt from the comedy number "That's Him." There are also two brief snippets of a rewritten version of the original's "Foolish Heart," now called "Don't Look Now, My Heart is Showing." It's just silly. This was one of Weill's biggest Broadway hits, and it was the only book musical for which Nash contributed lyrics, and to eviscerate the score like this is, to a musical theater lover like me anyway, blasphemy.
Why the Hollywood powers that be never capitalized on Mary Martin's photogenic abilities, strong performance skills, not to mention her singing, is one of the great mysteries of the Golden Age of film. One Touch of Venus could have been a frothy romantic romp with a young Martin in the lead, singing at the very least more of the great Weill-Nash score than is included here, and bringing a spunk and spryness to the role that Gardner, despite her exotic beauty, just can't quite muster. As it is, One Touch of Venus is as lifeless and cold as the statue that is at the center of its plot.
There's some fairly bad damage early on in this full frame transfer, with jumpy credits and a missing frame or two. Scratches and debris continue for the first reel or so, and then taper off, leaving the rest of the film actually looking pretty good for its age. Contrast is good, sharpness is excellent and the black and white image is for the most part eminently watchable.
The remastered DD 2.0 soundtrack also exhibits some distortion and damage early on, especially in the opening credits when the choral singing is badly broken up. Higher registers throughout the film tend to get a bit rough. Once you get past the credits, however, there's nothing too grating to deal with. There are English and Spanish subtitles available.
The only putative extra is a set of Lionsgate trailers.
Fans of Gardner may want to rent this for an early look at Ava. For everyone else, you can Skip It.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet