Friday, November 29, 2019

Shelley Winters in CASH ON DELIVERY

Here in the U.S., the discussion of groundbreaking female filmmakers needs to start including Oscar winner Muriel Box. I discovered her work about five years ago when I saw a brisk 1955 British comedy set during the Christmas holidays. SIMON AND LAURA, starred Kay Kendall and Peter Finch as two married actors, a constantly bickering pair, who are so in need of money that they agree to do a live BBC TV reality show posing as a happily married couple. Seeing the name "Muriel Box" onscreen as the director grabbed my attention. I did some quick research on Muriel Box. Before her film starring Kay Kendall and Peter Finch, she directed a British film starring Shelley Winters in fabulous comedy form.
As actress Ida Lupino strode into the Hollywood boys' club of directors and shattered the glass ceiling in the 1950s, it appears Ms. Box did the same thing in Great Britain in the 1950s. It also appears she did not get a warm reception for her films simply because of her sex. Lupino proved to be one of Hollywood's finest actresses of the 1930s and 40s. A screen beauty with solid dramatic skills, she did stand-out work in HIGH SIERRA (1941), THE SEA WOLF (1941), THE HARD WAY (1943), DEVOTION (1946), THE MAN I LOVE (1946) and DEEP VALLEY (1947) to name a few. All those films were Warner Bros. releases. Ida Lupino should've been a bigger star at Warner Bros. in the 1940s, but Bette Davis was queen of the lot then and all the A-list scripts went to her first. Still, Lupino kept delivering good screen performances from one decade into another. In 1949/1950, she went behind the camera as director of some gritty, black and white dramas. Her low-budget tough features did good business at the box office. Ida Lupino was Hollywood's trailblazing actress/director. Before her impressively extensive list of credits as a television director, Lupino's credits as a film director included OUTRAGE (1950), HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL (1951), THE HITCH-HIKER (1953) and THE BIGAMIST (1953).

Across the pond, Muriel Box was a British film screenwriter. She and her then-husband, Sydney Box, won Oscars in the Best Original Screenplay category for THE SEVENTH VEIL starring Ann Todd as a young, gifted pianist who must regain her sense of self after being dominated and controlled by her guardian played by James Mason. Like Ida Lupino in Hollywood, Muriel Box made a name for herself in one area of the filmmaking business and then sought to express herself in another.  She loved to write about and direct films about the female experience. Muriel Box directed her first feature film in 1949. The film I saw, SIMON AND LAURA, was her her sixth. Her fifth was also a comedy, one that starred a vivacious Shelley Winters.
Shelley Winters plays kooky New York City nightclub singer Myrtle La Mar in 1954's CASH ON DELIVERY directed by Muriel Box. Myrtle can sell a song. As she'll tell you, she was known as "The Jersey City Canary." If your overriding image of Shelley Winters is that of her dramatic supporting characters who went out emotionally wrecked and wet in A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951), THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955), LOLITA (1962) and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972), I'd urge you to see her lively leading role in this entertaining comedy. Winters is like Adelaide in GUYS AND DOLLS with a touch of Lucy Ricardo from I LOVE LUCY.

CASH ON DELIVERY reminds you that Shelley Winters had terrific comedy chops. If Paramount had this script in 1950, it would've become a Betty Hutton vehicle with new songs written for her to sing. And the studio would've assigned a male director.

After shapely Myrtle La Mar belts out an upbeat jazz tune called "Give Me A Man" in rehearsal (Shelley did her own vocal), she has a meeting about a legal matter. An uncle died and left the Manhattan nightclub singer $2 million in his will. But, there was a sexist clause that the money could not go directly to her. It had to go to her husband who would then give the money to her. The hitch -- he's in England, he and Myrtle got a friendly divorce a few years earlier in Bolivia (where she had a gig) and he's now remarried with a very pregnant wife. He's still financially struggling and still a musician. He lives in a humble cottage and writes music scores for documentaries. Myrtle goes to England to find him and to try to get her money as legally as possible. The sexist clause in the uncle's will causes complications.
When you see how lively and relaxed Shelley Winters is in this film, when you see her comic timing, when you experience the overall warmth and good humor in the tone of this comedy, you may feel as I did -- that Muriel Box did not get a good reception from critics simply because of her gender. Peggy Cummins, probably best known for her gun-toting femme fatale character in the 1950 noir classic, GUN CRAZY, also had a talent for comedy as was seen in 1947's THE LATE GEORGE APLEY with Ronald Colman. Peggy Cummins was directed by Muriel Box more than once. She played the lovely and hungry pregnant wife in CASH ON DELIVERY.

The original title of this film for British audiences was TO DOROTHY, A SON. Peggy Cummins played the pregnant Dorothy. This is a fun 80-minute comedy with Shelley Winters in fine, funny form as a lovable babe. I repeat -- it's time to start including British screenwriter/director Muriel Box in the discussion of groundbreaking female filmmakers.

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