There is no such thing as a perfect woman. Or is there? In Peter Godfrey’s 1949 film, “The Girl from Jones Beach,” Robert “Bob” Randolph aims to find out and thereby solve the world’s greatest mystery: womanhood.
Ronald Reagan plays Bob Randolph, an artist who paints glamor girls for a magazine. To be precise, Bob paints one girl in particular, known as “the Randolph Girl.” Nobody knows who she really is, and the public is itching to find out. Enter Chuck Donovan (Eddie Bracken), a highly unsuccessful talent agent given the job of uncovering her real identity.
Chuck goes straight to the artist himself, but Bob is brusque and not willing to give up the secret. But Chuck is desperate and relentless until Bob finally reveals that there is no actual “Randolph Girl.” She is a figment of Bob’s imagination, an artistic composite of 12 different models. Bob takes, um, an attribute from each one, and creates the “perfect woman.”
Despondent and convinced that his failing career will now come to an end, Chuck resolves to commit suicide. Chuck has been threatening to commit suicide for quite some time, however, and his girlfriend, Connie, has had enough of his threats. So no one is inclined to take him seriously. Still, Chuck rents a boat at Jones Beach and is ready to jump in and drown himself when—lo and behold!—he spots a woman sunbathing on the beach who looks exactly like “the Randolph Girl.” Naturally, Chuck contacts Bob and the two men begin the search.
Chuck finds out that her name is Ruth Wilson (Virginia Mayo) and that she is a teacher. He convinces Bob to get close to her in order to use her for the big reveal of “the Randolph Girl.” It turns out that Ruth not only teaches children but also adults in the night school: immigrants learning English and American history. The romantic comedy commences when Bob pretends to be a Czech immigrant, Robert Benerik, and attends night school classes.
Reagan is at his funniest. He adopts an accent that Ruth constantly questions. “You look more Irish than Czech,” she tells him, but Bob said that before the family came to America, they made a stop in Ireland. He constantly mixes “w” and “v,” a hallmark of any English-speaking Slav, yet he quotes Shakespeare perfectly. He dresses impeccably, and Ruth doesn’t seem to understand how someone “fresh off boat” dresses so well. “Me vin suit on rrrradio prrrrogram,” says Bob.
Things get a little more complicated when Ruth announces that there is a fellow countryman of Bob’s in class with whom Bob can get acquainted. The man begins to speak in Czech, asking Bob whether he is from Prague or somewhere else, and mentions how America is a real democracy, but Bob freezes. Obviously, he can’t speak Czech, and in order to get out of this jam, Bob nervously but assuredly says, “No, my friend, my countryman! Ve in Amerika now, ve speak only Amerikan!”
Naturally, as the story progresses, Bob and Ruth fall in love with each other, all while Bob is trying to maintain the charade of being an immigrant. Although she is beautiful, Ruth only wants to be loved for her mind. Bob accepts this, but as they spend more time together, Ruth realizes it wouldn’t be such a bad idea if Bob made even a small comment about her looks. Even an intellectual woman wants to be wanted!
Like most romantic comedies of that period, “The Girl on Jones Beach” follows a fairly standard script, which always ends in a blossoming romance and a wedding. It’s the cast that makes the film unique and that is true in this case as well. Reagan and Mayo have wonderful chemistry on the screen (in real life, she and her husband were very good friends of Reagan’s). Mayo oscillates beautifully between a prudish school teacher and a gorgeous woman aware of her looks.
As in his other comedies, Reagan brings his own brand of lightheartedness and humor. At the same time, we see an attribute that remains a constant for Reagan in most of his films, namely that of a man who is resolute and doesn’t have time for nonsense, which includes things like false propriety. His visible frustrations on the screen are always paired up with a need to find a solution to the problem, and this characteristic is foundational to Reagan the actor, and the man. He knows when certain things in life are not subject to negotiation.
Time and time again, Reagan has proven his acting ability, yet this ability (not to mention the variety in his performances) has either gone unrecognized or is diminished, and often denigrated. For whatever reason, conservatives have accepted the preposterous falsehood that Reagan was just a B-movie actor (they woefully misunderstand what a B-movie is), and leftists go out of their way either to ignore his acting career or to try and demolish it.
In his book, Reagan: The Hollywood Years, Marc Eliot continuously attacks and diminishes Reagan. The book is full of falsehoods, is badly researched, and, above all, does not even attempt to understand Ronald Reagan as he understood himself. In regards to “The Girl from Jones Beach,” Eliot writes that it was “an intensely unfunny comedy” in which Reagan was “woefully miscast,” and that “it was a thoroughly dopey movie, redeemed only by the suggestive near-nakedness of Mayo . . . ” This is an example of not only how to put down Reagan but also a sneering smear of Virginia Mayo (who also, as it happens, was politically conservative).
The film, in fact, is quite funny (in a similar vein to Peter Godfrey’s 1945 “Christmas in Connecticut” with Barbara Stanwyck), and the cast moves smoothly throughout the entire story. It also was a box office hit, which could be another reason why our contemporary critics and writers hate it. They hate everything the public likes. Perhaps the film needed to end in suicide? Or even better: Ruth should have been a teacher who hates America and criticizes it to the newly arrived immigrants! That would certainly “redeem” the film in the eyes of the academic ideologues.
Luckily, and to my everlasting gratitude, we have at our disposal the vast richness of great American classic movies, and we can enjoy them without any of the buzzing of ideological flies. “The Girl from Jones Beach” is not only a light comedy but also a serious exploration of gender roles and how men and women view each other. What is it that makes the erotic dance between men and women continuously move? Ronald Reagan and Virginia Mayo prove to be an excellent pair in this lighthearted battle of the sexes. They show that it’s not just about the looks or the mind but about both sides coming together, drawing a complete picture.