Friday, December 12, 2008

Going home with Bonnie Jean

At the risk of courting possible flippancy, another movie great has checked out of the Hotel Corporeal and off to receive their greater reward. Van Johnson—the popular MGM star whose films included A Guy Named Joe (1943) and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)—has died at the age of 92.

Ninety-two is a ripe old age for a man who was once known as “The Boy Next Door” at Metro during the 1940s, becoming one of the studio’s top box-office draws. He had a certain something that made bobbysoxers swoon, and he was frequently cast alongside actresses like June Allyson and Esther Williams.

This is a particularly difficult obituary for me to write because I stated some time back that Van Johnson was one of the few movie stars whose appeal I just couldn’t understand. However, I was rather fond of his performance in the 1954 musical Brigadoon as the cynically sour pal of Gene Kelly’s…and now that I think about it, I think I appreciated Johnson more when he wallowed in cynicism in films like State of the Union (1948) and Go for Broke! (1951). (A commenter also pointed out that I left out The Caine Mutiny [1954]—which I do like, and think he was very good in, and shortly afterward I also remembered him turning in a top-notch supporting performance in The Purple Rose of Cairo [1985].)

Despite my feelings, Van Johnson was a talented performer who gave 100 percent in every part he undertook, and the world will be a little worse off since he’s left us. In fact, when I learned about his passing, I suddenly had an uncontrollable urge to listen to his appearance on a March 20, 1949 broadcast of The Jack Benny Program—the one where he and Jack double-date with Mabel and Gertrude—but a search on SeeqPod turned up nothing.

R.I.P., Van. You will be missed.


Erica said...

Friend...theer are few things that make me sadder and more pensive than learning of the death of an old MGM alum. Van Johnson was one in a mil. He was also in "In the Good Old Summertime," which I liked, kind of a musical version of Jimmy Stewart's "The Shop Around the Corner."

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I liked Summertime, too--but I think it had more to do with the presence of a certain stone-faced comedian. :-)

Scott C. said...

I thought Johnson was a so-so actor, but a decent movie star presence, and generally wouldn't object when he showed up in a film. But I also most enjoyed him when he played against his Boy Next Door looks and image. One of my favorites is Battleground, a post-war war movie full of griping, misery, frostbite, boredom, and fear, and probably the best film treatment of Battle of the Bulge (because of, not despite, it's worm's eye perspective), written by a guy who was there. I haven't seen it in years, but I think I'll dig it up tonight in honor of VJ.