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On Approval Movie Review

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This rare jewel of a film gives us a chance to see Tony-winning Beatrice Lillie (1895–1989) at her sparkling best. How does she manage to play a character who's simultaneously insufferable AND endearing? As rich Maria Wislack in On Approval, Lillie is a social brute who doesn't know she's a social brute. There's no individual malice behind her verbal barbs; her meanness toward everyone is only exceeded by her unconsciousness of same. Watching Lillie in action is rather like studying the effect of a laser beam; her sharp yet subtle humor is achieved by focused intensity on a person, place, or thing. She sticks to the point, sincerely believing she can do no wrong, ever. Meanwhile, she's surrounded by chaos, the direct result of virtually everything she says and does. Lillie didn't think much of Hollywood, yet she tried to become a star there four times for four different studios. In 1926, she made Exit Sailing opposite Jack Pickford. It's extremely funny to watch today, but apparently MGM executives felt otherwise. In 1929, she appeared in the Warner Bros. musical Show of Shows; the following year, she starred as Lady Diana in the Fox musical Are You There? (widely appreciated at a recent revival screening); and in 1938 she made the Paramount musical Doctor Rhythm opposite Bing Crosby. Except for a cameo bit as a revivalist in 1956's Around the World in 80 Days and a sixth-billed role as Mrs. Meers in the 1967 Universal musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, On Approval is Lillie's only film on video. Luckily it's also the best. Producer/director/screenwriter/star Clive Brook (1887–1974) re-vamped the 1926 play by Frederick Lonsdale (1881–1954) by setting it in the Edwardian era, adding a tongue-in-cheek prologue and a zany dream sequence. His dream cast included himself as the always-broke George, Duke of Bristol; Roland Culver (1900–84) as the equally broke Richard Halton; and Googie Withers, then 27, as millionairess Helen Hale. Along with Lillie's Maria, they agree to spend time alone together in a Scottish castle. “On Approval.” The Herculean efforts involved in making this one-of-a-kind cinematic treat must have exhausted Brook; he retired after a successful career spanning 25 years, reemerging onscreen just once for Universal's The List of Adrian Messenger in 1963. Culver continued making films right up through Michael Palin's The Missionary in 1983. Withers appeared most recently in the 1996 Australian release, Shine. A 1980s version of On Approval, set in the 1920s, aired on Masterpiece Theatre starring the late Jeremy Brett in a rare comic role as George, Penelope Keith as Maria, Benjamin Whitrow as Richard, and Lindsay Duncan as Helen.

1944 80m/B GB Clive Brook, Beatrice Lillie, Googie Withers, Roland Culver, O.B. Clarence, Lawrence Hanray, Elliot Mason, Hay Petrie, Marjorie Munks, Molly Munks; D: Clive Brook; W: Terence Young, Clive Brook; C: Claude Friese-Greene. VHS

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