Finally arriving on disc from Olive Films, the buoyant 1948 comedy One Touch of Venus derives its story from the ages-old myth of the mortal man falling in love with a beautiful statue that transforms into a real live woman - Venus, Goddess of Love. The movie itself is strictly in the mold of escapist post-WWII American comedy, yet its basic concept is durable enough to have been revived, again and again (most obviously in the 1987 romp Mannequin). This lady's got legs, all right.
One Touch of Venus counts as an odd example of a Broadway musical that wound up getting stripped of most of its tuneage in its journey to film. The stage edition starred Mary Martin and ran for two seasons, buoyed by a score with music by Kurt Weill (a long way from his Threepenny Opera days) and lyrics by the humorist poet Ogden Nash. At some point, silent screen legend Mary Pickford bought the rights to the musical, intending to bring the production intact to the screen. That fell through, however - the final product ends up being a more conventional, yet still enjoyable, bonbon of a flick. Universal Picture's well-mounted, mostly music-free edition concentrates on the sexy, escapist parts of the story with an appealing cast headed by Robert Walker (typecast but terrific) and Ava Gardner (looking fabulous, and unexpectedly overcoming the limitations of the role with flying colors).
As in Mannequin, the action in One Touch of Venus mostly takes place within the walls of a swanky department store, the consumerist fantasy playground. At Savory's, Walker's Eddie Hatch toils away as a put-upon clerk. His mundane life is about to change, however, on the eve of an important event revealing the latest acquisition of the store's pompous owner, Whitfield Savory II (Tom Conway). While busily making arrangements for the grand reveal with his loyal secretary, Molly (Eve Arden), Whitfield assigns Eddie with the task of repairing the faulty curtain surrounding the life-sized statue of the Greek goddess Venus he recently purchased. While doing the deed, Eddie impulsively kisses the beautiful statue, lightning strikes, and bam - she becomes Ava Gardner. As is Venus's usual practice, her beauty and charm has an immediate effect on the alarmed but smitten Eddie. After Eddie conceals Venus at his apartment, the curious beauty inadvertently creates havoc for Eddie's landlady, his co-worker girlfriend, Gloria (Olga San Juan), and his friend, Joe (Dick Haymes). With his unveiling ruined, Whitfield employs a mob of detectives to track down Eddie, whose explanation on what really happened falls on deaf ears. Eddie manages to elude capture and place Venus in the store's high-tech model home display. When the sleeping beauty is found the next morning by Molly, Whitfield is brought to the scene and becomes entranced by her (upsetting Molly, who carries a torch for her boss). Meanwhile, Venus has also cast a siren spell on Eddie's pal Joe, causing him to fall for Eddie's girl, Gloria. Despite his best girl getting stolen from him, Eddie's main concern is trying to figure out how Venus can stay a mortal so that they can remain together, forever.
The fact that much of the musical score was obliterated from the movie version of One Touch of Venus might imply a shoddy, ill-conceived mess, but in all actuality the film is a smoothly done, lightweight treat. It works pretty well as escapist comedy, and the sections where the Broadway score is used are well integrated with the action. Its best-known song, the standard "Speak Low," is performed twice in the film by Gardner's alluring Venus and Dick Haymes' Joe. Although Gardner's singing voice is obviously dubbed in by a studio vocalist (Eileen Wilson), her miming is perfectly adequate. Gardner also contributes to a couple of less memorable but equally charming numbers with Walker, San Juan and Arden (all of whom appear to be doing their own singing, despite their vocal imperfections). Along with some lovely cinematography from cameraman Franz Planer, the staging of the musical numbers contribute a lot to the film's dreamy, fantasy-on-earth mood.
The casting in One Touch may be somewhat by-the-book, but each performer brings his or her own uniqueness to the project. You have Robert Walker firmly in his gawky See Here, Private Hargrove stage, bringing out the humanity in a character that might have been played as a shallow dolt in less capable hands. Eve Arden plays her usual wisecracking, lovelorn type here, but her real feelings for Tom Conway are sensitively done. There's some unexpectedly good work here from Conway, best known for taking over the Falcon detective series from his better-known (and more charismatic) brother George Sanders. I also enjoyed Olga San Juan, a petite, likable Puerto Rican actress doing an odd Americanized role. And Ava Gardner is something of a revelation, taking the ugly sexist undertones of this project and turning them on their head. While Venus could have been done as a dippy sexpot, Gardner takes the same approach that Barbara Eden would later do on TV's I Dream of Jeannie. She effectively channels her obvious sex appeal into the character's childlike enthrallment with this new and wonderful world she's now a part of. It's a tricky thing to pull off, and she's enchanting.
Note: images do not reflect the contents of One Touch of Venus' Blu Ray edition.
The Blu Ray:
For the Blu Ray edition of One Touch of Venus, Olive has secured a pristine looking print which sports only a few scattered specks and flaws on this 1.37:1 picture. Mastering is somewhat keyed towards the dark side in this overall clean and professional disc.
As with other Olive reissues of vintage flicks, the film's serviceable original mono soundtrack is the sole audio option. The track is pleasantly mixed with clear audio and a somewhat obtrusive but nicely modulated musical score. No subtitles are included.
Kurt Weill's indignant letters to wife Lotte Leyna registering his disgust with the picture are included as an intriguing extra. Just kidding; there are no extras.
She's got it, yeah baby she's got it. In telling the story of an ordinary doofus who falls head-over-heels for the physical incarnation of an ancient goddess, One Touch of Venus scores despite aspiring to nothing more than feather-light, sexed-up comedy (indeed, its humor can get lowbrow and sitcom-ish). The production is slick, the tunes are enjoyable, and the cast is effervescent - especially Venus as personified by the alluring Ava Gardner. Recommended.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and jack-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. Since 2000, he has been blogging at Scrubbles.net. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's experienced are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.