What a strange – and enjoyable – movie Once Upon a Honeymoon is! Directed by Leo McCary from a screenplay by Sheridan Gibney, and set – but not filmed – in mainland Europe during the Second World War, it features Ginger Rogers as a gold-digging ex-burlesque dancer engaged to an Austrian baron she only belated realises is working surreptitiously for the Nazi cause, and Cary Grant as an eager news reporter keen to unveil the truth and rescue Ginger from his clutches. Released in 1942, the year after the United States entered the war, it manages both to make fun of the Nazis, at the same time – through the use of a good deal of actual footage – as highlighting their relentless and, so far, victorious march through country after country and the devastation left in their wake.
Grant and Rogers have a high old time in the first half of the movie, playing up their burgeoning mutual attraction in best screwball comedy fashion – there’s a wonderful scene in which Grant, pretending to be the fitter who has come to measure Rogers for her honeymoon outfit, minces into the room and proceeds to manoeuvre his tape measure around Rogers silk pyjama clad body, innuendo piling upon innuendo. Then, as the story develops, the mood changes, becomes darker, blacker – the pair of them are nearly killed in an air raid, sympathetic characters are brutally murdered, and the plight of the Jewish people under Nazi rule is strongly emphasised.
Not surprisingly, there’s an uncertainty of tone as the film moves towards its conclusion, but never enough to detract from the pleasure that it brings – nor, in retrospect, to diminish the strength of the message implanted within such delightfully comic material.