Invitation (1952)

“Remember I said the first round goes to you or your father’s money.”

 

One type of film that really seemed to thrive in the 1950s was the soap-opera styled plot laced with drama, tragedy and a good old family fortune thrown into the mix. Invitation isn’t as splendid as a Sirk drama, but its soap elements made this fun to watch–even though the story is ultimately restrained and the characters never fully unleashed. Invitation can also be categorised as a medical drama film.

The film begins with Ellen (a svelte Dorothy McGuire) at home with hubbie, budding young architect Dan Pierce (Van Johnson). There’s a delivery in a large package which Ellen tries to hide from Dan. Inside the box is yet another fur coat–the third this season from Ellen’s devoted stinking rich daddy Simon Bowker (Louis Calhern). This interesting and significant early scene raises some questions: why is Ellen’s father showering her with fur coats and why does she feel that she needs to hide this from Dan?

After Dan leaves for work, Ellen drives out to daddy’s estate where she finds him out on the golf course with a doctor friend. By this point it’s clear that Ellen is not well at all, and there’s reference made to a heart condition. Suddenly everything slots into place: her husband’s tender concern, her father’s lavish presents, and her slight breathlessness. Yes, Ellen has an incurable heart condition.

On the way back home, Ellen stops to visit an old friend, Maud (Ruth Roman). Big mistake. Ellen appears to be on a peace-making mission, but a tightly wound Maud isn’t about to pretend that everything is ok. This bitter scene reveals that Maud is now Ellen’s ex-friend–the rift occurred when Ellen married Maud’s man. Maud was in love with Dan and claims she still is. On a roll, Maud makes some bizarre statements implying that Ellen stole Dan from her and that Ellen’s father bought Dan as a husband for Ellen.

After Ellen’s nasty visit to Maud, domestic bliss at the Pierce home is a thing of the past.The film includes flashbacks that explore Ellen, Dan and Maud’s relationships before the wedding, and then there’s a wedding scene and a bit of honeymoon before we’re back in the present. The scenes that show Ellen as a lovelorn young woman are particularly good, and the script plays with the psychological aspects of Ellen’s ability to gloss over her role in Dan’s broken romance with Maud.

Invitation is an enjoyable soap-styled film (and the meaning of the title becomes clear as the story unwinds), but in spite of the fact some pretty ugly stuff takes place, everyone lands on the positive side of humanity (with one bitter exception). Dorothy McGuire does an excellent job as Ellen; she’s spoiled and overprotected–not a bad person by any means, but she is used to a life of privilege and she’s a veritable princess wrapped in a cocoon by her devoted father.  She’s a woman who has a wonderful, perfect life, and she appears to have everything … except her health.

While the ill-health issue is ostensibly the issue of Ellen’s heart, under the film’s surface the behaviour of the characters is also incredibly unhealthy. There’s Maud and Ellen–at one point supposedly best friends but now at war over a man. Maud spits some very nasty words at Ellen, but Ellen still plays the victim. And then there’s Ellen’s father … just what the hell was he thinking? That brings us to Ellen’s husband Dan…. Van Johnson’s murky motivations aren’t explored a great deal, and after placing some tawdry information in front of the viewer, the script pulls away and lands on the safe, warm and fuzzy side of character analysis. This move negates the possibility of a great tacky soap drama, so instead we get an optimistic film that reinforces the basic decency of human nature. Now whether or not you buy that is another thing entirely….

Invitation made it to DVD thanks to the WB Archive Collection. The film is from director Gottfried Reinhardt.

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6 Comments

Filed under American, Drama

6 responses to “Invitation (1952)

  1. I bet you don’t buy it, do you?
    I have another question : how do you choose the films you write a post about? You don’t review everything you watch, so why this one more than another? (Don’t answer if I’m indiscreet)

    I’ve started — and stopped — a book named “Paradis conjugal” by Alice Ferney. The character is obsessed by a film directed by Mankiewicz entitled “A Letter to Three Wives”. Have you seen it? I need to watch it if I want to continue the book, the constant reference to the film characters prevents me from understanding the main character Elsa Platt. (I wonder if this is not a sign of a flaw in the construction of the book)

    • No I don’t buy it at all. I would have preferred if the film went all out–some bitch-slapping, booze ups or something off the rails would have added a great deal of dash to this film.

      When I started this blog three years ago (well almost 4 now), I reviewed almost everything I watched. My main focus was foreign film as I learned rather quickly that many reviews were not available anywhere or not in English.

      Since then my focus has shifted. There are so many blogs up now. I’ve decided only to review things I am really interested in or films that are not reviewed a great deal. Part of this is due to time constraints. I recently watched Almodovar’s Broken Embraces. I am an Almodovar fan, but there are so many reviews out there already, why add another? Perhaps if I had nothing else to do, but that’s not the case. I’ve also become much more interested in old film, so that’s shaped the decision too. I’ve been thinking on going on benders lately–directors or stars not sure yet. I’m not that happy with the blog to be honest. That’s probably one of the reasons I don’t post as much.

      I saw the film years ago, and don’t remember a great deal about it other than the basic plot. It was adapted for the screen by Vera Caspary. Wikipedia has a good entry on the film plot if you’re interested.

  2. Thanks for the answer, I didn’t expect one actually.

    There are also many reviews of L’Assommoir… You put more of yourself in your book reviews than in your film reviews. Here, your tone is rather detached, professional. See, I had to guess your response to this film and I guessed right because I’m used to reading your book blog. This might explain why you’re not satisfied with this blog or why you think your reviews are “just” additional reviews. When I read someone else’s book blog, I enjoy reading his/her response to a book, not just a summary of the plot or an analysis of the literary qualities. This I can find in a magazine or on Wikipedia.
    That said — and I hope I did respect your boundaries — I can easily imagine that it’s time consuming to post on two blogs.

    Je saute du coq à l’âne. (et de l’anglais au français) I’m an Almodovar fan too. Unfortunately, I’ve missed Broken Embraces when it was released. How was it?
    I’ve just watched “Je vais bien, ne t’en fais pas”. I guess you know it. I find the parents monstruous, whatever their motives, what they did was wrong.

    I haven’t seen a lot of old movies, I wouldn’t know where to start or where to find them legally without buying the dvds, except from the library.

    Regarding Paradis Conjugal, Wikipedia isn’t enough. The writer uses references to the actors/actresses and their acting. They have an impact on the main character’s psychology. The more I talk about it, the more I wonder if this book is worth reading since the reader needs to watch a film to understand it.

    • I think the easiest place to start with old films is either with genre or particular stars.

      My problem with the blog is that I would prefer it to be organised differently. WordPress has added many features since I started and I’d do it differently now. Perhaps I’m just bored with it.

      I prefer Almodovar’s older films. All About My Mother and beyond. I’ll watch anything he makes though.

      I haven’t seen the film you mentioned Je vais bien, ne t’en fais pas, but I have heard of it.

      • I suppose I should start with films based on a book. But I should learn a bit of classical music first because my abyssal ignorance in the matter is killing my piano teacher. I won’t have time to do everything. Sometimes I wish I had this little device Hermione Granger has in Harry Potter : she can rewind time and have 48-hours days. That would be just great, 24h for work and housework, 24h for family and leisure. Well, one can dream…

        If you can watch Je vais bien, ne t’en fais pas, do it, it’s excellent. I think you’d like it, it’s the kind of story you’d like in a book. And it’s based on a novel by Olivier Adam and I’m really tempted to read it to have a closer look on the characters.

  3. Films based on books are a lot of fun to explore. Of course you get the inevitable: it’s not as good as the book reaction, but then sometimes the adaptation can be a surprise.

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