Friday, June 11, 2010

A Light 'Heart'

I recently read Marion Davies' autobiography, "The Times We Had." It was a light read; apparently she had recorded her recollections and then never went back to review them. The book was subsequently published after her death, and it does lack the reflection and perspective that could have made it great.

Still, I was struck by her own continual assertion that she was no actress. I would counter by saying she had a vibrant screen presence and was an adept comedic talent, on display in the slight 1934 comedy "Peg O' My Heart." She's clearly having fun, and she alone nearly makes you forget that the simplistic plot just kind of sits there.

Davies plays Peg O'Connell, who lives in a small Irish fishing village with her loving father, Pat (J. Farrell MacDonald). One day, Sir Gerald Markham (Onslow Stevens) arrives to inform Pat that Peg has inherited her grandfather's estate. This is her mother's father who never liked Pat. However, there's a catch: Before receiving any money, Peg must go live at the estate in England with her unknown relatives for three years so she can be schooled as a lady. Also, Pat must never have contact with Peg again.

Anyone can guess where the plot is going and how it's going to work out. The relatives are snooty and treat Peg as a country bumpkin. Peg moons over Sir Gerald and misses her father terribly. I can't say the other actors really stand out, although MacDonald and Davies have some touching father/daughter moments. Nor does the plot really go for the "fish out of water" laughs that it could easily get.

Still, Davies sparkles as Peg. Her longtime companion, William Randolph Hearst, felt Marion should have been nominated for an Oscar. I wouldn't go that far. But her wide-eyed girlish innocence smooths over some of the story's corniness. She even gets a chance to sing and dance.

Perhaps Davies never made one really great classic film, but she herself should never have dismissed her long career, because there are several comic winners in her filmography. "Peg O' My Heart" is one of her better sound picture efforts, and it made money for MGM.

It wasn't long before she left MGM for Warner Brothers, and after a short tenure there, she ended her career. Her book sometimes reads as if she wasn't aware of how lucky she was, living a lifestyle of wealth that most people then or now will ever know. And yet she has moments that clearly indicate that she was aware of her good fortune. I just wish her memoir had been stronger, much like I wish this movie's story was, too.

Still, and I've said this before about movies that just miss the mark, there are far worse films out there. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, "Peg O' My Heart" and Davies may provide enough sunny warmth to cheer you up.

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