Perfume Movies & Invitation (1952)

Perfume Movies (a subgenre of “women‘s pictures") are tear-jerking soap operas involving an angst-ridden woman who must overcome improbable odds while looking glamorous. The production values are so alluring that sometimes the titles seem to be launching a new fragrance - Magnificent Obsession, InvitationMadame X, Midnight Lace.

Green Briar calls this kind of film “Fashion Noir.” "Noir" is not the best term since it denotes a completely other genre with very particular aspects (Venetian blinds, anyone?) that are not often present in Perfume Movies, but I understand what he’s saying - gritty content with some glam. He also notes that the melodrama of these popular films dilutes the snob factor of the critically-acclaimed movies in the world.
Lana  Turner is gorgeous here and looks like Natalie Wood, another lady given to "woman's pictures."
Whether these films stick it to the critics or are just a guilty pleasure, they can be very interesting. This genre marries the outlandish quality of the psychological drama with the what-will-she-wear-next aspect of classic RomComs. 

Producer Ross Hunter of Universal Studios is usually the poster boy for the 1950s/1960s version of this style of film, with such lavish productions as Imitation of Life (1959), where shrieking violins play while jewels fill up the screen during the credits.

Other studios also jumped onto the bandwagon.

Case in point, MGM's Invitation (1952). It stars Dorothy McGuire as Ellen Bowker Pierce (the one who gets the invitation), Van Johnson (her husband Dan) and Louis Calhern as Simon Bowker (Ellen’s father).
This poster seem to be straight out of true-to-life magazines with titles like "Confessions of...." The brunette is going to have quite a paper cut.

This was before Ms. McGuire became everyone’s mother

Wealthy invalid Ellen discovers that Simon bribed Dan to marry her, thinking that since Ellen is, well, an invalid, she’ll be dead in a year and Dan can move on with his life a richer man.  Did I mention that she’s an invalid? The movie sure does. But it all seems to be in the character’s mind, because Ellen looks as spunky as anyone else on the tennis court; she simply chooses to lounge on a chaise with that ubiquitous blanket around her knees.

Her unnamed illness is a film gimmick to further Simon's and Dan's shady deal. Fine. At least Ellen gets a wardrobe upgrade after the marriage. No longer a spinster (with requisite bun and shawl), she breaks out with  THE NEW LOOK from Europe, complete with strange hats.

While watching this film the other day, my mind kept going back to The Heiress (1949). It has a similar storyline of  prospective husband wanting money or love or both, with hovering father who wants to run his “inadequate” daughter’s life. The story is a bit more believable with Olivia de Havilland’s restraint, though.

Ms. McGuire in Invitation is totally overwrought, nearly pulling out her hair. Still, she convinces me that receiving an invitation to a medical seminar is the most tragic thing that’s ever happened in her life. [Maybe I dozed off at a crucial moment, but I don’t get why the letter would upset her. Enlighten me, please.] It also helps that when Ellen first opens the note and runs about like a madwoman, director Gottfried Reinhardt uses the camera to run along with her, breathing life and urgency into an otherwise staid film.

In a Perfume Movie, the leading lady usually soldiers on in the face of adversity, so we know Ellen will be fine at the end. Therefore, my attention was focused on Van Johnson - will he be able to convince me (and his wife) that he has fallen in love with the woman to whom he was completely indifferent at first? He does convince me, and I don‘t know how, since Dan is a louse.  It must be the cowlick that you know is lurking under all that lacquer, and Johnson’s  freshly-scrubbed,  freckled face that wins me over. He has the permanent look of a boy who has just found a horny toad in the crick and gee willikers ain't it purdy can I keep it mama. Cute.

MGM’s production values here aren’t as spectacular as a Universal Studios film of the same genre, and it‘s not just because Invitation is in black and white. The movie has a decided back lot feel in its exteriors and the air of recycled sets and “recycled” people. I keep expecting perky Jane Powell  or a young Elizabeth Taylor to pop up around the corner, or that Ellen and  Dan would have a country club luncheon with Lucy and Desi [that patio looks just like the one in Forever, Darling, especially with Louis Calhern sitting there]. Starlet Barbara Ruick  makes her film debut here as an extra talking to Ellen at the wedding reception. It’s all in the family, but the family is suffocatingly familiar.

Ruth Roman plays bad girl Maud Redwick, who crashes the wedding reception and straight up threatens to steal Ellen's man within a year. She's a vixen and proud of it, babe. It seems that Maud likes Dan's cowlick as well and had made plans to marry him before Ellen came into the picture. This is the person who sends the medical seminar invitation to Ellen a year later. Why? Does the villain want her rival to get better? Who knows? Who cares? Maud has a killer wardrobe (by Helen Rose), which is all that matters.


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