'That Uncertain Feeling' in Classic Cool Context

This Saturday at 9:00 p.m., KCET brings you the 1941 film "That Uncertain Feeling," an Ernst Lubitsch comedy starring Merle Oberon as the bored housewife of a distracted insurance salesman who seeks divorce after spending time with a neurotic pianist. It's the latest entry in KCET's "Classic, Cool Theater" series, which aims to give you not only a great film but also a vintage cartoon, two newsreels and an of-the-era musical number. All those extras add up to what makes "Classic, Cool Theater" so special: context. In the spirit of this unique package, we're offering you a peek at the America -- and the Los Angeles -- that received the original "That Uncertain Feeling" back on Apr. 20, 1941.

Love and fidelity are oft-explored topics in the more than 40 films of German émigré director Ernst Lubitsch, and his "That Uncertain Feeling" is no exception. He'd taken on love-triangles and jealousy before -- notably in 1932's "Trouble in Paradise" and dissected workplace romance with 1940's "The Shop Around the Corner." Here, he tackles a woman's misgivings within a comfortable marriage with the signature wit, sophistication and style that became known as "the Lubitsch touch." Scholars, critics and fans have used that phrase for years to describe the director's comedic skill but have struggled to define the "touch."

Watch this video to see how fellow European-born American filmmaker Billy Wilder described Lubitsch's distinct approach to filmmaking.

While "That Uncertain Feeling" is not among Lubitsch's most celebrated films (critics at the time found it less substantive than many of his previous works), it bears his distinct mark and provides a clever commentary on marriage in 1941. Check out these trailers and clips from other great Lubitsch films--and get a feel for "the Lubitsch touch."

"To Be or Not To Be" (1942): A Nazi satire released at the height of Nazi German expansion.

"Ninotchka" (1939): Greta Garbo's first comedy, a humorous look at the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin.

"The Shop Around The Corner" (1940): Jimmy Stewart stars in this influential rom-com that was the basis for 1998's "You've Got Mail."

Before Audrey Hepburn, there was Merle Oberon, who stars in "That Uncertain Feeling" as the fickle Jill Baker. She began her career in Britain in the 1930s, earned an Academy Award for her role in 1935's "The Dark Angel," and was a big star by the time she was cast in "That Uncertain Feeling." Oberon's face had been severely scarred for life in a car accident a few years before the film was shot. It took the work of skilled lighting technicians to hide the actress's scars for the rest of her career. Her second of four husbands, cinematographer Lucien Ballard, even developed a special camera light to conceal the scars that makeup couldn't. (It would become known as the "Obie.") Because of her injuries, close-ups of Oberon were avoided in the film.

The lighting seems to work. Here's a photo of Oberon and the film's leading men. Not a scar in sight.

Meredith, who stars here as the pessimistic pianist who captures Jill Baker's attention after the two meet in a psychoanalyst's waiting room, boasts a prolific six-decade career in Hollywood. He's remembered today for a range of roles--including George in 1939's "Of Mice and Men," Rocky Balboa's trainer in the 1970's and 1980's "Rocky" films, and Jack Lemmon's character's father in 1993's "Grumpy Old Men."

Watch the scene below to see Oberon and Douglas as the troubled spouses at the center of the film.

Lubitsch's "That Uncertain Feeling" was likely overshadowed by a number of now-classics released in 1941, including "Citizen Kane," "Sullivan's Travels," "The Maltese Falcon," and "How Green Was My Valley."

"That Uncertain Feeling" is one of few films that dealt with the somewhat-taboo topic of divorce during the Production Code era, thought it isn't a very serious examination. While divorce rates in 1941 were lower than they are now, the cast of Lubitsch's film was no stranger to the subject. Both Oberon and Meredith were married four times.

Take a Closer Look Back

The year 1941 saw a significant development in the entertainment realm: the birth of commercial television. In May of that year, 10 stations were granted commercial TV licenses. Check out this short film introducing American audiences to the TV back in 1941:

One of the first major news events to be reported via was the December 7 report of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Still, there were very few TVs in the U.S. and most people got their news via theater newsreels like this one. After the events of Pearl Harbor and the U.S.'s charge into World War II, there was panic on the streets of Los Angeles about a potential attack. As you can see in the photo below, L.A. was prepared for an enemy attack -- even positioning air raid lights in Perishing Square.

Listening post and air raid lights positioned in Perishing Square, Los Angeles, Calif., 1941. Via Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive

Just three months after Pearl Harbor, those searchlights shone into the night sky as an anti-aircraft artillery barrage went after what was thought to be an enemy attack. Military officials called the event --now known as "The Great Los Angeles Air Raid" or "The Battle of Los Angeles" -- a "false alarm."
Here's what the coverage of the incident looked like in the next day's Los Angeles Times:

Page B of the February 26, 1942, Los Angeles Times, showing the coverage of the so-called Battle of Los Angeles and its aftermath. Via Los Angeles Times. Public domain.

These events were fictionalized in Steven Spielberg's 1979 period comedy "1941." For more Los Angeles headlines from 1941 -- from the North American aviation strike to the invention of a (fake) death ray -- visit Larry Harnisch's Daily Mirror blog.
As 1941 saw the start of U.S. involvement in World War II, it also saw the beginning of Hollywood's important war role. Check out the photos below of Jimmy Stewart's induction into the Army. Stewart was the first major American movie star to join the service in World War II. He initially failed to meet the weight requirements for new recruits, and so he bulked up with the help of an MGM trainer.

Actor Jimmy Stewart induction in United States Army; standing at Westwood train depot with man holding sign "good-by little fellows", 1941. Via Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive.
Actor Jimmy Stewart's induction in United States Army; Stewart talking to fellow Army inductees on Red Car train, 1941. Via Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive.

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