The Heavenly Body (1943)

Article #1529 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-22-2005
Posting Date: 10-19-2005
Directed by Alexander Hall
Featuring William Powell, Hedy Lamarr, James Craig

An astronomer caught up in his discovery of a new comet neglects his wife, who turns to astrology. She becomes convinced that she is going to meet the man of her dreams, and decides to break up their marriage.

It’s not necessarily the nature of the fantastic content that makes a movie belong in marginalia; it’s the way that the movie handles the content. The fantastic content here is the discovery of the comet that will collide with the moon. Though the special effects employed for this happening are quite entertaining, ultimately it is only used to serve as a counterpoint to a critical moment where the astronomer believes his wife is engaging in adultery. As a consequence, I consider this movie only marginally fantastic.

It’s also one of those movies that makes me wonder just how far afield I care to go in exploring marginalia. At heart, I really don’t care for romantic comedies, and despite the fact that this one has a decent reputation, I think it’s fairly weak. I do like William Powell, but I think he’s floundering with a weak script here. Despite the fact that I find it a bit clever that the movie deals with both astronomy and astrology and involves predictions from both of these sources, I don’t think the movie ever effectively builds its comic moments around this. Too much of the high comedy seems forced; in particular, a sequence in which the astronomer tries to fake an illness and it results in his house being invaded by a gaggle of partying immigrant Russians comes off as so badly contrived that I didn’t enjoy it in the least. The only gag I really liked in the movie is that the wife is constantly hiring new maids. Still, the cast is interesting; besides the names listed above, it also includes Spring Byington, Fay Bainter and Morris Ankrum.

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