The astronomer movie
- When I was an elementary school student in the Pensacola/Warrington area---about 7 years before I started the Escambia Amateur Astronomers Association---the local t.v. station showed old movies in the afternoon and for the late show and I became a fan of Hollywood's Golden Age of movies.
One movie I remember had the leading lady going up to a huge observatory dome and asking a man up at the telescope if they knew where her husband was.....He told her they didn't know but, "We need him too!"
That movie is now available again. Here is an amazon.com review for THE HEAVENLY BODY.
Heddy Lamar plays an astronomer's wife who believes in ASTROLOGY!!!
This reminds me of one astronomy class at the University of Arizona. The astronomy professor could not come down to the level of even the brightest student---no matter how hard she tried. We would leave the class, after a test in which none of us could even start to anser ANY of the questions---tearing our hair out and asking one another....."you don't believe in astronomy, do you?"
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3.0 out of 5 stars Wartime Domestic Comedy in a Silly Story, Yet Graced by Powell's Genuine Humanity, March 7, 2010
By Doug - Haydn Fan (California) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: THE HEAVENLY BODY (DVD)
Warner Archives has now issued a brace of Hedy Lamarr features, all at full price. This is not exactly a consumer friendly act - the films of other actresses of the period have been offered in very inexpensive box sets - see for example The Glamour Collection Carole Lombard - The Glamour Collection (Hands Across the Table/ Love Before Breakfast/ Man of the World/ The Princess Comes Across/ True Confession/ We're Not Dressing). Why Ms Lamarr's films should receive this frightfully high tariff escapes me - I can only surmise that the studio believes her fans are willing to pay through the nose to see her films! One certainly can't believe Warner thinks Hedy Lamarr does not qualify as glamorous!
"The Heavenly Body" marks the end of Lamarr's association with MGM. Fans of the William Powell/Myrna Loy films might take umbrage that a domestic comedy starring Powell would fail to utilize Loy's comedic gifts, but the truth is that Powell had often appeared with other actresses, and the problematic Ms Lamarr had worked well in another earlier film with Powell, Crossroads,CROSSROADS. In five previous films - against screen heavy-weights Gable and Tracy - Ms Lamarr's quieter persona was largely overwhelmed. So MGM, as studios always are wont to do, tried the more positive pairing with Powell again. Then 29 year old Ms Lamarr was cast as the much younger, neglected wife of a famous astronomer, played by 51 year old Powell. Next to the radiantly healthy Lamarr, the older actor puts on his best cheerful style, but we are now an entire decade - and a serious bout with cancer - later than the salad days when Powell as the older husband in The Thin Man famously mixed it up with another 29 year old - Myrna Loy. Lamarr for her part was coming off two 'exotic roles', and in "The Heavenly Body" gets a far more natural role - though few housewives walk about decked out in fabulous Irene designed outfits! MGM lavished the best cinematography for the shooting, whether the movie was filmed by Planck or, as some suggest, Daniels, Lamarr looks spectacular.
The movie's storyline is ramshackle, but an odd thing happens as the story moves bumpily along. In combining wartime isolation - Powell spends his nights at the observatory apart from his beautiful young wife - and the idea of Fate and "Heavenly Bodies" pulls the movie out of the normal comic orbits. Horoscopes and Astrology were a hot topic in 1943, as the war dragged on Americans were taking on a more fatalistic viewpoint than the cheerful musicals and hoem front movies of the time suggest. And the idea of Fate is futher enlarged with Powell's discovery of a comet that will crash into the moon, paralleling his wife's discovery of her own inner pulls to life outside their marriage, two twin themes of Fate are set into motion.
In this case, represented by a handsome young man her old age doing duty as an air raid warden until he can return to his real role in life as a globe-trotting correspondent. James Craig, as wartime replacement for Gable, is fortunately low key enough an actor for the soft-spoken Lamarr, and the two play nicely together. With this new love angle in play the film juxtaposes and now further champions the opening theme of Lamarr's supposedly 'feminine' Astology contra Powell's scientific world of Astronomy. Seemingly out of nowhere a wartime story appears, suddenly suprises with a very direct theme - the sudden discovery by the wartime American woman, during prolonged separation, of the self and all that goes with it in the way of personal choices.
Of course, in a light comedy of that era martial infidelity cannot succeed, but the remarkable thing about "The Heavenly Body" is how far the film goes in revealing the possibility. Everything in the film is topsy turvy, a world where people eat breakfast at 6:30 in the evening, and go off to work in heavy winter clothing on a warm summer day. Where the night shift of janitors work during the day cleaning up around the 100" telescope at what is obviously the Wilson Observatory, and plain spoken American Craig talks up luring exotic places to a supposedly simple housewife, Lamarr, whose accent and beauty betray her as the true exotic!
Powell's astronomer not only neglects his wife, he clearly thinks he's superior to her because of his intellect - and this being a true comedy Powell suffers mightly for his egotism. When he tries to browbeat his wife the film really takes on some interest; Lamarr definantly uses her horoscopes as a defense against her husband's controlling nature. In real life Lamarr had been married to a much older, controlling man, so there's more here than a casual viewing might suggest.
Topping the picture off is the stunningly handled scene at the observatory of the gathering of astronomers and reporters to witness Powell's comet's crash into the surface of the moon. As this scene progresses Powell obsesses not with the impending destruction - a scene eerily fortelling the massive strike a half century later on Jupiter - but his wife's journey up the opposite mountain to their cabin and a rendevous with her new lover. Powell's orderly scientific mind becomes more and more distraught as he watches Lamarr's journey, coinciding with his comet's arrival. When his wife finally arrives at their cabin, just at the instant of the comet's impact with the moon, Powell has become completely unglued by jealously and a now far more important personal discovery - that he's losing his wife. When I first saw this I thought Powell played this scene far too over the top - now I'm not so sure. It's certainly a remarkable moment of high destiny for a comic film.
All in all, "The Heavenly Body" is not for most film buffs. Powell/Loy fans will resent the film, intellectuals will disaparage it, and even the average easy-going movie goer will find much of it too long and tedious. Despite these problems I've a soft spot for this film. There's something there, a certain quality of honesty and understated truth missing in better scripted films. Much of this must be credited to William Powell, who could charm a snake from a tree. That the film doesn't hold together well, and the themes are heavy handed is obvious. But Powell, and the genuinely radiant Lamarr do play well together, and the suddeness and seeming irrationality of Lamarr's decision to leave her husband finds Powell for the first time playing a new role - a mature man up against time and aging. In a couple of years Powell would revisit this role in a far more carefully controlled reading in "Mr.Peabody and the Mermaid", a film long overdue for release on DVD. And near the end of his fabled career in a smaller supporting role in "How to Marry a Millionaire" opposite the much stronger screen persona - than Lamarr - Lauren Bacall. Once again Powell's love interest is 29, but this time he's 61 and the final wedding with Bacall as May bride doesn't come off - at least not for Powell! But in "The Heavenly Body" we catch the first full shock of Powell, the screen's dashing boulevardier, facing mortality - it's not subtle, and it's clearly there: no matter how much effort and high jinks Powell brings to the film, ostensibly to perk up a slow plot line, behind it all lurks an unstated recognition of something else going on. In many ways this is one of Bill Powell's most touching roles. Watching this far from perfect film calls to mind Prince Hal's quip on discovering what he thinks is the corpse of Falstaff, "I could better spar'd a better man." This is one of those movies that seem to say far more than the sum of their parts, and remains in the memory when ostensibly better films are forgotten.
The film also presages what I think is one of Lamarr's best films, "Experiment Perilous". An incipient development of destructive negative male behavior runs through "The Heavenly Body" - Powell's character steals, lies, feigns deathly illness, blackmails an astologer with federal arrest, and forges a horoscope - all in an effort to hold onto his wife. Two films later in "Experiment Perilous" this type of behavior is no longer remotely comic. Lamarr plays a terrified shy woman, totally at the mercy of a controlling jealous husband - Paul Lukas - who kills to keep her. EXPERIMENT PERILOUS George Brent, who had developed a low-key semi-supporting leading man style up against the firebrand leading ladies of Warners - he was in no less than 13 Bette Davis films! - takes on the role of a sort of Pyschologist Lancelot to Lamarr's frightened Guinevere. Directed by Jaques Tourneur, it's a sneakily subversive film, with Brent clearly emotionally involved with his patient, and early on undermining and not saving her marriage. Anyone wishing to try my admittedly convoluted reading of this difficult work - which I DO recommend! - check the review of Amazon's listing of the French DVD... Experiment Perilous [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import - France ]
One small scene of the film is handled with a deftness only Powell could pull off - each evening at a certain hour before setting to work at the observatory he turns a small telescope onto the valley far below and focuses in on his wife's bedroom window, where a silent Lamarr in nightgown waves back a goodnight. In a strange way the oddity of it encapsules all the pin-up girl pictures and photos of loved ones carried by soldiers far from home on their distant and lonely wartime journeys.