Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (Douglas Sirk, 1952)

has anybody seen my gal 5Where does the time go? February’s half over and I’m only just getting on to my Douglas Sirk season – sorry to be slow, but hopefully I’ll still manage to fit in a few reviews! The earliest film included in the 7-DVD UK/region 2 Douglas Sirk Collection is the charming, bitter-sweet Has Anybody Seen My Gal?  This is a small-town tale in gorgeous Technicolor (though sadly a bit faded on the DVD), as typical of Sirk, but, since it is a comedy, the mood is rather lighter than in many of his films. Unusually, it’s also a sort-of musical, with occasional brief bursts of song and dance, although none of them really come to much. This is a period piece, set in the 1920s, and it’s full of loving observation and beautiful sets and costumes to create the mood.

Top billing goes to Piper Laurie and Rock Hudson, who went on to work with Sirk on several better-known films – but make no mistake, this is Charles Coburn’s film all the way. In his mid-70s when he made this movie, the comedy great dominates throughout, and playing the lead rather than a smaller character part gives him the chance to show more layers to his grumpy but kindly screen persona. Once again, he plays a grandfather type loaded with money, as in earlier comedies like Bachelor Mother – but his wealth certainly doesn’t seem to be making him happy. As the film opens, he is pining away in bed,  nursing imaginary ailments and making the lives of his employees a misery as he barks out cruel but witty one-liners.

has anybody seen my gal 6Coburn’s character, megabucks industrialist Samuel Fulton, confesses that he was a loser in love as a young man, when the girl he wanted to marry, Millicent, turned him down and chose a much poorer man instead. After hearing of her death, he decides he’d like to make her family his heirs – but first he wants to find out if they are worthy of his millions. He therefore decides to go to their small town posing as a poor man himself (he comes up with the brilliant alias “John Smith”), become their lodger and observe them at close hand.

Samuel/John soon discovers that the Blaisdells are generous and down-to-earth – everything he’d dreamed of. What’s more, his beloved’s granddaughter, Millicent (Piper Laurie) is a dead ringer for her namesake grandmother. He promptly arranges for them to receive an anonymous gift of $100,000, to see how they will handle riches. Unfortunately, the answer is… very badly. The mother, Harriet (Lynn Bari) has already shown slightly snobbish tendencies, and now goes into overdrive  She insists that husband Charles (Larry Gates) must sell his drugstore, moves the family into a mansion and breaks off Millie’s engagement to poor soda jerk Dan (Hudson), in the hope that she can marry her off to rich but creepy Carl (Skip Homeier) instead. Ludicrously, Harriet even decrees that younger daughter Roberta (Gigi Perreau, who is wonderful throughout) will have to get rid of her beloved pet mongrel, Penny, and have two French poodles instead! (See ‘dogs in movies’ blog The House of Two Bows for a great take on the dog story in this film.)

I’m left wondering if there are any films where characters come into money and it actually works out well for them. I can think of several films involving a lottery win or a big inheritance, and,as far as I can remember, in all of them the money brings misery and destroys lives. Can anyone think of an exception to this rule?

Rock Hudson and Piper Laurie

Rock Hudson and Piper Laurie

People suddenly changing their lives and pretending to be something they are not are themes which repeatedly crop up in Sirk’s movies, often with painful results – and, despite the light tone, the pain is there in this film too. The Blaisdells find themselves struggling to live up to a rumoured wealth much greater than their one-off windfall, while a despairing Millie drifts ever closer to marrying Carl instead of true love Dan.

Ironically, though, even as Samuel’s money is wrecking the lives of the people he wanted to help, he himself is having a whale of a time in his new role as the impecunious “Gramps”. He has much greater freedom to do what he wants and even discovers an unsuspected talent for working as a soda jerk alongside Dan. However, the film avoids making working life look too idyllic, as a penny-pinching new boss takes over at the drugstore. Martin Quinn (Forrest Lewis) constantly orders Dan and Samuel around and  is always trying to work out if they might have been slacking for 30 seconds while he wasn’t looking.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this movie, including all kinds or quirky and surprising moments. The whole cast is great, including the dog – and Rock Hudson and Piper Laurie make an appealing couple, with an enjoyable scene where they go to a silent movie together (Laura La Plante’s Hold Your Man). There’s even a brief glimpse of a young James Dean as a customer at the drugstore, eating an enormous sundae with multi-coloured dollops of ice cream. But the film’s biggest pleasure is Charles Coburn’s performance – once again proving that he was a character actor who could easily take on star roles.

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17 thoughts on “Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (Douglas Sirk, 1952)

    • Thanks so much, Patti – must agree with you on all counts. I think it’s a movie I’ll enjoy watching again in the future.

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    • Rock Hudson only has a fairly small part in this, though he does well with the scenes he has – but yes, Coburn is fantastic! Hope you get to see it soon, Ruth!

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  2. Judy, it is interesting that you have chosen one of Sirk’s earlier Universal – International films (1952) to begin your season. As you would be aware, Sirk was originally dismissed by the “serious” critics as a director of glossy melodramas and it was not until almost 20 years after his departure from America that his talent and extraordinary abilities were recognised.

    Sirk brings to his films a certain “irony”, a “hidden” critique of American society, cleverly disguised under the cloak of Technicolor in most, if not on all occasions, and in the case of “Has Anybody Seen My Girl”, humour and music… but this film has a ‘sting in its tail”.

    From the outset we are informed that “This is a story about money….” and it proceeds to explore the destructive effect that a USD100,000 “windfall” has, upon the Blaisdell Family. Of course all ends, happily….but does it ? There is a clue in the era in which the story is set.

    Sirk has cleverly woven a surprising number of hits from the 1920’s into the screenplay without slowing down the action and the film bounces along at a fine pace; at one stage I thought my “One who must be obeyed” was about to join with Charles Coburn and Gigi Perreau in a “Charleston” – in our lounge room!

    On the surface it is a very enjoyable film, and one suitable for the whole family, but, as with most of Sirk’s films, it has a “secret” and more serious undercurrent, if one wants to discover it.

    Your comments regarding Charles Coburn, are “spot on” and the only time he appeared to have much competition for attention, was when he appeared as “Piggy Beekman” with the irreplaceable Marilyn Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”(1953). He surprised many when, in a complete change of his former “wholesome” character roles he appeared as a cruel and sadistic surgeon in King’s Row (1942).

    As usual, Judy, I enjoyed your posting and look forward to your further examination of the very interesting films of Douglas Sirk,- a sadly misunderstood Director from the past.

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    • Rod, thanks for these detailed thoughts on both Sirk and Coburn – it’s a shame that Sirk was dismissed so easily at the time, and good that his talents have become more appreciated over the years. I have an older book about ‘women’s emotion pictures’ which just describes his films as being made by producer Ross Hunter, and doesn’t give the director a look in!

      I haven’t seen ‘King’s Row’ as yet, but have been meaning to do so for a long time – the thought of Coburn in a sadistic role is yet another reason to do so.

      Thanks again for the great comments and support.

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  3. Judy, I must admit that as a “youngster” I would avoid “women’s pictures”, preferring the Western and Film Noir Genres, however , as I have reached “maturity”, and influenced by the critical re-examination of Sirk as a Director of some importance, I have “dipped my toe, into the water” to discover so much more in his films, than what appears on the surface.

    Sirk’s early career was in theatre and he became a very successful director on the stage in Germany, switching to Film with the rise of the Nazi party. Abandoning Germany in 1937, he eventually made his way to America, where he worked mainly as a writer, under contract to Columbia, and later directed a number of Independent films with actors such as George Saunders, Linda Darnell, Lucille Ball, and Charles Coburn. He briefly returned to Germany, but by 1950, he was back in Hollywood and working for Universal.

    Judy, as you will appreciate, from this background, Sirk was an well experienced in the world of cinema/entertainment. Having worked under the control of the Nazi authorities, he acquired the ability to criticise the “authorities” and their “society” by stealth, and he applied his unique talent to the Universal melodramas for which he is now well known. Casting a critical eye over the American society at that time, he applied a sub-text to his films, a “hidden” comment on his observations. Naturally the audiences of that era did not recognise or even want to explore their perceived faults and so, took these films, “at face value”, many of the critics labelling Sirk’s films as simply “glossy melodramas”.

    I believe Sirk to be a true “Auteur” as he succeeded in subverting, not only a major studio, but certain producers, and scriptwriters, to infuse his films with his own unique, personal style.

    It is perhaps needless to add, that I find Sirk to be a very interesting character and much of his work, well worth exploring with “new, more mature eyes”.

    As for “Has Anybody Seen My Gal”, I particularly enjoyed the piece of advice “John Smith” gave to the Blaisdell family just prior to his departure, ” It’s not money that makes a person happy, it’s what you do, with what you have”.

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    • Thanks so much for these further thoughts and background information, Rod – I’m especially intrigued by the thought that Sirk used the ability he had learned to criticise by stealth under the Nazis when making his ‘glossy melodramas’. I knew they contained a lot of hidden criticism, but hadn’t made that connection. I haven’t seen many of Sirk’s films as yet, but would agree on him being a true auteur.

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  4. Judy, I am a HUGE Douglas Sirk fan, and only months back was treated to several of his Universal films at the Film Forum. I do believe I have seen every film he has made now. Except one. Guess which one I have not yet seen? Ha! You got it. The one you review here with splendid and concise insights. Coburn is a treasure, and I have no trouble believing he would be the prime allure in this early effort, when director was trying to find some footing. I certainly will be quite active for your great new series here Judy, and applaud its launching!

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    • Sam, how strange that the first Sirk film I wrote about was one you haven’t seen! I do hope you get to see this one soon – I’m guessing you are holding out to see it on the big screen, but, if not, I certainly enjoyed it on DVD. Thanks for your great support, as ever!

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