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Voice of the Turtle, The (DVD Review)

10 Dec, 2012 By: Mike Clark

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
$18.95 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Eleanor Parker, Ronald Reagan, Eve Arden.

Following World War II, many of the roles home studio Warner Bros. gave Ronald Reagan were of the caliber to turn a reasonably high-profile performer (neither a major star nor, at least yet, a ‘B’-movie headliner) into president of the Screen Actors Guild. One of the later-career exceptions was Reagan’s agreeably unpretentious lead in this movie of John Van Druten’s play — one with a title of such a “what-was-that-again?” variety that for decades TV played Turtle as One for the Books, which was not much of an improvement as an audience magnet.

And yet the play had been a smash that ran for years, even if its late 1944 setting now meant that Warner had to mount its story as a flashback vehicle when the movie version finally came to the screen. The story of an aspiring stage actress and a furloughed soldier who ends up sharing her New York apartment for much of a wintry weekend, it made for potentially controversial screen material because you look at these two chance meet-ups (Eleanor Parker plays the actress opposite Reagan) and think that … well … they just have to be sleeping with each other after a few wine-and-dine preliminaries at the well-mounted eatery next door, especially in a wartime situation. Production Code enforcer Joseph Breen, who must be watching a lot of bad movies in Hell these days, slammed it as “a story of illicit sex without compensating moral values.” You always wonder and can usually peg what clowns like this were in high school. Probably in the Philately Club or something.

Parker sports the same exaggerated bangs Margaret Sullavan wore when originating the role on Broadway, and they are the first thing the brain picks up on whenever the camera cuts to a fresh shot of her. They do make the actress look attractive, though, and this is one of the better good-girl-with-an edge roles of Parker’s career — a run that got her three Oscar nominations but perhaps not the full respect she merited because she had quiver-lips and tended to tear up a lot. This said, I’ll never forget her transformation in 1950’s Caged (nomination No. 1) from an innocent who’s unwittingly involved in a robbery to, in an unforgettable final scene and shot, a hardened prisoner ripe for recidivism.

Parker’s “Sally” seems to have small-town values (she keeps mom and dad’s 8x10 glossy around, albeit hidden) but isn’t exactly a novice when it comes to having been hit upon by senior lechers indigenous to the theater world. Even more knowing is her friend (not exactly a warm one but a friend) played by Warner reliable Eve Arden in distinctively acerbic Arden fashion — though this character (“Olive”) comes off as a lot more sexually active than the high school teacher Arden played so memorably in Our Miss Brooks. Or Olive would be, if only Joseph Breen would let her.

In the play, there were only three characters (Olive was the other one), but the movie is opened up to get the story out of the apartment and to toss in some subsidiary support (one of them an officer played by Wayne Morris, an actor who was heavily decorated in real life during WWII, though his career derailed during the experience). Director Irving Rapper (Now, Voyager to The Christine Jorgensen Story) keeps the narrative moving without displaying much attitude toward the material — though he has far more limited NYC location footage at his disposal than did Peter Tewksbury telling a not dissimilar story in 1963’s Sunday in New York, a will-they-or-won’t-they? movie I prefer. Even so, Turtle makes for a pleasant, if dated, hour and 43, no question — though the advent of the Pill would eventually turn stories such as these into antiques, which is how you have to approach them today to appreciate what they have to offer.


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