Roughly Speaking (1945)

RoughlySpeakingPosterAny doubt you may have had that you were in for one of those multi-generational epics about some woman who was either tough as nails and persevered through years of hardship or how she became tough as nails as a result of said hardship is laid to rest as soon as you get a gander at the Bride of Frankenstein coiffeur that adorns star Rosalind Russell for the second half of this too lengthy endeavor about not very much.

I never would have imagined that a horror film from the 1930s would have been so influential on all the melodramas that followed, but after Bride Of Frankenstein came out, it seemed as if every woman’s movie of the next fifteen years (inevitably starring Bette Davis, Greer Garson, or Irene Dunne) that required its star to age adopted the Bride’s trademark streak of white hair to accomplish that feat.

Among the problems star Rosalind Russell endures during the film are two husbands, neither one particularly memorable. Half way into the movie Russell’s Louise Randall Pierson learns that hubby number one has been coming home late from work not because he’s really busting his hump at his job as bank V.P. but because he’s humping some busty job at his bank thereby exposing her to V.D!

During their big break up speech, this guy complains that Louise never properly worshipped him enough and that she tried to do everything for him and wasn’t suitably devastated whenever something bad happened. There wasn’t much drama when he left since we all knew she was better off without the insecure turd.

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Husband number two is only marginally better in that he at least is predisposed to be in perpetual good humor, no matter how badly his cockamamie schemes gummed up their lives. Harold C. Pierson is a bit of a dreamer and is always seeing the “next big thing” that they should get in on the ground floor of and invest everything including their gold fillings in.

After Louise meets this guy at a costume party and deciding to marry him a couple hours later, he determines that what this country needs in the mid 1920s is lots of roses. Harry and Louise build these greenhouses, hire a big staff, and kick it into high gear so that the Christmas of 1928 will see them shipping 30,000 roses all over the east coast.

This is where some business school might have helped Harry (or at least where paying attention to his father wouldn’t have been a bad idea since he ran greenhouses as well). You see, when you ship 30,000 roses and your competitors have shipped another million or so, you’re going to run into a little something the pocket protector types call “market saturation.” Next stop for the Piersons? A public auction followed by a road trip with all their remaining belongings strapped to the back of their jalopy, Joad-style.

If Christmas 1928 is over, veterans of these kinds of movies are positively licking their lips about what’s going to happen next. Even as Harry gets his family embroiled in a scheme that sees them investing their last thousand dollars in a fledging airplane business, the audience is already fantasizing about the newspaper headlines that are sure to whirl by shortly with catchy phrases like “Biggest Stock Market Crash Ever!” and “Entire Nation Turns Into Shiftless Hobo!”

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We get to see Harry test out the plane successfully for a group of wealthy and very interested investors and I’m just muttering to myself, “wait for it, wait for it” and then just as we’re about to buy a house with our anticipated airplane winnings, the newsboy is running around the street yelling “Extry! Extry!” and Louise excitedly buys it thinking they published a special edition about her husband’s kick ass new airplane. Biggest laugh of the movie!

Even bigger than the time when Harry pretended to become a door to door vacuum cleaner salesman, but was really just hanging out at the local pub all day long hustling marks in game after game of nine ball. Coolest husband ever!

Following this foray into salesman/pool shark, Harry gets that big break that he’s been waiting for. One day he gets a letter and it turns out that that job he wanted as supervisor of the 1939 New York’s World’s Fair has come through! Huh? Wasn’t this guy just playing a drunk named Hooch for quarters in some smoky pool hall in between tall frothy glasses of pilsner? And now he’s in charge of the world of tomorrow?

Lucky for all us, World War II finally gets around to starting and since the movie itself was made in 1945, there wasn’t much left to dramatize.

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This movie was purportedly based on a book by the real-life Louise Randall Pierson, who also got a screenplay credit, but it’s difficult to swallow the fact that anyone’s life would simply be a series of setbacks, handled alternately with steely determination or good natured humor. (She does start getting weepy at the end of things though that was probably just the onset of menopause.)

Not only is this the woman that laughs in the face of a jobless husband (and shares a beer with the other one once she discovers his little fib about the vacuum cleaner business), but who refuses to get too upset over the fact that one of her kids turns up lame. Childhood paralysis? Just another thing on my “to do list” in between “deal with husband’s affair” and “raise four kids on my own.”

At about two hours, there’s ample time to get to know her and her family, but the movie’s so interested in slathering on the obstacles for her to overcome that you’re just left contemplating what big world disaster she’s going to have to cope with next. And the kindest thing modern audiences might have to say about the movie’s attitude toward working women is that it’s quaint since Louise is portrayed as some kind of hyper-ambitious crappy wife for daring to dream of working as a – gasp – secretary!

Russell handles what she’s given competently, but you’d have to put this pretty far down the list behind all those Bette Davis, Greer Garson, and Irene Dunne Bride of Frankenstein wig movies. It wasn’t bad enough to turn my hair white, but I did feel it thin a bit.

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