The Moon Is Blue (1953):

Otto Preminger always understood that commercial and artistic independence in Hollywood amount to the same thing, and inaugurated the second half of his career as his own producer with this adaptation of F. High Herbert's hit play. Released sans the Production Code's Seal of Approval rather than cutting off the property's balls, the film's more than a historical footnote or prototype to '50s smarmfests -- it is a piquant illustration of the increasing ambiguity of virtue, not so much in the material as in Preminger's filming of it. The opening track-out to reveal the Manhattan skyline diorama or the flirting pantomimed through a glass panel are Lubitsch quotations, placed in the context of a decade where the idea of sex is both closer to the surface and, more than ever, strapped down to the intimations of innuendo. The main specimens under the microscope are wolfish architect William Holden and beer-commercial actress Maggie McNamara, for the most part stranded in Holden's trendy bachelor pad, where martini-soaked, middle-aged roué David Niven provides the third side of this triangle for the camera's contemplation. "Seduce," "virgin," and "mistress" were some of the verboten words sprinkled around, threatening because acknowledging the possibility of sex, since, as McNamara's ponytailed waif puts it, it is "better to be preoccupied with sex than occupied with it." Yet even this danger is too pat for Preminger, working away from the genre's usual close reaction shots and toward the middle-distances of a deeper moral ambiguity. It is no accident that, in the process, McNamara's prolix feyness comes off as prissily calculated, while Niven's awareness of his own cynicism emerges as the most honest of the three -- even in a supposedly frothy comedy, Preminger's feel for shifting absolutes remains steely. With Dawn Addams, Tom Tully, and Gregory Ratoff. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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