The Reformer and the Redhead

The Reformer and the Redhead, a 1950 screwball romantic/political comedy, was the first film to team June Allyson and Dick Powell after their 1945 marriage (they had met while filming 1944’s Meet the People). M-G-M had originally intended Lana Turner and Robert Taylor as the leads, until Tuner opted to make A Life of Her Own instead. The creative team of Norman Panama and Melvin Frank not only produced the film and wrote the screenplay (based on a magazine story by Robert Carson) but took the unusual step of collaborating to direct the film—they flipped a coin to decide which one of them would talk to the actors. Panama and Frank would continue their multifaceted collaboration on a number of subsequent films, including the drama Above and Beyond and the classic Danny Kaye comedy The Court Jester.

Shooting commenced on September 22, 1949, with Allyson starring as Kathy Maguire (the “redhead”), who falls for a shady but ultimately decent political “reformer,” Andrew Hale (Powell). Commodore John Parker (Ray Collins), the corrupt political and financial leader of Oakport, California, infuriates the city’s zookeeper, Dr. Kevin Maguire (Cecil Kellaway), by decorating the zoo with exotic animal trophies from a recent safari. After the zoo’s board of directors fires Maguire for voicing his opposition, his quick-tempered and outspoken daughter Kathy creates a scene by getting into a fistfight with the commodore’s obnoxious niece (Kathleen Freeman). When the police charge Kathy with assault and battery, her reporter friend, Tim Harveigh (Robert Keith), suggests that she seek representation from Hale, an ambitious attorney and mayoral candidate. Unbeknownst to Kathy and Tim, Hale is considering an alliance with Commodore Parker, who plans to make the lawyer into his puppet mayor. Hale decides to take Kathy’s case in the hopes that she and her father will provide him with dirt on Parker, giving him leverage for eventual blackmail. Andrew visits Kathy’s estate, where he has a humorous encounter with Herman, her domesticated lion. The plot thickens when Andrew and Kathy fall in love—Kathy helps organize Andrew’s campaign and the lovers become engaged, but when she finds out that he has blackmailed Parker in exchange for support, she leaves him. Andrew regrets his own underhanded tactics so he reveals the truth about his dealings with Parker to the city during a live radio broadcast and wins Kathy back.

While the plot’s political twists may slow the movie down a bit, the comedic animal set pieces and playful banter between Allyson and Powell make for a light and sweet affair. The film is peppered with fun supporting performances, the standout being Marvin Kaplan as Leon, Hale’s sour law clerk, who delivers his lines with nebbishy perfection. Despite the endearing character work, however, most critics agreed that the film was at its best during Herman the lion’s cartoonish scenes; the feline has a memorable introduction in which he innocently terrorizes Powell, and a mistaken-lion finale provides some much-needed comic suspense and energy after the political plot’s resolution.

Another vital ingredient in establishing the film’s tone is David Raksin’s buoyant score, cited by Variety’s reviewer as “importantly utilized” and “a solid addition.” The composer’s main theme, a romantic tune characterized by its opening triplet figure, imbues Kathy with a purity that makes it clear why Andrew would shed his crooked tendencies for her. In addition to the pervasive love material, Raksin works “Yankee Doodle” into the score as a rallying theme for Hale’s campaign—the tune is sung on screen with new lyrics (in source cues not included on this CD) by a group of orphans who support the candidate. Raksin’s final ingredient is a comical compound theme for Herman and the rest of Kathy’s animals. The melody possesses a coy irony, appropriate for the antics of what is essentially a loveable, overgrown housecat.

Disc 5 of this set concludes with the surviving tracks from The Reformer and the Redhead from ¼″ tapes of what were original 35mm optical masters; no acetates exist for this title. The main and end titles have been taken from the finished film soundtrack (they are otherwise lost), hence a small amount of sound effects (including—appropriate for a film with a lion as a costar—Leo the Lion’s roar).

29. Main Title—Revised (with sound effects)
The opening titles play to a bustling presentation of Raksin’s main theme, the tune setting the stage for zany romance with its racing accompanimental lines for strings, woodwinds and piano.
30. Kathy’s Menagerie
This track consists of three separate cues recorded by Raksin but not used in the finished film. After Kathy Maguire (June Allyson) is charged with assault and battery for publicly attacking the niece (Kathleen Freeman) of Commodore Parker (Ray Collins), who was responsible for firing her zookeeper father, Dr. Maguire (Cecil Kellaway), she meets with opportunistic lawyer Andrew Hale (Dick Powell). They proceed to her ranch, where Andrew is terrified of Kathy’s affectionate pet lion, Herman; as she ushers the beast away, Andrew is left in the backyard, only to discover that he is surrounded by the rest of her unusual pets. Raksin’s mischievous animal theme trades off with exclamatory, threatening material as the lawyer stumbles upon Kathy’s llama, a camel and a fedora-wearing, cigarette-smoking chimpanzee.
Shep, Not Herman
Later, while Dr. Maguire tells Hale about the corrupt Commodore Parker, Shep (Kathy’s Saint Bernard) wanders into the room. Sensing the animal’s presence, Andrew blindly reaches out to pet the dog but suddenly fears that he might actually be petting Herman the lion; the lawyer is relieved when he turns to see Shep. Raksin wrote this warm rendition of the animal theme for the exchange.
Herman, Not Shep
Andrew fails to notice as Shep walks off. A sneer for brass and strings announces Herman the lion’s entrance, the animal theme sounding once again as the beast relaxes at Andrew’s side. The lawyer obliviously pets Herman as he talks to Maguire, until he finally looks over at the appreciative lion and recoils in fear.
31. Kathy Appears
Hale offers to represent Dr. Maguire before the civil service commission once he completes an investigation into Parker’s misdeeds. Just then Kathy enters the room, all cleaned up from her fight with the commodore’s niece and wearing a pretty dress. Warm but tentative woodwinds and strings build to a dreamy rendition of the main theme as Andrew and Kathy flirt and become lost in each other’s eyes. The opening 0:42 of this cue was dialed out of the film.
32. A Little Something Cooking
Kathy drives Andrew home and as they sit parked in front of his apartment, she resolves to see if there is something between them by kissing him. Andrew is dumbstruck by her potent kiss; the main theme melts into impressionistic clarinet and strings as he stumbles out of her jeep. Ticking woodblock and nocturnal glockenspiel close the cue as Arthur Maxwell (David Wayne), Andrew’s associate and roommate, chides him about the kiss.
33. All Nations Montage
Kathy recruits a band of orphans to support Hale’s mayoral campaign. As the candidate makes a series of rally speeches to various ethnic demographics, the score shuttles between enthusiastic quotations of the Mexican Hat Dance, Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville and “Yankee Doodle.”
34. Night Smooch
After Hale blackmails Commodore Parker into endorsing his campaign, Kathy expresses her concern to Andrew. A bittersweet version of the main theme spotlights trombone and violin as she worries that he has made some sort of crooked deal with the commodore; Andrew assures her otherwise and they kiss.
35. Band Montage
A rambunctious arrangement of “Yankee Doodle” underscores a montage of a marching band parading through the streets while campaign posters of Hale are plastered around town. The tune relaxes after a transition to the zoo, where Kathy’s reporter friend, Tim (Robert Keith), is disturbed to see that her father has been reinstated and that the commodore’s offensive animal trophies are being removed: he suspects that Hale has made a deal with Parker.
36. The Letters
Kathy accepts Andrew’s marriage proposal to a lush reading of the main theme, followed by pensive flute and strings as she offers a gift in return: a letter for him, written by her late mother. Before she succumbed to illness several years ago, Mrs. Maguire presented Kathy a series of letters to correspond with pivotal life experiences. Andrew retreats to read his note and the main theme is achingly developed as Kathy reads her own letter, with her mother’s narration (a voiceover by an uncredited Spring Byington) explaining that love must come from honesty and a will to give. The tune takes a moody turn on woodwinds when Tim arrives to explain that Hale is blackmailing Parker into backing his campaign by suppressing criminal evidence. A pure rendition of the theme resumes on oboe for a transition to Andrew reading his letter, with Mrs. Maguire’s narration reinforcing the importance of respect, faith and trust.
37. End Title & Cast
Kathy leaves Andrew after learning of his blackmail scheme, but he redeems himself by confessing the truth about his deal with Parker during a live radio broadcast. Before he is reunited with Kathy, Andrew is detoured when he “rescues” a vicious escaped lion that he presumes to be harmless Herman; Kathy finds him and informs him that the beast sitting in his car is actually not tame at all—Andrew faints. Kathy forgives him for his dirty politics and takes him back to her home. They kiss, the main theme playing romantically through the end title card and cast list. —