Lecture / Emily Carpenter
"Once upon a time, in sunny California," a title card announces while it rains, lives toy manufacturer Fred MacMurray with his perfect fairy-tale family: bustling wife Joan Bennett (see also The Reckless Moment ) and three busy children. Left home alone one evening, he answers the doorbell in an apron, and there stands Stanwyck after twenty years, carrying memories and a carefully hidden torch. "Sure I'm happy," MacMurray says haltingly, and shows her his latest creation, Rex the Walkie-Talkie Robot; she shows him a brave face shadowed with loneliness. While MacMurray indulges in fantasies of youth regained, Stanwyck beautifully conveys the ambivalence of an ethical person who wants what she can't have. (She'd never get it anyway, with those nightmarish Sirkian children spying around corners.) Sirk's brilliance is to recognize both the horror and the wisdom of accepting one's lot. When MacMurray finally claims "I'm all right now," it's either one of the most devastating lies in all of cinema or, even worse, maybe true.
• Written by Bernard C. Schoenfeld. Photographed by Russell Metty. With Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Bennett, Pat Crowley. (84 mins, B&W, 35mm, From Universal)