Vivacious Lady (1938)

Heeeeeeeeeeey, Vivacious Lady!

James Stewart and Ginger Rodgers where dating during the filming of Vivacious Lady and it’s certainly apparent on screen with the levels of sexual tension between the two with these stars never appeared more youthful than they do here. Watching Vivacious Lady again however something dawned on me – there’s a very unusual incest thing going on between the main characters. Francey (Ginger Rogers) was going out with Peter’s brother Keith (James Ellison) before the met however Francey marries Peter (James Stewart) shortly after they meet for the first time even though she was still going out with Keith at the time. Even when Keith finds out he is perfectly ok with it and himself and Francey continue to act in an overly intimate manner throughout the film for people who are cousins. Or just get look at this dialogue exchange:

“I remember I married you”

“Oh no, she married me”

“So were cousins”

“You and your cousins can use that drawing room now.”

This movie is pretty messed up when I think about it. That’s not the only code breaker in the film; take the opening scene with the exotic dancers in the nightclub and the tail feathers being pushed in Stewart’s face or later in the film when Stewart breaks into a women’s only apartment block after visiting hours.

Incest aside, unlike other screwball comedies Vivacious Lady is actually more grounded in reality with its use of more deadpan humour. There are no over the top misunderstandings or histrionics (not that there’s anything wrong with that sort of thing) but rather the characters react in a manner people would in real life. Just look at the reaction of Peter’s father whenever he tells him he got married, its life like but manages to be no less funny. This was one of the four films in which Beulah Bondi played Jimmy Stewart’s mother; I can’t imagine a more convincing choice to be the mother of the on screen, boy next door Jimmy Stewart persona. Likewise, is there a better choice to play a conservative father than Charles Coburn? I can speak for a friend of mine who couldn’t believe just how much he related to Jimmy Stewart and the manner he acts towards Ginger Rogers; at the beginning Stewart keeping trying to make advances but keeps backing away under nerves. The two of them really do feel like a bunch of young love struck kids.

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