In 1947, writer/director George Seaton teamed up with the delightful character actor Edmund Gwenn to shoot an indelible Christmas classic, Miracle on 34th Street. The film resulted in Academy Awards for both men, with Seaton taking home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Gwenn securing the Best Supporting Actor trophy for his portrayal of the “real” Santa Claus. In the wake of that film’s massive critical and commercial success, Seaton and Gwenn worked together again a year later on Apartment for Peggy, a charming, heartfelt comedy/drama costarring William Holden and a luminous Jeanne Crain.
College philosophy professor Henry Barnes (Gwenn) has made a decision: having seen “everything of beauty and grandeur the world has to offer,” and having lost both his wife and his son in recent years, he believes it is his time to die, and determines to take his own life, despite the dismay of his friends and coworkers. One day, he meets Peggy Taylor (Crain), the nineteen-year-old expectant bride of an aspiring chemistry teacher, Jason (Holden), who attends college classes thanks to the G.I. Bill. The Taylors are living in a cramped trailer on campus and vainly searching for an apartment, as the college suffers from a housing shortage. Henry soon finds himself saddled with two unexpected tenants, as the Taylors move into his attic and renovate the space into an apartment for themselves. Henry’s determination to commit suicide begins to fade as he interacts with the young couple and learns to appreciate the life he has left. But when a personal tragedy strikes the Taylors, all three must deal with shaken faith and uncertainty in the aftermath.
Apartment for Peggy is somewhat reminiscent of the 1943 wartime comedy The More the Merrier, in which a young woman (Jean Arthur) finds herself sharing quarters with a handsome soldier (Joel McCrea) and an older gentleman (Charles Coburn, in an Oscar-winning performance) intent on playing matchmaker. Both films play with the notion of a housing shortage making strange bedfellows, though Merrier takes a decidedly more lighthearted approach to the idea than does Peggy. Still, it is a credit to Seaton and to his talented cast that the potentially more maudlin elements of the script do not weigh the film down overmuch; by and large, the darker themes are not milked for melodramatic effect but are instead approached rather thoughtfully, and the film thankfully does not wallow in its ability to wring tears from its audience.
Seaton could not have been gifted with a better lead trio than he was given here. The highlight of the film is undoubtedly Crain’s portrayal of the talkative, whimsical Peggy. Whether spouting off spontaneous (and false) statistics to make her point or delivering her dialogue in a mile-a-minute patter, Crain is nothing short of appealing. Holden, handsome as ever, is equally entertaining, and shows glimmers of the dramatic chops that would emerge full-force two years later in the seminal classic Sunset Blvd. (1950). And completing the trifecta, Gwenn gives a convincing, genuine performance as the suicidal man brought around by the vivaciousness and honest energy of youth.
After many years, Peggy has finally been released to DVD through Fox Cinema Archives’ manufacture-on-demand series. Though the Fox MOD editions tend to be the barest of bare-bones presentations, with nary a special feature to be found, in my experience, the prints generally have been crisp, clean, and serviceable despite not having been restored or remastered in any form or fashion. Unfortunately, however, that is not the case with Peggy. Almost from the start of the film, the picture is jerky and marked by multiple scratches, dings, and lines across the screen. The colors are muddled and lacking the expected vibrancy that should come with its Technicolor pedigree. The movie is presented in a full-screen, somewhat compressed format, and must be watched that way, for expanding it to 16:9 stretches the image to an uncomfortable extent. The DVD is watchable, but only just, and it’s a shame that the faults in the print distract from the onscreen action so frequently.
While Apartment for Peggy is a truly sweet film boasting a remarkable cast and an interesting plot, I must admit this MOD release is ultimately not worth the investment due to the poor quality of the transfer. Here’s hoping Fox sees it worthwhile to restore this film to its original Technicolor splendor at some point in the near future, and gives Peggy the proper DVD treatment it deserves.