Good Sam (Leo McCarey / U.S., 1948):

Rossellini took up the theme -- the impracticality of sainthood in modern times -- for Europa '51, Leo McCarey understands it as a translucent joke and gives it a spacious treatment. Gary Cooper and Ann Sheridan nod intently at the reverend's (Ray Collins) sermon on charity, the camera pans right to reveal their tiny daughter giggling at the crone who's fallen asleep behind them. The trouble with Cooper is that he's got "too much faith in people," the neighbors who borrow the family car return it in pieces, the mechanic (Clinton Sundberg) bringing the bill gets invited to the breakfast table. The sense of relaxed playing allows for the flowering of such digressions as Ida Moore's sketch of a sly old pixie and Dick Wessel's beautiful rendition of Edgar Kennedy's monumental slow-burn at the wheel of the bus, all at the service of the theme. The protagonist's Franciscan virtue escalates to the point where a suicidal "department-store Magdalene" (Joan Lorring) takes refuge in the couple's bedroom, yet not one of his pals is available when he faces bankruptcy. The wife's meeting with the baffled vicar for advice is oddly anticipatory of Buñuel's Él, though McCarey is far from mocking Cooper's inconvenient generosity. Goodwill here pays off opulently as frequently as it bites Cooper in the ass, it backfires just as often ("You tried to do us a favor, and my husband lost his job because of it," one hausfrau cries), all of it is utterly priceless to the filmmaker -- to see Sheridan's uproarious guffaws in the midst of a whirlwind of unemployment and lawsuits is to truly experience the full breadth of human emotion. The sublime final scenes are taken virtually verbatim from Capra en route to Cassavetes, served with McCarey's musicality: soused Cooper is serenaded by William Frawley ("Home, Sweet Home"), escorted back by the Salvation Army ("Hallelujah! I've Been Redeemed"), and finally, gloriously rejoined with Sheridan ("Let Me Call You Sweetheart"). With Edmund Lowe, Louise Beavers, Dick Ross, and Ruth Roman. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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