The Archivist #135: Not the Marrying Kind [THE TENDER TRAP & THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME]

A pair of movies to make a girl wonder: Where HAVE all the nice guys gone?

The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and factory pressed Blu-ray discs. Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!

Summer is always traditionally the time of year for weddings with loads of venues booked, gifts bought and toasts given virtually every day of the season. I’ve myself have never known why the summer months were always selected as the most desirable for couples looking to exchange vows (to be fair, I was never curious enough to research it.) Still, that special time of year when the days are longer and the nights are blue seems to forever be the time to say “I do.”

Needless to say, however, not everyone is a fan of weddings. As the heat of this summer boils on, we here at The Archivist offer up an edition for the guests of some of those weddings; the poor souls who have to carve out part of their summertime fun to get dressed up and spend a whole day watching folks they know go through the most sacred of traditions. For anyone simply tired of weddings, be they elopements or the dreaded destination sort, here are two films (1947’s They Won’t Believe Me and 1955’s The Tender Trap) which feature two handsome leading men and plenty of reasons why they may or may not be the kind of ideal husband every hopeful bride is looking for.

The Tender Trap

In this breezy adaptation of the stage hit, Frank Sinatra plays Charlie, a successful Broadway producer with the pick of any girl in town. Although he spends his time alternating between different women, it’s Sylvia (Celeste Holm) who maintains the tightest grip on Charlie. However, when a budding actress named Julie (Debbie Reynolds) arrives in town with a plan to nab herself a husband by a certain date, it doesn’t take long before she sets her sights on Charlie.

Breezy is the right word to describe what is mainly a forgotten and slightly forgettable 50s rom-com. The Tender Trap doesn’t fully lose its theater DNA with its move to the screen, but it does make for pleasurable enough viewing thanks to its stars and its take on 50s romance. Sinatra is at his slickest and also surprisingly relatable, playing Charlie as a man who feels he’s got the city in his pocket and every woman he meets (save for perhaps Sylvia) in the palm of his hand. When he finds out he actually doesn’t have the game of love down, Charlie’s descent back to earth makes for the kind of vintage comedy fun that’s hard to not smile at. Reynolds shines in one of her more mature roles of this era and Holm gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a woman ahead of her time with great self-awareness and an appetite to go after exactly what she wants. The Tender Trap won’t ever be seen as a high watermark on any of the stars’ careers, but it’s joys (including the catchy, Oscar-nominated title song) still make it worthwhile.

They Won’t Believe Me

A pre-Father Knows Best Robert Young leads this twisty noir as Larry, a man who, quite plainly, married for money and has been enjoying a rather tight leash ever since with his wife Greta (Rita Johnson) holding the other end. After being forced to dump his current paramour (Jane Greer), he soon finds himself reacquainted with Verna (Susan Hayward), whom he genuinely loves and feels is the one that will give him the courage to finally leave his loveless marriage. Unfortunately for Larry, fate has other plans.

The fact that They Won’t Believe Me isn’t as heralded for its subversion of many noir tropes is a sad state of affairs. Not only does this tale of love and infidelity go all out in illustrating the power of such themes, it also has fun doing it through role reversals. Some have seen the philandering, married for money Larry as a male femme fatale who is driven by both passion and greed and is ultimately undone by both. The film also breaks the mold a bit by showcasing three female characters as credible women, each one drawn out as her own individual, with Hayward being the most captivating. It’s Young’s show though and he makes it work from scene to scene, playing Larry as not necessarily a louse, but as someone who got stuck in a moment he simply couldn’t get out of. What makes They Won’t Believe Me work best however is the way it plays with themes of chance, circumstance, fate and destiny in a manner which not only provides a wild assortment of plot turns, but also makes for one of the most superb lessons in cinematic irony the genre ever produced.

The Tender Trap and They Won’t Believe Me are both available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Warner Archive.

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