Once Upon a Honeymoon is a wonderful comedy about the Nazi deluge of Europe. Sounds hideous, right? Not so much. Not when you add Ginger Rogers and Cary Grant to the mix. Not when you have witty dialogue and sensitivity to the subject matter. This is a comedy, make no bones about it and the dialogue is highly quotable. In fact, I got carried away on the filmography page for the film.
Baroness Katherine Von Luber (Ginger Rogers) meets newspaper reporter Patrick O’Toole (Cary Grant) while he is under the guise of being a tailor. O’Toole believes his way into what goes on with the Nazis is through the Baroness and her husband, Baron Von Luber (Walter Slezak). O’Toole follows the Honeymooners while each country visited seems to fall. At the same time, he tries to convince Katherine Von Luber that the Baron isn’t the man she thinks he is.
Though there were several films in the 1940s such as The Great Dictator (1940) which included plot lines involved with the Nazi party, this film is unique in both being a comedy and taking the locales and the tension into the mix with the sensitivity it should be dealt with–a task one can really only do by walking a fine line with upmost care. To Be or Not To Be (1942) took a view of the Nazi party that made them look highly incapable of doing anything. Once Upon a Honeymoon, which also premiered in late 1942, gives us a better look into the successes of human element of both side and the unfortunate success of the Nazi party up until that point in time.
The film also gives us a look at concentration camps and tugs on our heartstrings as we follow the story of Katherine Von Luber’s Jewish maid and her children. This is really the first humanistic look that I can recall of the inner workings of the Nazi party–and one of the few Americans got during the war, especially the scene where Katherine talks to the Young Nazi who says he is to be married after the war only to find out he had been gunned down only hours later. At least for a space of a moment, you see this fellow as a human being rather than ‘the other.’ Mrs. Miniver is probably the best known film for stirring pro-war favor and giving the allies a human face, but there’s an edge and a dehumanizing element given to the Nazi that needs help you don’t find in Once Upon a Honeymoon. Baron Von Luber, even as Nazi number 5, is given frailties, which is more than a bit shocking considering the scope of the Nazi party and the damage they did in the extermination of millions and the structural damage to large cities and small villages that in some places in Europe still haven’t been repaired.
Ginger Rogers was at her prime when this film was released. Every review I’ve found in this era suggested Ginger should have received an Academy Award nomination had she not received one for Kitty Foyle. The following comes from the Fresno Bee, “As for Miss Rogers’ own performance, many a Hollywood previewer came out of the projection room calling it the best of her career.” Though Ginger had to play her character as naive in the beginning of the film, it didn’t come off as goofy as some of her other characters which grate on my nerves just a little, little bit (Tom, Dick and Harry for once). There was a lovely character arc as her character learns more about what goes on.
Cary Grant, despite what the reviewer from the Fresno Bee said, was lovely in the film. He’s the charming Cary we all come to know and love, with the wit and dead pan that can keep ’em rolling in the isles. He takes on the role of ‘der fitter’ in order to get a news story out of Katherine. Instead of bringing a soft measuring tape, he brings a plastic one and much fun ensues out of the scene. The chemistry between Grant and Rogers is pretty lovely, too.
And then we have Walter Slezak, who has the difficult task of playing the Nazi whose honeymoon we follow. Somehow, I don’t know if it’s Walter himself or his role in the film, the man comes off as charming in his own right. He’s someone you love to hate.
This film has been overlooked and under-appreciated by film historians simply as a glimpse of how Hollywood viewed the war and the inner-workings of the Nazi party. Sometimes it’s easier to look at the fluff on the surface. At the time, there was more than a bit of controversy over the concentration camp scene. I think it’s just more important that it was mentioned and that there is a strain of the despair therein.