Without Reservations (1946): Inside Hollywood Comedy, Starring John Wayne and Aging Claudette Colbert

Without Reservations is a cross-country romance similar to, but much less witty and entertaining than the 1934 Oscar winning It Happened One Night, both starring Claudette Colbert (opposite Clark Gable in the latter).

This comedy represents the only teaming of John (The Duke) Wayne, just before he became a mahor box-office star (Sands of Iwo Jima, Red River), and Claudette Colbert, who gets star billing (above Wayne) and about to start a career decline.

Silly and minor, Without Reservations was a quickly made flick, haphazardly helmed by the otherwise reliable pro, Mervyn LeRoy.

The tale was adapted by Andrew Solt from the novel Thanks, God! I’ll Take It From Here by Jane Allen and Mae Livingston.

Rusty Thomas (Wayne), a Marine flyer, meets Kit Madden (Colbert), a famous novelist who conceals her identity under the name of Kitty Klotch after listening to his disparaging remarks about her book. Colbert boards the train for Hollywood to assist in the making of a movie out of her book.

Cary Grant promised to appear in the lead opposite Lana Turner, but after meeting Rusty, Kit is convinced he is perfect for the part.” Rusty does not understand why Cary Grant accepted the part “because it will make him look silly.” “Why” she insists, to which Rusty explains, “Because Lana Turner keeps chasing him for four hundred pages and he keeps saying no.”

Rusty has read the book and thinks its hero is a jerk. Instead of the values of cooperative society, which her book advocates, Rusty lectures her on self reliance. Kit thinks Rusty has “missed the point entirely,” for the characters played by Grant and Turner are “symbols: he of the future, and she of the past. The clash between them is purely ideological.” But Rusty remains unconvinced.

If he were to play it, Rusty says, he would first treat Turner as a woman, then argue with her. For him, worrying about women is “a mental fatigue.” Furthermore, Rusty thinks that the book’s author knows nothing about men and does not understand her place in a man’s world. He convinces her to revise the book, after she realizes that her heroes are not interested in carving out a new world, as she had intended, but rather satisfied with the old way.

In the last scene, told of her idea to make an actor out of him, Rusty is upset, “An Actor! You mean that you’ve been lying to us Then I almost fell for it. I was beginning to believe you were on the level.” “But I was,” she says. Rusty insists on getting his wings back. “I don’t want a woman who’s trying to tell the world what to do!” he tells her, “I don’t even want a woman to tell me what to do! I want a woman who needs me! A Miss Klotch who’s helpless and cute….”

The opening shot shows “Arrowhead” Pictures motion picture studio, which is RKO Radio building at 780 Gower Street in Hollywood, retouched with “Arrowhead” replacing the RKO signs on the building.

Synopsis (by Sequence)

Successful author Christopher “Kit” Madden (Claudette Colbert) travels to Los Angeles to work on the film adaptation of her best-selling book,  Here is Tomorrow.  It is supposed to star Cary Grant (in a cameo appearance) as the hero Mark Winston and Lana Turner  (then very hot as an MGM top star).  However, when Grant drops out, the producer thinks they need an unknown actor to play Winston.

On a train to Hollywood, Kit meets two Marines, Captain “Rusty” Thomas (John Wayne) and 1st Lieutenant “Dink” Watson (Don DeFore).

She considers Rusty the best choice to play Mark Winston, but he dismisses her book, claiming that she wrote a political allegory and he does not believe Grant would refuse Lana Turner for 400 pages.  Unsure of his reaction, she keeps her identity secret (saying her name is “Kitty Kloch”).

Most of the flimsy, not particularly engaging, story unfolds as a road comedy, set during a journey across the country on trains and cars, during which the trio is thrown into various comedic and dramatic situations. When Rusty finally learns the truth, he thinks that she has been using him. Several missteps later, the couple resolve their differences.

Critical Response

There is no strong chemistry between Wayne, always in uniform, and Colbert, who was slightly older than him and was beginning to lose her great looks.  In any case, in her early 40s, she might have been too old to play such a part.

Wayne is not particularly adept at comedy style; he would develop as comedy actor in the 195os and 1960s, but his stifness and awkwardness in delivering his (too) many lines of dialogue work for the part.

Without Reservations is a heavy-handed comedy, lacking charm, especially when it tries to offer inside-industry jokes and obserbations. Most of the stars mentioned are sort of name-dropping.

“The untiring monkeyshines of the three unmistakably mature principals (Don DeFore was the third) the Time’s reviewer noted, “keeps reminding you that their combined ages must total over a century.”

Another critic described the narrative as John Wayne “determined to make an ardent girl of Claudette Colbert,” and she “determined to make a brainy actor of John Wayne,” but what Wayne tries to teach her has “very little to do with the brain cells.”

Still another one wrote: “An exhaustive study of the inner development–under the dizzying influence of propinquity to Mr. Wayne–from a high-minded, deeply analytical, best-seller writer on world affairs, into a humble, love-sick maiden.”

 

Cast

Claudette Colbert as Christopher “Kit” Madden

John Wayne as Capt. “Rusty” Thomas

Don DeFore as First Lt. “Dink” Watson

Anne Triola as Consuela “Connie” Callaghan

Phil Brown as Soldier

Frank Puglia as Ortega

Thurston as Henry Baldwin

Dona Drake as Dolores Ortega

Charles Arnt as Salesman

Louella Parsons as Herself

Frank Wilcox as Jack

 

End Note

Jack Benny, Cary Grant, and director LeRoy make uncredited cameo appearances.

 

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