Just This Once (1952)
Directed by Don Weis
Starring: Janet Leigh, Peter Lawford, Lewis Stone
* Published specifically for The Peter Lawford Blogathon hosted by Kristen at KN Winiarski Writes *
The MacLene family is renowned for their intergenerational prosperity which has made them one of New York’s wealthiest families. However, that legacy risks being completely and single-handedly destroyed by the estate’s heir, Mark MacLene (Peter Lawford). Mark is someone who cares more about money and leisure than the state of his finances. As a result, his reckless squandering of money has left him with mounting debts all over town not to mention over $1.2 million – nearly $12 million in today’s money – in back taxes to the IRS.
Clueless as to how to proceed, Mark signs over power of attorney to Sam Coulter (Lewis Stone), a judge and long-time friend of the family. In turn, Sam hires a penny-pinching, judicial fighting young lawyer, Lucille “Lucy” Duncan (Janet Leigh), to manage the financial aspect of the estate. Initially undeterred by the changes, Mark gradually becomes forced to significantly diminish his means. All of this happens with a good dose of light-hearted humour, particularly when Mark decides to move-in with Lucy after all of the furniture is stripped from his home. Most surprised by this turn of events is Lucy’s fiancé, Tom, who is not a bit fooled by Mark and Lucy’s growing attraction to one another. They say that falling in love happens at the most unexpected of time. Will this be the case for Mark and Lucy?
Peter Lawford & Film Appreciation
Mark: “Sam, I want you to marry me.”
Sam: “I’m tremendously flattered, Mark, but honestly I’m not in love with you.”
Peter has always struck me as being a classy, refined gentleman whose boyish good looks made him very approachable. This undoubtedly has to do with his many roles in romantic comedies, in which he played characters who were kind natured and dependable. On-screen, he was very desirable though, at the same time, had qualities one would want in a best friend rather than a lover. I cannot help to mentally replay the scene between him and June Allyson in Little Women (1949) when Laurie tries to propose to Jo, only to be gently refused on grounds that her love for him was solely platonic. When I first watched the film, I so desperately wanted to jump into the film and change Jo’s mind for her! How could she turn down such a generous profession of love? Then it dawned on me that Jo was right to be truthful in accepting him as a life-long friend rather than ruin their bond with an ill-suited marriage. While it is sometimes hard for me to get warmed up to the idea of Peter being a romantic lead because that “fire” is just not there. Luckily this does not deter me in the least from appreciating him as an actor.
Now, about Just This Once… On paper, Mark MacLene is written as an irresponsible, filthy rich playboy who just lives his life from day to day. What we see in the film is a slightly watered-down representation of this lifestyle, especially in regards to Mark being a womaniser. In the very beginning of the picture, Mark drops off a busty platinum blonde at her place and subsequently tries to get invited for a nightcap. That is the first time and last time she is ever seen. When Mark jettisons off to Europe, he eventually ends up in Hawaii with a lovely brunette but again, that brief moment of screen time is all the lady gets. While it is true that Mark is a flirt, the idea of settling down and having a family seems to be something he rather looks forward to. If anything, he has more reservations about actually doing any sort of physical labour! Such a personage reminds me very much of millionaire drunk playboy Arthur Bach, hold the alcoholism and money troubles unless you go directly to the sequel. 🙂
Peter certainly had his hands full with beautiful leading ladies. Along with June and Janet, he also romanced Esther Williams (pictured in On an Island with You) and Jane Greer (pictured in You For Me, also directed by Don Weis).
The role of Mark was a fitting one for Peter and you could tell that he had fun playing the character. He was very playful in certain scenes but never to the point of being ridiculous or belittling the story. In fact, I made mention in my notes of how amused I was that Peter could keep a straight face delivering – and receiving – such sarcastic dialogue. As for Peter and Janet, their chemistry was delightful! They had previously starred together in Little Women (with Janet playing Jo’s sister Meg) and as love interests in The Red Danube (1949), both for MGM. Much like her on- and off-screen relationship with co-star Van Johnson, it was clear that Janet and Peter were a great team.
A high note for this film is indeed its cast. Veteran MGM player Lewis Stone adds balance to the youthful duo of Lawford and Leigh, especially since he is felt as the father figure of the picture. Lewis made his mark at MGM playing Judge James Hardy in the Andy Hardy series so it should be no shock to anyone to see him with his gavel once more. This time, however, he gets to serve up more humour and be more laid back. Sadly, Lewis would pass away the very next year so this would end up being one of his last roles. Janet and Peter would ironically leave MGM between 1953 and 1954, effectively closing a chapter in the studio’s history books. Just This Once is amongst Lewis’s last hurrah efforts while Janet and Peter’s careers would prosper for the next fifteen years and beyond.
Above: Lucy’s office seems to attract marriage proposals! Tom wants to move ahead their wedding plans while Mark tries to make his own move. I don’t talk much about Tom because there is not much to say. His character kind of pops-in out of nowhere and leaves in the same manner.
Below: I love seeing people eat at Automat Cafeterias in classic films. The food looks so good and the prices are unbeatable, even for back then.
Just This Once is a very cute film and in my opinion it is more than your run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. Then again, I happen to have a soft spot for this genre; in particular from the Golden Age of Hollywood. It has all the right ingredients to make you smile, laugh, and even reflect on some poignant personal/social issues. Having been used to seeing Peter Lawford in supporting roles, I am absolutely ready to take the plunge and start embracing him more as a leading man.