The Decision of Christopher Blake (1948)

US / 75 minutes / bw / Warner Bros. Dir: Peter Godfrey Pr & Scr: Ranald MacDougall Story: Christopher Blake (1946 play) by Moss Hart Cine: Karl Freund Cast: Alexis Smith, Robert Douglas, Cecil Kellaway, Ted Donaldson, John Hoyt, Harry Davenport, Mary Wickes, Art Baker, Lois Maxwell, Peter Godfrey, Charles Middleton.

A B-feature of curious ingenuity. Part of me says it’s in no conceivable way noirish; another part of me suggests that, because of the ingenuity I mentioned, it’s of at least borderline interest to the genre. My mental jury is still out.

Ted Donaldson as Chris.

Young Christopher Blake (Donaldson) arrives home from summer camp to discover, even though they try to hide it from him, that parents Ken (Douglas) and Evelyn (Smith) are separating and intend to divorce. Ken does try to explain matters to his son, but . . .

Chris: “I hope you’re not going to tell me about babies, Dad. I took a course on that in school.”
Ken: “You did? I mean, uh, you did. Oh, ah, that’s fine, fine.”
Chris: “Anyhow, I don’t believe it.”

In the end the person who inadvertently breaks the news to Chris is a stranger, Evelyn’s lawyer’s secretary, Miss McIntyre (Maxwell).

Lois Maxwell as Miss McIntyre.

Chris doesn’t take the news well. Living at home with Mom and housekeeper/cook Clara (site favorite Wickes), he endures rather than celebrates his 13th birthday:

Evelyn: “Oh, it’s a new chemistry set. And it’s much bigger than the one you had last year. Why, why I bet you could make hydrogen with this one. You wanted one that would make hydrogen.”
Chris: “Plutonium.”

Charles Middleton as the President in one of Chris’s dreams — look familiar?

But then the real strength of the movie emerges in the form of the first—and best—of several dreams Chris has that, using limited animation (or a simulacrum thereof) to augment live action, comment on his and his parents’ situation. For this one he dozes off during a performance of a bad (and badly acted) play, J. Roger Bascomb Returns. In the persona of playwright J. Roger Bascomb, Chris presents for his parents a play in which their abandoned son Christopher, unwanted by either, is rebuffed on the streets at Christmastime by cold-hearted strangers whose response to his pleas for help is a refrain of “A very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!” (Sort of like real life and politicians’ “thoughts and prayers,” isn’t it?)

Mary Wickes as Clara.

Cecil Kellaway as Judge Alexander Adamson.

There are more dreams and a heck of a lot more plot before Judge Alexander Adamson (Kellaway) engineers the inevitable happy ending.

Robert Douglas, as Dad, displays the kind of stiff upper lip you expect to see in British movies of this era, not American ones. Ted Donaldson is not entirely convincing as the 12- and 13-year-old Chris, but he triumphs in the various versions of Chris he must play in the dream sequences.

Robert Douglas as Dad/Ken.

Alexis Smith’s performance, on the other hand, is an eye-opener: one moment she’s entirely convincing as pretty but mousy Mom, the next, in one of Chris’s dreams, she’s Dad’s fancy lady, the vampish sexpot sculptress Ruth, burning a hole in the screen. It’s as if, in the twin portrayals, we’re seeing the two aspects of Evelyn through her husband’s eyes, rather than Chris’s.

 

Alexis Smith as Mom/Evelyn.

Alexis Smith as the vampish floozie sculptress Ruth of Chris’s dreams.

Playwright Moss Hart was hugely successful in his day, often in collaboration with George S. Kaufman. Their play The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939) was memorably filmed under that same title in 1942, with director William Keighley and a cast headed by Monty Woolley, Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, Billie Burke, Jimmy Durante and Mary Wickes (yes!). He also scripted a couple of movies of minor noirish interest: FLESH (1932) and GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT (1947), for which latter he received an Oscar nomination. His autobiography, Act One (1959), was adapted for the screen as Act One (1963), dir Dore Schary, with George Hamilton as Hart.

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