Sister Celluloid

Where old movies go to live

STREAMING SATURDAY! Melvyn Douglas and Burgess Meredith Give Merle Oberon THAT UNCERTAIN FEELING

Welcome to another edition of Streaming Saturdays, where we embed a free, fabulous film for you to watch right here every week!

Settling in to watch That Uncertain Feeling, there are some things you can be certain of. With Ernst Lubitsch at the helm, you know it’ll be witty and sophisticated. And you assume Melvyn Douglas will elegantly knock your socks off, while Burgess Meredith will be quirkily brilliant.

You know what you don’t necessarily expect? Merle Oberon to be hilarious. But she is.

Oberon plays Jill Baker, the wife of a career-crazed insurance executive (Douglas)—and when he regales her with tales of his actuarial conquests, her eyes somehow manage to flash stupefying boredom and blinding rage at the same time. Her husband’s lack of attention to anything but business—he’s much more interested in wooing Hungarian mattress salesmen than winning his wife—drives Jill to develop a recurring case of hiccups so forceful they send her tiny frame flying backwards, as if she’s been struck by a bullet. And she can’t shake them off for love or sugar cubes.

So Jill heads off to an analyst (the delicious Alan Mowbray) in search of a cure. But it’s in his waiting room where she thinks she’s found the real answer to her problems: an idiosyncratic concert pianist (Meredith) who’s convinced he’s too brilliant for any of the philistines around him to appreciate. (“I’m against anything and anybody—I hate my fellow man and he hates me!”) Ah, but she understands him…

I’ll say no more; with Lubitsch in the driver’s seat, you really just need to sit back and go where the movie takes you.

My only qualm about the whole affair is that Baker’s secretary (Eve Arden), who’s crazy about her boss and fed up with his wife, gets caught in the middle of the love quadrangle. (Would it have killed Hollywood to realize that the funny, whip-smart and by the way gorgeous Arden deserved to get the guy a little more often and get kicked around a little less?)

Oberon, who did far too few comedies, remembered That Uncertain Feeling as “the happiest picture I ever made.” Even if she already had a clear idea of how to do a scene, she always asked Lubitsch to demonstrate it first, because he was so outrageous.

“I don’t know when I had a better time in my whole career than during that period,” Meredith agreed. “He’d act everything out for you because he loved the part, and he’d act it out so funny, so definitely, that I’d stand there as an audience… he would give you the idea of what he wanted, and he would stop in the middle of acting my lines and make some crack about my brother, who I was having trouble with then, or some purely personal thing, which in some psychic way he knew I was undergoing. He was a very psychic man. And he knew I’d come over and say, ‘How did you know about that?’ and he’d say, ‘I have ways of knowing!'”

Douglas was also thrilled to be re-teamed with Lubitsch and Ninotchka writer Walter Reisch (who would go on to pen a little number called Gaslight). Reisch’s collaborator on That Uncertain Feeling was Donald Ogden Stewart, who’d adapted The Philadephia Story, co-written Dinner at Eight and Kitty Foyle, and written Holiday and Love Affair.

And yet here it is, languishing in the public domain. What’s a fabulous Lubitsch movie doing in a place like this? Credit the lunkheaded movie audiences of 1941. The director formed his own company to produce the film—but just as quickly dissolved it when it bombed, losing more than a quarter of a million dollars. So the copyright on the now-orphaned movie was never renewed.

STREAMING SATURDAYS is a regular feature on Sister Celluloid, bringing you a free, fabulous film every weekend! You can catch up on movies you may have missed by clicking here! And why not bookmark the page to make sure you never miss another?

1 Comment

  1. Lubutsch was great. Thanks for posting this.

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