Commodore John Balwind Parker (Ray Collins) is a corrupt political boss and famed trophy hunter. After his latest safari hunting trip, he returns to Oakport, California and announces that he and his neice Lily (Kathleen Freeman) will display the heads of their kills at the city zoo.
Dr. Kevin Maguire (Cecil Kellaway), superintendent of the zoo, disapproves of the Commodore’s actions. He is ardently opposed to trophy hunting and has been outspoken about his wish for the mounted heads to be kept out of the zoo.
Since the Commodore holds such a powerful position in the community he, of course, is the victor of the heads-or-no-heads battle. He has Maguire fired from the zoo.
Kevin’s daughter Kathleen (June Allyson) is a hothead who doesn’t take kindly to the Commodore’s hobbies or the firing of her father. She sets out to take down the cruel and corrupt Commodore with the help of her reporter pal Tim (Robert Keith) and attorney/mayoral candidate Andrew Rockton Hale (Dick Powell).
The Reformer and the Readhead was written, produced, and directed by the team of Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, the same men behind Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) and The Court Jester (1955).
In this film, June Allyson shares the screen with real-life husband Dick Powell. They had appeared together once prior to their marriage, in Meet the People (1944). They later co-starred in Right Cross (1950), and Powell produced one of Allyson’s films, 1956’s You Can’t Run Away From It. I’ve seen You Can’t Run Away From It and Right Cross — both of which I found to be just okay. The Reformer and the Redhead is miles better!
There are several reasons this film works better than the others (excepting Meet the People, which I haven’t seen and therefore can’t judge.) First off, it’s a comedy, and actually a pretty funny one at that. Between Powell’s very nervous animal encounters and Allyson’s sass, there are plenty of laughs to be had. The script is great, with lots of memorable and clever dialogue.
Second, it’s a romance, and again, a good one. Right Cross had some romance, too, but it was between Allyson and Ricardo Montalban. Their chemistry wasn’t quite as strong and their relationship wasn’t as much the focus of the film as the Allyson/Powell romance is here. Kathleen and Andy’s relationship is treated as a very important part of both the film and the characters’ lives, and the two stars make a great rom-com duo.
These are all positive aspects of The Reformer and the Redhead, but what I love most about the film is June Allyson’s character of Kathleen. She’s spunky and scrappy, willing to fight for what she believes in — even if that means fighting with her fists! The “feisty redhead” may seem like a tired stereotype but it doesn’t come off that way in this film. The viewer immediately respects Kathleen for outspokenly standing up for her convictions.
She’s also very forward in her feelings toward Andy, which makes the romantic scenes very humorous and charming to watch. There’s one particularly funny scene in a car, where Kathleen lectures Andy on what should be done when there seems to be “a little something there” between two people. The scene embodies the film’s effective blend of comedy and romance.
To top of the laughs, the cuteness, and those wonderful performances, I must also award the film several cute animal bonuses — not only a puppy, but adorable baby goats named Abbott and Costello!
The Reformer and the Redhead is a mid-century romantic comedy that definitely deserves more attention and love than it gets. Notable for the involvement of a pair of married stars, it’s worth watching even for classic film fans who don’t consider Powell and Allyson favorites. A sweet, light, fun watch. The score: 4/5