Judge Clark Douglas takes great pleasure in presenting you with this review. Mmmm, readers!
Star of the ice…star of the dance…and a woman aglow with romance.
These days, moviegoers often require complex special effects and grand CGI spectacles from their empty entertainments, but once upon a time the demands were much simpler. Audiences were content to watch Esther Williams swim or watch Fred Astaire dance. In the case of It's a Pleasure!, audiences were treated to the spectacular sight of Olympic gold medalist Sonja Henie figure-skating in glorious Technicolor. The skating sequences (along with a traditional dance sequence) are unquestionably the reasons for the film's existence and they are presented with enjoyably old-fashioned flair. Alas, even the least demanding audience needs something resembling a plot, so It's a Pleasure! throws together a fairly standard-issue tale of romance and dramatic turmoil.
Don Martin (Michael O'Shea, Jack London) is a star hockey player whose career has been highlighted by trouble. He's constantly getting into fights with other players, and one day he goes too far and punches a referee. The dumb move gets him thrown out of the league, and he can't seem to find another job anywhere. This greatly distresses Chris Linden (Henie), the star figure skater who entertains audiences at the hockey games. She has always had hidden feelings for Don, and yearns to help him out. Suddenly, she gets an idea: Don can work with her in the entertainment business! Things are suddenly looking up for Don again. He's employed, and before you can say "plot development," he's gotten married to Chris.
Alas, things are not as perfect and wonderful as they may seem. Don has two temptations that are constantly trying to pull him away from Chris. The first is alcohol. When Don is offered a little drink, he replies, "I shouldn't. I never have little drinks. Only big ones." As time passes, Don seems to get closer and closer to succumbing to his alcoholism. That's nothing compared to the temptations Don faces from the attractive Gale Fletcher (Marie McDonald, Hit Parade of 1951), a woman who has serious desires for Don. Never mind the fact that she is married to the kind-hearted Buzz (Bill Johnson), the man who just so happens to be Chris' manager. Will Don give in to Gale's wily maneuvers, or will he remain true to the woman he loves?
I'll bet you know the answer to that question, and I'll bet you can guess more or less exactly how this film plays out. There are no surprises whatsoever, just typically familiar and pleasant story beats playing out between the spectacular skating sequences. Fortunately, director William A. Seiter manages to bring just enough life to these proceedings to make the film a perfectly pleasant viewing experience (if hardly a substantial one). The film is very nicely paced, moving along at a rather brisk clip until it reaches the expected grand finale. On a purely technical level, It's a Pleasure! is stellar throughout. Strong costume design, editing, and cinematography are noteworthy attributes.
As you might expect, the acting here is a mixed bag. Henie was never exactly known for her acting skills, but she does a perfectly competent job in the leading role. The same applies to Michael O'Shea as Don, who has a fairly solid screen presence but not much else. The best performance comes from troubled actress Marie McDonald, whose real personal life made her boozy, adulterous turn here look remarkably chaste by comparison. It's a shame that McDonald was lost so early to drugs and alcohol (she ultimately committed suicide at the age of 42), because she's really quite excellent here. I was also surprised by the stellar performance from Bill Johnson, whose acting career was limited to It's a Pleasure! and only a couple of other films.
One considerable liability is the audio. The music that accompanies some of the big sequences sounds horribly distorted. Just check out the figure skating scene about 50 minutes into the film. The audio is awfully damaged and warped throughout, not to mention it sounds very pinched. Ugh. Elsewhere, the audio is hit-and-miss, veering back and forth between simple clarity and troubled distortion. Too bad it hasn't been better preserved over the years. On the positive side, the film looks quite impressive. There are almost no significant scratches or flecks throughout. The image is clean and vibrant, though the use of soft lenses is a little extreme at times. As with many early Technicolor films, the color palette borders on garish at times, but it's certainly engaging from a visual perspective. No extras of any sort are included on the disc; a real disappointment.
This sort of thing isn't generally my cup of tea, but I found It's a Pleasure! about as satisfactory as it has any right to be. The lack of extras and the poor audio make it difficult to recommend a purchase, but it might make a nice rental for those who typically enjoy this sort of golden age extravaganza.
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