Apartment for Peggy, a cheery wartime comedy-drama produced by 20th Century Fox in 1948, seems like the kind of low-key charmer that sucks you in after casually coming across it while channel surfing one night. While it may not boast an action-packed storyline, lavish musical numbers, or high wattage stars, it does the handy trick of being very evocative of the 1940s while being rooted in the timeless theme of people finding a common ground despite their differences. Ripe for rediscovery, the film has been put back into circulation via Fox's Cinema Archives made-to-order DVD program.
Starring Jeanne Crain, William Holden and Edmund Gwenn, Apartment for Peggy is fascinating just from a historic angle, as a relatively realistic look at people coming together during America's World War II-era housing shortage. Although produced on a modest budget, the film was photographed in Technicolor with an autumnal toned palette which enhance its peculiar 1940s ambiance.
Apartment for Peggy takes place in a small college town in the Midwest, where its lead character Henry Barnes (Gwenn) is a tenured Philosophy professor facing a lonely retirement. Living alone in a sprawling Victorian house that has become a musty tomb of memories connected with his deceased wife, Henry believes there's nothing left for him to achieve in life and plans to commit suicide. One day, on a pigeon-feeding break, he happens upon a chatty young woman who proceeds to unload her life's predicaments upon him with startling candor. Although Henry is at first annoyed by the perky Peggy (Crain) - pregnant, married to a jobless student, and desperately in search of a decent place to live - he has a peculiar fascination with this chatterbox who addresses him by the nickname "Pops." When a slip of the tongue from Henry reveals that the attic in his home is unoccupied, Peggy seizes upon it as a chance to make a home for herself and husband Jason (Holden).
On the surface, Apartment for Peggy appears to be a simplistic, cloying tale of moral uplift. However, any potential for skin-crawling sentiment is done away with by the film's knowing screenplay and precise direction (both by George Seaton, fresh off Miracle on 34th Street). There's a lot of respect for the characters' dignity going on here - even during Peggy's clunky introduction, with Jeanne Crain doing an overly mannered job of trying to convey a lovable ditziness. She does improve over the course of the film, however, displaying a selflessness and everygirl appeal which made Crain hot stuff at Fox in the '40s. Edmund Gwenn contributes an excellent turn as well, epitomizing a subject (the struggle to feel useful at an advanced age) which doesn't get treated much in films. William Holden, seemingly overjoyed to break free of the apple-cheeked college boys he'd been playing up to that point, delivers a nuanced performance as well.
Apartment for Peggy is a modest production with modest goals, and a plainspoken optimism that may not sit well with the cynical snark-seekers of today. It's also an incredibly sweet slice-of-life movie, however, surprisingly touching at times. People need to check this one out.
Apartment for Peggy arrives on disc as part of Fox's Cinema Archives made-to-order DVD program. The release is similar to most other m.o.d.s, with just the film presented in unrestored format with a basic, generic menu and chapter stops every 10 minutes. The packaging is pretty nice, however, with vintage poster art and a trio of publicity stills reproduced on the back cover.
The Technicolor film stock seen on the Apartment for Peggy m.o.d. has held up decently with a less-than-average amount of dust and artifacts. The color is faded, and dark areas are murkier than they ought to be. The transfer suffers from a constant, annoying texture of horizontal grey lines (like an old TV set), however, which seems to point to the film being sourced from a video copy. For a film that would have been a great addition to Fox's exemplary but long-gone Studio Classics DVDs, it's a bitter disappointment.
The film's unvarnished mono soundtrack is the only audio option on this disc, with no subtitle track. Not as disastrous as the video portion, the track is a decent listen with good dialogue/music balance.
Despite the irritating performance from star Jeanne Crain that introduces the title character, Apartment for Peggy succeeds on intelligence and subtle charm in telling the story of a despondent old professor (the great Edmund Gwenn) whose life is turned around by a young married couple in a World War II-era college town. An interesting sleeper, heartfelt and funny, but the shoddy picture quality on Fox's made-to-order DVD edition is a huge letdown. Rent It.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist and sometime writer who lives in sunny (and usually too hot) Phoenix, Arizona. Among his loves are oranges, going barefoot and blonde 1930s movie comedienne Joyce Compton. Since 2000, he has been scribbling away at Pop Culture weblog Scrubbles.net. One can also follow him on Twitter @4colorcowboy.