William Holden plays Bill, an enlisted bomber pilot who turns up on the titular Ruth’s doorstep, believing she’s his pen-pal sweetheart, unaware her tween kid sister has written all the letters using Ruth’s name and picture.
Said kid sister, played by Mona Freeman, makes the first act a struggle. She belittles her parents and older sister, thinks only of herself, and rationalizes repeated deceptions. It’s meant to seem precocious, but plays as self-righteous, bordering on pathological.
Things improve once Holden arrives. He struggles early, forced to play a smooch-happy beau too dense to recognize the red flags around Ruth not remembering her letters, and her family talking around direct questions. But he charms once his character discovers the truth and transcends caricature.
As Ruth, Joan Caulfield underplays her part. We don’t get tearful histrionics. She’s a judge’s daughter. In an early scene, she explains in a calm, practical voice how a fight with her boyfriend, Albert, began when he objected to, “My use of tobacco.” Billy De Wolfe plays Albert, sporting a toothy grin and thin moustache that reminded me of John Waters.
The bulk of the film comprises Ruth and family continuing the charade. They decide that, given Bill has only a few days of leave, it’s best to let him believe the lie. These semi-screwball antics grow repetitive. Bill has flowers, stuffed animals, candy popcorn, and even a phonograph recording of him singing his loved delivered to Ruth’s house. Albert plays along with growing reluctance, as Bill continues to grab Ruth by the shoulders and plant long kisses on her lips at every opportunity.
It’s Edward Arnold as Ruth’s judge father who steals the show. His struggle to remain impartial—despite his growing fondness for Bill—charms. I chuckled during a big luncheon joined by Bill’s sister and roommate. The pair were engaged but fell out over a misunderstanding. As the pair storm off in a huff, Ruth’s mother rises to intervene, but Arnold stops her, saying, “No meddling, Edie. We haven’t worked out our own problems.” And I laughed aloud later as the antics reached a tipping point with De Wolfe saying he’s had enough and Arnold, as much sensing his wife’s consternation as our exasperation, says, “Don’t struggle dear, just drift.”
Sound advice for watching this film.