The Big Hangover (1950)


(director/writer: Norman Krasna; cinematographer: George J. Folsey; editor: Fredrick Y. Smith; music: Adolph Deutsch; cast: Van Johnson (David Maldon), Elizabeth Taylor (Mary Belney), Percy Waram (John Belney), Fay Holden (Martha Belney), Leon Ames (Carl Bellcap), Edgar Buchanan (Uncle Fred Mahoney), Gene Lockhart (Charles Parkford), Rosemary DeCamp (Claire Bellcap), Philip Ahn (Dr. Lee); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Norman Krasna; MGM; 1950)

“The cast is so endearing that they do wonders with the silly premise.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Norman Krasna is writer-director of this romantic comedy that doesn’t do as much with its unique premise as it could have by way of screwball comedy but makes up for that with a well-scripted serious narrative touching on postwar social concerns. David Maldon (Van Johnson) is a clean-cut honor law student, graduating first in his class, who went to college on the GI Bill. During the war he was treated for wounds in a monastery and when hiding from an enemy attack was trapped in a wine cellar filled with brandy for fourteen hours. This resulted in a ‘big hangover,’ called an allergic reaction to booze by the army shrinks, and it comes on whenever he’s in contact with alcohol. When David is taken on by a conservative law firm, Belney, Evans and Hughes, he drinks a toast to the boss on his birthday and gets tipsy. The boss’s pretty single daughter Mary Belney (Elizabeth Taylor), an amateur psychologist, comes to his rescue and takes him off to a private room to avoid embarrassment. The ambitious David’s problems revolve around trying to mingle with the powers, but finding they socialize over cocktails. Mary’s parents have mixed feelings when David is seen in their daughter’s company, as John (Percy Waram) suspects there’s something wrong with David if his daughter is attracted to him while Martha (Fay Holden) thinks David is a perfect match.

David’s first client is the Chinese Dr. Lee (Philip Ahn), and the young idealistic lawyer gets his first taste of dealing with racial discrimination and legal ethics. The noble young man will wrestle whether or not to stay with such a prestigious but staid law firm or go on his own to help those with their social problems by taking a lesser paid public service lawyer job as lawyer Carl Belney (Leon Ames) advocates. The high-concept narrative also leaves it hanging until the climax if poor boy David and wealthy Mary will be a couple.

Krasna had a hard time finding the balance between telling a serious story and its comedy aspects. There could have have been more laughs, but the cast is so endearing that they do wonders with the silly premise and the story unpredictably turns on David’s real problem–his best friend died in his arms during the war and what pulls at him is if his fight to bring freedom to the world shouldn’t stop at the battlefield but should continue in civilian life for those who now need a competent public defender and not another wealthy corporation lawyer.