[Film Review] Mrs. Parkington (1944)

Mrs. Parkington poster

Title: Mrs. Parkington
Year: 1944
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Tay Garnett
Writers:
Robert Thoeren
Polly James
Louis Bromfield
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Cast:
Greer Garson
Walter Pidgeon
Edward Arnold
Agnes Moorehead
Cecil Kellaway
Gladys Cooper
Frances Rafferty
Tala Birell
Tom Drake
Helen Freeman
Dan Duryea
Lee Patrick
Hans Conried
Peter Lawford
Rod Cameron
Hugh Marlowe
Rating: 6.8/10

Mrs. Parkington 1944

Tay Garnett’s resplendent black-and-white MS. PARKINGTON represents one of eight Garson-Pidgeon star-vehicles, it is a vintage family saga of our titular heroine Susie Parkington (Garson), a rich matron starts with a humble beginning as a chambermaid, when a mine explosion takes her mother’s life away, out of guilt and admiration, Major Augustus Tarkington (Pidgeon) marries her and spirits her away to New York, so she can get a luxurious life a woman can ever dream of. She gets some advice to adopt the lifestyle of beau monde from a French aristocrat Baroness Aspasia Conti (Moorehead), who is also Major’s confidant. And a new but tumultuous page of life opens and Susie gives her best shot to manage a perfect marriage with a dignitary and grows up to be an exemplar who knows and accomplishes a woman’s true worth, heightened by a dramatic presentation of an inopportune situation when most of their dinner guests are in absentia for their fancy reception and bookended by a vignette in London involves Edward, Prince of Wales (Kellaway). 

These mentioned above actually are told through flashbacks by Susie, when she is an octogenarian and Augustus has long gone, during a Christmas gathering, she learns that  her favourite great granddaughter Jane (Rafferty) decides to elope with a former employee of her father Amory (Arnold), and later finds out Amory is going to prison for fraud if he cannot pay a loan worth $31 million, which is equivalent to the entire inheritance for her offspring. 

It is drastically ironic that her progeny are abominable snobs (save Jane), since Susie is an excellent woman in all respects, but still, bad parenting cannot be dodged, through Gladys Cooper’s portrait of  her daughter Alice, a sheer ne’er-do-well and pain-in-the-neck. Or could it be a telling proof that the second/third-generation rich are really past hopes for integrity and humility? 

 Since the film bifurcates into two alternate narratives with a timespan of over 60 years, it presents Garson a full-scale chance to act from adolescence to senility, although she is consistently pleasant to watch and impressively dignified in the latter period, her rigid posture can never pass off as a woman in her eighties no matter how much effort exerted from the make-up division. Yet, audience can easily side with her character because of what she represents – a wife with a perfect sense of propriety and a woman with sublime wisdom. As the film’s title infers, co-star Pidgeon dutifully retreats to a second tier and downplays Major’s volatility and vainglory.

Garson is nominated with an Oscar and so is Ms. Moorehead, probably in her most opulent attire, her Aspasia is even much more laudable in handling the delicate issues of the rivalry among women or in a more literal sentence, how to co-exist with the wife of the man you love without hating each other’s guts. Kellaway, Arnold and Birell (who plays Lady Nora Ebbsworth, a good sport in playing hostess) are all fittingly memorable, Garnett, a steady hand in orchestrating a character-driven centrepiece with grandeur and style, and so is Bronislau Kaper’s mellow escorting score for a two-hour chronicle in the bygone era. 

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