August has flown by so quickly, hasn’t it? After taking a look back at the last few weeks, I don’t find it difficult to believe that I’ve hardly posted on Musings of a Classic Film Addict this month. A lot has been going on in my life, and I’ve devoted the few moments that I’ve been able to spare to catching up on as many films from TCM’s Summer Under the Stars programming as I can. Still, I knew that I had to come back to my blog before August was over in order to participate in one of my favorite annual blogathons: The Van Johnson Blogathon, hosted by Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood! I’m proud to mention that I’ve joined in on this wonderful celebration of the actor during all three years of its existence, but for our All-American cutie’s 103rd birthday today, I’ll be shaking things up a bit!
Previously I’ve covered Easy to Wed (1946) and A Guy Named Joe (1943), two of Van’s collaborations with Esther Williams, my favorite co-star of his and one of my favorite actresses in general. As a whole, I prefer to write about new-to-me movies when I participate in blogathons because I prefer to offer a fresh, unbiased take. At this point I’ve now seen all of their pictures together, so while I intend to finish reviewing the rest of their work in the future, it’s time for me to explore some of his films opposite other leading ladies. It didn’t take me long to find the perfect movie to fit the bill: Week-End at the Waldorf (1945), which had already been on my watchlist for quite some time. The film pairs Johnson alongside Lana Turner, another actress whom I regard very highly. As soon as I noticed the picture in Van’s filmography, my curiosity for how the two stars would appear onscreen together got the best of me, and I knew it was time for me to finally review it. I soon found out that Week-End at the Waldorf (1945) takes place entirely in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, where we see a variety of people go through experiences that change their lives. While many different characters and subplots are introduced, the film focuses on two main storylines which involve four major players.
In the first, Irene Malvern (Ginger Rogers) is a movie star who hardly ever has time for rest, relaxation, or romance in between her busy shooting schedule and various appearances. On the night before an important movie premiere, she finds out that her maid’s lover plans to steal her jewels. After locking up her priceless gems, Irene still finds herself curious to meet the would-be thief. Meanwhile in a nearby room, we find Chip Collyer (Walter Pidgeon), a war correspondent who’s resting up at the Waldorf while waiting for his next assignment. Despite his desire to finally get some sleep before he’s shipped off to London, an inexperienced reporter (Keenan Wynn) needs Chip’s help in his investigation of crooked businessman Martin Edley (Edward Arnold), who is also staying at the hotel. Reluctantly Chip agrees to be of service, but while he attempts to sneak into Edley’s suite, he finds himself in Irene’s instead. Naturally, the timing makes the actress believe that Chip is the jewel thief, and the two begin a complicated relationship as Irene tries to put Chip on the straight and narrow path, made even more complicated when Irene passes Chip off as her husband and he attempts to pass the lie off as the real deal.
At the same time, we also get a glimpse of the hotel’s stenographer and notary public Bunny Smith (Lana Turner), who hopes to escape her impoverished upbringing and climb the financial and social ladder by any means necessary. During what would usually be a normal day on the job, Bunny takes a letter for Dr. Robert Campbell (Warner Anderson), who has just examined Captain James “Jimmy” Hollis (Van Johnson), a pilot who is awaiting operation due to a piece of shrapnel lodged dangerously close to his heart. The doctor admits in the letter that the operation is a perilous one, but that Hollis’ chances would be better if he had the will to live. The letter breaks Bunny’s heart, and she leaves the doctor without meeting his patient. Not long afterward, Jimmy seeks Bunny out in order to notarize his will. Bunny recognizes Jimmy as the subject of the doctor’s letter, and as the two of them go through his will, it becomes apparent that he has no family and very few friends. The two of them develop a quick attraction to one another, and Jimmy invites Bunny to spend what could possibly be his last weekend on earth with him, while also not revealing his condition to her or anyone else. Bunny finds herself drawn to the pilot, aforementioned businessman Edley yearns for the stenographer too, offering her a position of wealth and influence as his social secretary. Will she choose her career or the possibility of love?
As you may have guessed, Week-End at the Waldorf (1945) is based on Guy Bolton’s stage adaptation of the Vicki Baum novel Grand Hotel, which classic film fans know best as the movie Grand Hotel (1932). The earlier adaptation is even referenced in this picture, though there are significant differences between the two versions. It’s widely believed that this movie was shot exclusively at the real Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York; the hotel even has a plaque claiming that it was the first Hollywood movie to be filmed on location, but unfortunately this is untrue. While some interior and exterior shots were actually captured in the real resort, the majority of Week-End at the Waldorf‘s production took place at MGM Studios in Culver City, California. In any case, the hotel was recreated with great attention to detail. as the wife of of the Waldorf Astoria’s president as well as the corporation’s public relations team both served as a technical advisers on the film. In addition, the hotel caused quite a stir when they requested that Week-End at the Waldorf (1945) be filmed in Technicolor in order to show off the opulence of the resort. After a brief back-and-forth with MGM, during which time the studio pondered shooting the picture at a different hotel in San Francisco and changing the title of the production, MGM ultimately won out and presented the finished movie as we now see it in black and white.
There are quite a few classic films that I’ve seen which feature multiple plotlines that intersect and occur at the same time. When watching a picture like this, I usually find one particular plot to attach myself to and more or less disregard the rest, waiting for my preferred characters or story to come back onscreen, but Week-End at the Waldorf (1945) is different. I actually adored both major storylines immensely and found myself devoted to the action of each scene without wishing for anything else to appear, and for that I really have to commend this film. If I have any gripes to point out, I will mention that Chip’s motivations and general character needed some improvement. While this is probably one of my favorite roles of Walter Pidgeon’s that I’ve seen, I feel like Chip essentially harassed Irene and forced a marriage on her, and he could have easily won her over without doing any of that. I’m also biased because I basically watched this picture for the purpose of seeing an onscreen romance between Van Johnson and Lana Turner, but I would have loved to see less of the unnecessary plotlines and more time allotted for Bunny and Jimmy’s relationship. I find myself increasingly captivated by both Van Johnson and Lana Turner with each new movie of theirs that I watch, and seeing both of these stars that I admire together onscreen was fantastic as is. Still, their chemistry could have fared even better if they were given a few more scenes that allowed their connection to develop and blossom. No matter what, I was still overjoyed to celebrate Van Johnson’s birthday with a new favorite romantic comedy, and you definitely won’t be disappointed if you make this lighthearted romp your pick to watch today too!