The Whitleys are a happily married couple. At least that’s what famed astronomer William Whitley (William Powell) thinks. His wife, Vicky (Hedy Lamarr), has grown increasingly tired of waiting for her husband to put the stars on the back burner, and promoting her to the major focus of his life. She’s become impatient, and at the urging of her excentric neighbor (Spring Byington), she is convinced to look to the stars herself, only instead of a telescope, she uses an astrologer (Fay Bainter). Her astrologer tells her that she is going to meet someone special, and being a foolish, frustrating person to watch, Vicky explains to her husband that their marriage is now over.
William becomes more annoyed than concerned, until of course Vicky meets their air raid warden (James Craig), who just happens to fit the description of Vicky’s mystery man. William must now go on full alert to keep his marriage alive, all the while being consumed by the most important scientific event of his career.
It seems that “The Heavenly Body” (1944) may have been made specifically because of the success of William Powell and Hedy Lamarr’s previous film, “Crossroads” (1942). Between Powell’s appearance in the fourth Thin Man, “The Shadow of the Thin Man” (1941), and the fifth installment, “The Thin Man Goes Home” (1945), his only starring roles were in these two Hedy Lamarr films. World War II, and Myrna Loy’s absence from acting during this time, unfortunately, hurt his career. Screwball comedy is well within his ability, but with the exception of a couple of good scenes and some nicely written dialogue courtesy of Michael Arlen and Walter Reisch, “The Heavenly Body” falls into the category of mediocre.
Hedy Lamarr is a good co-star for Powell, despite their 22 year age difference. In fact her youth and free-spirited attitude adds to the gullibility of her innocent and naive character. She is a good fit for “The Heavenly Body”, and shows her ability to do screwball comedy, paired with one of the best.
The downfall, or perhaps more appropriately, the serious cataclysm of “The Heavenly Body” is that Vicky so blindly listens to her astrologer, and casts aside her obviously loving husband, even though she has never believed in astrology before.
It’s new to her and she is willing to test it out, but to end a marriage on that test seems more than far-fetched or screwball- it seems stupid. As the plot continues, it is easy to get angry with Vicky, especially considering that William wasn’t even a bad husband, and obviously loves her. It’s hard to enjoy a romantic comedy when one of the characters behaves so ridiculously.
The supporting cast is fun to watch. Especially Spring Byington, in a role that is far too small, as well as the group of Russians that come over a “teach” William the best way to drink vodka. Less emphasis on the astrology and more on the crazy situations that William keeps walking into, would have made for a funnier, laugh-out-loud successful formula. It also would have made a better screwball comedy. As hard as it is to find a William Powell comedy with flaws, “The Heavenly Body” is here.