The Backstage Blogathon: SHOW PEOPLE (1928)

This post is part of The Backstage Blogathon hosted by Fritzi of Movies Silently and Janet of Sister Celluloid.  Be sure to check out all the other posts here and here!

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Two new arrivals have come to Hollywood.  They are young Peggy Pepper (Marion Davies) and her father, Colonel Pepper (Dell Henderson), and they have come to make Peggy a star!  They make their way to the casting office in the hopes of landing a big role for Peggy thanks to, or perhaps in spite of, her acting abilities.  But things don’t go as well as they hoped and father and daughter are soon scraping by on soup and saltines in the movie lot cafeteria.  It is here that they meet Billy Boone (William Haines), a fairly successful comedic actor who works turning out slapstick flicks quickly and cheaply.

Billy is a bit brash and takes the southerners by surprise, but soon reveals himself to be a kind and helpful friend to have on the movie lot.  Peggy is initially standoffish but quickly warms up when Billy, who has taken a shine to the movie novice, promises to help her break into movies.  Peggy wants to be a great dramatic actress, so when she shows up the next morning she is ready to bring forth all the emotions needed.  Unfortunately, the only emotion Peggy needs is shock because Billy hasn’t told her that she will be making her big acting debut taking a deluge of seltzer water to the face.  At first, Peggy is horrified and refuses to go on.  But after taking some time to talk to Billy, and remembering that Gloria Swanson got her start in comedy, she decides to take it on the chin and dive into comedy.  Soon she and Billy are quite the successful comedy duo and romance is blooming offscreen as well.  But soon the big studios come sniffing around and they want Peggy…only Peggy.  Billy encourages her to take a chance on her career and follow her dream.  Somewhat reluctantly, Peggy takes her leave from comedy and heads off to the big leagues of drama.  Before too long Peggy has gained a giant ego, an insufferable attitude, and a new leading man.

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Marion Davies used her life as inspiration for SHOW PEOPLE.  In real like Marion Davies was a dramatic actress who longed to be in comedy.  In addition to her own life, Marion Davies also borrowed from the early career of Gloria Swanson and the book/play/film MERTON OF THE MOVIES.  Peggy is portrayed as somewhat of a simple country girl, a bit prissy, who dreams of making a big impact in the world of drama before being helped by a worldly comedic stunt actor a la Merton.  Peggy also starts off in the world of slapstick before moving on the period dramas with extravagant costumes and sets a la Gloria Swanson.  For her part, Marion Davies made SHOW PEOPLE in spite of the objections of William Randolph Hearst.  Hearst and Davies were in a long-term relationship during which Hearst used his considerable influence to control the direction of Davies’ career.  There are rumors that her frequent appearance in historical costume dramas came about because Hearst liked to see his lover in fancy ballgowns.  Whether or not this is true, Davies wanted to make comedy and specifically this comedy and she didn’t let anything stand in her way.  Hearst felt that slapstick was beneath her and would ruin her reputation but Davies went ahead anyway.  Of note, the seltzer water was supposed to be a pie in the original script but Hearst insisted on the change.

This is my first experience with Marion Davies and now I am eager to see more.  I am used to silent comedies being more physically based, but this is one of the most witty comedies that I have seen for a long time.  Davies makes some fantastic facial expressions that not only make you laugh just because they are funny, but also because there are subtle ribs at other stars of the silent eras.  If you are an avid silent film fan or historian of the silent era there are easter eggs galore for you to find.  But more than that, I was surprised to see what a fabulous actress Marion Davies is as a whole.  She not only is a skilled and witty comedienne, capable of physical comedy as well as verbal gags, but she is also able to convey emotions with an honesty and realism that was amazing to watch.  The fact that she stood up to the man she loved and did what she wanted to make her career what she desired it to be only makes her more fantastic.

William Haines was a big surprise to me.  I wasn’t sure what to think of him at first, as he started with his Sennet-esque impression.  He was funny to be sure but Marion was funnier, at least to me.  But when the quiet moments came, the loving moments between Billy and Peggy, the moments when real emotion was needed, William Haines truly shined.  Billy looks at Peggy with true adoration and genuine affection which William Haines does to perfection.  His over the top comedy and his brash attitude at the beginning melt away to reveal this kind and thoughtful man underneath.  It is because of his emotional honesty combined with Marion Davies’ that SHOW PEOPLE has impact where is does instead of being “just a comedy”.

SHOW PEOPLE is a great look at the Hollywood of the silent era.  Not only is the story a tribute to the history of the industry, but there are silent stars a-plenty to spot in this film.  Some of those making cameos are Douglas Fairbanks, William S. Hart, Charlie Chaplin, Marion Davies (no, that is not a typo), John Gilbert, Elinor Glyn, Louella Parsons, and Norma Talmadge.  And that isn’t even all of them!  If you know everything or nothing about the silent film industry you can enjoy SHOW PEOPLE.  And you never know, you might just learn something too.  I know I did!


 

Both Marion Davies and William Haines recently had episodes dedicated to them on the You Must Remember This podcast.  Marion’s episode is here and William’s is here.  Highly recommended listening to anyone who wants to know more about these talented performers.

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Twelve Classics for 2016: THE LADY EVE (1941)

To start of my year of Twelve Classics, I decided to begin with a little Preston Sturges.  Because come one, what is better than Preston Sturges when you are feeling a bit down and stressed after the holidays?  Answer…nothing.

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Deep in the South American jungle the heir to the Pike’s Pale Ale empire, one Charles Poncefort Pike (Henry Fonda), is getting ready to set sail back to America with his valet/bodyguard/banker Muggsy and his new pet snake.  Charles, it seems, is a bit of a snake fanatic.  This fact does not deter any of the young ladies about the cruise ship he boards, in fact most of them are doing pretty much anything in their power to get his attention.  One woman who is trying not to catch Charles’ eye, at least not yet, is Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck).  Jean and her father “Colonel” Harrington (Charles Coburn) are con-artists and cardsharps, and they have just found their next meal ticket in one Charles Poncefort Pike.

Jean takes her time observing Charles and the shameless flirting of the other women onboard before she finally makes her move.  Specifically, she trips him.  Then she blames him for breaking her shoe.  Charles is extremely sorry as one might imagine and Jean suggests that he make it up to her by escorting her up to her cabin to pick out a new pair of shoes.  Upstairs, Charles is unprepared for the advances of Jean and is soon putty in her hands.  Returning to the dining room, Charles and Jean join the Colonel in a friendly game of cards.  Despite Muggsy’s watchful eye, Charles has no suspicion that Jean and her father are anything but wonderful people.  In fact he wins $600!  The evening ends with Charles and Jean promising to see each other the next day, and he and the Colonel promising to play cards again soon.

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Over the course of the next several days Jean and Charles spend a great deal of time together.  Naturally, Charles falls in love with Jean but something strange begins to happen as well.  Jean falls in love with Charles.  More than that she tells her father that she has decided that she is going to marry Charles, legitimately with no cons or tricks, and that she will eventually tell him the truth about her past.  While she and Charles are onboard she promises not to reveal anything out of respect to her father but she does warn him not to try any tricks or cons on Charles.  Her father promises but privately decides to continue to con as planned.

That evening, Charles asks the Colonel for his permission to marry his daughter which the Colonel grants.  Jean goes to get some air and Charles agrees to a friendly game of cards with his future father-in-law.  By the time that Jean comes back to the table Charles has lost $32,000!  Jean is furious but the Colonel rips up the check in front of her.  She and Charles excuse themselves and soon retire to their separate cabins.  Meanwhile, Muggsy has been doing some investigating of his own and has found proof of just who Jean and her father really are, proof he shares with Charles.  The next morning Charles confronts Jean and she admits everything.  In his anger, Charles pretends that he knew the truth all along and was just stringing Jean along for a joke.  Hurt, Jean leaves and vows to return to her conning ways and never think of Charles again.  She begins to feel better when he father shows her a check for $32,000 which actually was never ripped up at all.

Some time later, Jean and her family are having a day at the races when they run into a fellow con-artist named Pearly (Eric Blorre).  Pearly is currently known as Sir Alfred McGlennan Keith and has set up quite a comfortable life for himself among the rich of Bridgefield, Connecticut.  Jean perks up at the mention of Bridgefield because that is the hometown of Charles Poncefort Pike.  Despite her father’s protests she devises to visit Sir Alfred McGlennan Keith as his niece…Lady Eve Sidwich of England.

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Do I even need to say that this is a great movie?  First of all Preston Sturges created this screenplay specifically for Barbara Stanwyck and it shows.  Jean Harrington is such a dynamic, intelligent, funny, sexy, and all around amazing woman.  She is a con-artist for sure but you never find her so devious that she is unlikeable.  Even when she is masquerading as the Lady Eve and making Charles’ life miserable, there is still a quality to her that makes you just think she is fantastic.  I honestly don’t think that anyone else could have played Jean except Barbara Stanwyck, even if the part wasn’t written specifically for her.  She can just give one look with her eyes and convey an entire scene.  She more than holds her own in every scene she is in, against the likes of Coburn, Blorre, and Palatte, as well as Demarest and Fonda.  This is not to sat that she steals the scenes from her fellow performers, rather she allows them shine while never letting the audience forget that she is still there.  Barbara Stanwyck is my favorite classic film actress and THE LADY EVE gives her room to play.

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Henry Fonda is terrific as the bumbling, naive, unworldly Charles.  He plays his inexperience as both charming and believable.  Often when there is a character that is supposed to be sheltered and unwise to the world, I find them annoying and overly child-like.  Fonda acts like a man who knows quite a bit about some things but next to nothing about many things.  He is just a quiet man who has lived his life with the knowledge that he will probably not ever get married and have a family, that he will most likely spend his life reading books and collecting snakes.  When he meets Jean its like a whole new world has opened up to him and he is so excited at the possibility.  To find out that all this happiness was based on a lie is devastating to him and for the first, and really only time in the whole movie and perhaps his life, Charles reacts cruelly.  But just like we never dislike Jean for her conning ways, we never dislike Charles for his poor behavior.  We understand why he reacted that way and we hope that he can find a way to return from that.

It speaks to the mastery of Preston Sturges that we can have a film about a con-woman and her criminal family, as well as a rich somewhat childish man and his slightly psychotic and paranoid guarding and still care about and like each and every one of them.  I will also say that the ending when it first began to take shape didn’t make total sense to me.  But as the movie went on and the full culmination became evident, I was certain that there was no other way that this story could have ended.  For a script that was written while Preston Sturges was awaiting his third divorce, THE LADY EVE is a remarkably hopeful story about love and finding ways to accept people for who they are.


This post is part of the 2016 Blindspot Series from The Matinee.  You can see more about it here with my list of films I want to watch in 2016!

 

The Loretta Young Birthday Blogathon: A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1942)

This post is part of The Loretta Young Birthday Blogathon hosted by Cinema Dilettante and myself!  Be sure to scroll down and check out the other great entries!lygbpolaroid

What do you do when your husband only wants to write murder mysteries?  Well if you are Nancy Troy (Loretta Young), you rent a new apartment.  And so it is that Nancy and Jeff (Brian Aherne) arrive at their new home in the basement of an apartment building at 13 Gay Street in Greenwich Village.  Unfortunately, Nancy’s dreams of newly decorated homey bliss will have to wait because Eddie Turner, the building’s owner, informs them that the electricity has not yet been turned on and advises that they come back tomorrow.  Nancy is insistent that they move in that evening, despite the lack of lights and furniture, and she and Jeff are getting their bearings when Nancy spots an old friend.

Anne Carstairs (Jeff Donnell) is climbing the stairs but she is only too happy to stop and talk to Nancy.  Anne tells them that she married now and has an apartment on the second floor of the building, but she becomes unexplainably flustered when Nancy reveals that they have just taken the basement apartment.  Anne hurries off and once inside she, and several other tenants including Mr. Turner, ponder why the Troys would move into the building at all.  It seems that all the tenants share a similar dilemma which has caused them to take up residence.

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Later that evening Jeff and Nancy go to a local restaurant for dinner.  Nancy goes off to make a phone call and Jeff reacquaints himself with restaurant owner and apartment neighbor, Polly Franklin (Lee Patrick).  Polly also becomes flustered when she finds out that Jeff is now living in the basement apartment.  Meanwhile, Nancy overhears a very large man in the next booth making a phone call to someone demanding that they meet him at 13 Gay Street in the basement apartment.  Nancy returns to the table and relates her story to Jeff and Polly, who takes this as a cue to excuse herself.  Jeff decides to take matters into his own hands and confront the would be apartment thief, which results in him earning a punch on the nose.

Back in their apartment, Jeff and Nancy hear the sound of water running.  They soon find that the tub in their bathroom has recently been filled and drained of water.  Setting down the candle they have been using for light, the couple is shocked to find it moving on its own.  Upon closer examination it is found to in fact be a turtle.  Old Hickory is his name and he used to be the mascot of a certain speakeasy that used to be in residence in the basement of 13 Gay Street.  It is at this moment that the movers finally arrive with the couple’s furniture.  After several feats of strength and some male posturing, Nancy and Jeff tuck in for a comfortable night’s sleep in their own beds.  They are awakened by several police officers trooping in and out of their apartment.  The body of a man has been found in their back yard and it is someone that the Troys recognize.  It is the man from the restaurant!  Jeff soon decides that he going to solve the mystery of the murdered man and make into his next bestselling novel…much to Nancy’s dismay.

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A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, not to be confused with the film of the same name about the Titanic, is quite a fun and enjoyable screwball comedy.  I’ve read some reviews that have said that this film isn’t particularly funny or that the ending is lazy, but I have to disagree.  Too often I think when people think screwball comedy they think only of MY MAN GODFREY, BRINGING UP BABY, or THEODORA GOES WILD.  These are the pinnacle of the art form and while A NIGHT TO REMEMBER is not on the level of BRINGING UP BABY, it is still a very good screwball comedy/mystery in its own right.  The story and mystery are a bit different than the usual fare, with the film mixing comedy, suspense, mystery, and a bit of drama quite effectively.

I really enjoyed Brian Aherne in this.  His portrayal of Jeff Troy was a great combination of wit, charm, cool, and foolishness.  When he returns from the police station he is only concerned with being hungry, rather than being traumatized by a police interrogation.  At one point someone screams and when Nancy tells him to go and see what it was Jeff replies, “What do you mean?  I know what it was, someone screamed.”  And then there is the issue of the apartment door.  Aherne gives a non-traditional performance as the “hero”, being neither all knowing nor a bumbling idiot but a nice combination of the two.

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My usual thoughts regarding Loretta Young come from her roles in THE BISHOPS’S WIFE and HEROES FOR SALE.  I tend to think of her as virtuous but serious women.  But I am delighted to say that she is quite a good comedienne and A NIGHT TO REMEMBER gives her ample opportunity to show this.  She has moments of hand wringing and “Oh Jeff!”-ing of course, but there are far more moments of her keeping pace with her husband and throwing off several witty and sarcastic one liners.  She loves Jeff but remains wholly unimpressed when he tries too hard to play the hero detective.  She gets scared sometimes by the strange goings-on in her new home but never lets it get the best of her, often sticking by Jeff during his sketchier investigations.  Loretta Young looks lovely as always, but she shows a bright and witty side of her talents that I hope to see more examples of!

Is A NIGHT TO REMEMBER a great screwball comedy on par with the best of them?  No, but I do think that it comes close.  This screwball comedy mystery is a truly fun and funny movie, and one that I hope more people will take the time to see.  In a genre that can too easily fall into troupes and well-used gags, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER takes a unique and smart approach to adapting The Frightened Stiff by Kelley Roos.  If you want a film that has a little bit of everything, including Sidney Toler and a turtle, then A NIGHT TO REMEMBER is for you!  As a special birthday treat for Loretta Young, I will leave you with a chance to watch it for yourself.

 

The Try It, You’ll Like It! Blogathon: THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942)

This post is part of the Try It, You’ll Like It! Blogathon hosted by Movies Silently and Sister Celluloid.  Be sure to check out the other entries here!

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Let’s be honest.  If you are a classic film fan the chances are good that you have at least one person in your life who is less than excited at the prospect of watching one of your “old movies” with you.  For me that person would have to be my husband.  God love him he tries, he really does, but he just can’t quite muster up the same enthusiasm as I do when I put in a DVD and Barbara Stanwyck comes on screen.  I’ve been trying to convert him, slowly, and I have found some films that he has enjoyed.  Recently, we watched THE PALM BEACH STORY and in my opinion it is a terrific movie to use when introducing non-fans to classic films.

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First, a brief summary of the film.  Tom (Joel McCrea) and Gerry (Claudette Colbert) are a married couple in New York City.  They are also currently in a bit of financial difficulty especially as their landlord is showing new tenants their apartment.  Gerry happens to be home during one such tour and takes refuge in a shower.  She is discovered there by a funny little old man who calls himself “The Weinie King”.  When Gerry explains that the reason the landlord is showing their apartment is because they have no money to pay the rent, the Weinie King gives her a large sum of money for no other reason than to annoy his wife.  And the fact that Gerry happens to be a lovely girl with a nice voice.  Gerry gratefully takes the money and gives the old man a kiss on the cheek.

Tom meanwhile is at the office making a sales pitch.  He is trying to convince a potential investor that his idea for a new kind of airport is an idea worth putting some money behind.  When he gets a very excited phone call from Gerry, who is trying to tell him what happened with the Weinie King, he barely has time to listen.  Gerry agrees to tell him everything that night and then hurries out to put the new money to good use.  When Tom arrives home later he is shocked to find that Gerry has paid all the bills and the rent, as well as bought herself a new dress and now she wants to take him out to dinner and theater with the money left over.  Tom is suspicious of this man who came into the house and gave his wife money and wanted nothing in return.  Gerry is slightly offended by this but not for the reasons you might think.  She has been trying for some time to use all of her talents to help Tom get ahead in the world and every time he becomes jealous and ruins things.  Over dinner that evening Gerry, who has had a bit to drink, tells Tom that she firmly believes that while she still loves him it would be in his best interest if she was to leave him.  She is only holding him back and since he won’t accept her help, leaving is the only way she can ensure that Tom’s career will be successful.  Tom dismisses this notion as foolish but even after they return to their apartment, Gerry is insistent that she is leaving him.  But some caring and helpful unzipping of a difficult zipper stop this conversation from going any farther.

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Morning comes and while Tom slumbers peacefully, Gerry tearfully writes him a note.  In it she explains that she was perfectly serious last night, that in spite of how much she still loves him she is leaving him so that he will finally be the success he deserves to be.  Unfortunately, Gerry is not super stealthy when leaving the note and Tom wakes up in time to see her leaving.  He gives chase and the two eventually end up at the train station.  Having no money of her own, Gerry must resort to using her feminine wiles and finds success in a traveling group of men who call themselves The Ale and Quail Club.  She waves goodbye to Tom as the train pulls away from the station.  Tom decides to follow Gerry’s train and meet her when she arrives in Florida some time later.  By the time he finds her things have changed.  Gerry is no longer part of The Ale and Quail Club, but she is accompanied by a young man (Rudy Vallee) who happens to be a millionaire and who has bought her an entire wardrobe, and his wife introducing him as Captain McGlue to a very forward woman (Mary Astor) with a boyfriend named Toto.

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THE PALM BEACH STORY is crazy, zany Preston Sturgess goodness.  It is just fun!  And that is what makes it such a great first film for non-classic film lovers.  Comedy is perhaps the easiest genre to take when trying a new kind of film, book, or television show.  Humor is a universal value and something we all can enjoy.  It sets people at ease, perhaps making them feel less pressured to do anything more than enjoy the film they are about to see.  Comedies don’t have to be dissected or discussed, although they can be certainly, they really only need to be enjoyed and it doesn’t get much better than Preston Sturges.

Too often people think of classic films as slow, clunky, and boring.  These are three words that will never be used to describe THE PALM BEACH STORY or Preston Sturges.  With THE PALM BEACH STORY, Sturges is at the top of his game and throws himself and the audience into the zany story with reckless abandon.  The story, the characters, and the jokes come fast and furious and with such enthusiasm that we can’t help but get swept up in it.  Have a friend who says that old movies are dull?  Show him this movie and stand back!  The comedy makes the transition easier, the ability to forget that the film being watched is over sixty years old simpler, and the preconceived notions of classic films seem foolish.  This is an old movie that doesn’t feel like an “old movie” and this is because Sturges has crafted such a clever, funny, and enjoyable comedy that it has become timeless.  In case you are still on the fence about whether or not THE PALM BEACH STORY is a great film to show a novice fan, here are three reasons why you should courtesy of The Criterion Collection.

So back to the night I showed THE PALM BEACH STORY to my husband.  He liked it.  He really liked it.  He laughed.  Out loud.  Several times.  And days later he would look at me and say “Nitz Toto!” and start laughing.  I don’t think you can ask for a better review than that, do you?

 

 

Watching With Warner: NO TIME FOR COMEDY (1940)

Rosalind Russell and James Stewart might not be the first names that come to mind when you think couple in romantic comedy, but surprisingly in NO TIME FOR COMEDY from Warner Archive, they create a dynamic couple with wit and earnest emotion.

In the great theater scene of New York City a new playwright is creating quite a stir.  Hailing from Redfield, Minnesota (which boasts a population of 786, including the livestock), Gaylord Easterbrook (James Stewart) has written a new play full of high society comedy.  Unfortunately for him no one believes that he is the man who came up with drawing room escapades about chocolate mousse, especially since he has never been to New York City before.  His play is being staged but there are issues and re-writes are needed which brings Gaylord to the bright lights of the New York City theater section by way of the Grand Canyon.  Once there he makes the acquaintance of the leading lady in the play, Linda Paige (Rosalind Russell).  Initially mistaking him for an usher, Linda soon takes pity on the less than street savvy Esterbrook and shows him around the city.

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Later that evening Linda, Esterbrook, director Morgan Carrel (Allyn Joslyn), and producer Richard Benson gather for dinner at Benson’s apartment.  While the group eats and discusses the play, Benson’s butler is spending his time reading the script in the kitchen.  Carrel is in a sour mood and takes this opportunity to make fun of Esterbrook, his upbringing, and his play.  Esterbrook doesn’t take this lying down and once Carrel apologizes, sort of, he heads out to the terrace to get some air. Linda follows him as the butler enters the room.  While Linda and Esterbrook are getting to know each other, Benson’s butler gives his boss the sad news that he just doesn’t think that the play will be a hit.  With this new information, Benson decides to stop producing the play all together.  Linda is shocked at this turn of events and devises a way to keep the play going, despite the lack of pay and a producer, and give Esterbrook the opening he has worked so hard for.

The play is a great success and Linda and Esterbrook stay up all night in Central Park waiting for the morning papers.  The reviews are glowing and soon Linda and Esterbrook are sharing some loving words themselves.  Four years pass and Linda and Esterbrook are married.  Esterbrook has written four hit plays in the past four years, each one starring Linda.  Things seem to be going well for the couple until the evening after the opening of his most recent play.  At a party celebrating his latest success, Esterbrook meets Mr. Philo Swift (Charles Ruggles), a successful financier, and his wife Amanda (Genevieve Tobin).  Esterbrook is not in the best of moods, being smack in the middle of a case of writer’s block, and is initially uninterested in the Swifts but Amanda doesn’t take that lying down.

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Amanda is a bit of a pill it seems, something her husband is all too aware of.  Her favorite hobby is creating geniuses and she has decided that Esterbrook is the one most deserving of her time and attention.  While Linda remains loyal and loving towards her husband, Amanda is more fawning when it comes to her attentions.  She tells Esterbrook that he has been wasting his time when it comes to comedy and that he is destined to make his mark in drama.  This is welcome news as the playwright has been feeling a desire to make an impact on the theater going public.  He begins spending more and more time with his muse, and less and less time with the actual Mrs. Esterbrook.  Weeks go by and cracks begin to appear in their relationship.

NO TIME FOR COMEDY began life in 1939 as a play written by S.N. Behrman.  Starring Lawrence Olivier as Gaylord Esterbrook and Katharine Cornell as Linda Paige, the play ran for 179 performances during which time Lawrence Olivier’s wife, Vivien Leigh, was filming GONE WITH THE WIND.  While this film is mainly a romantic comedy, I did enjoy the final message of needing to support the people out there who have the courage, and sometimes stupidity, to stick their necks out and put it all out there.  To get behind the people who risk their hearts and emotions all in the name of an idea is a positive message that isn’t often mentioned in films, let alone romantic comedies from the 1940s.

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This film was full of pleasant surprises for me.  The supporting cast is terrific.  For a start, Charles Ruggles.  I mean.  Seriously.  Also, the character of Clementine played by Louise Beavers is an interesting dichotomy.  The character starts life as an actress in the first play before taking a job as the Esterbrook’s housekeeper/maid.  And while her dialogue does have a few of the stereotypical racial accents that are an unfortunate by-product of older films there are also plenty of intelligent, witty, and non-stereotyped lines of dialogue that she delivers.  She also has a delightful way of never taking Esterbrook, his moods, or his comments seriously at all.  It is an interesting thing to see because the character of Clementine is employed as a housekeeper but is not treated as subservient.

I really enjoyed the character of Morgan Carrell and some of the best lines were his.  In fact this was another pleasant surprise of NO TIME FOR COMEDY.  It is really funny and quite witty!  For example;

“Philo Swift: ‘Gaylord Esterbrook’… seems to me I’ve heard or read that name someplace. What do you do?
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: I write plays.
Philo Swift: Er, yes, I have a hobby, too. What I meant was, what do you do for a living?
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Write plays. Anything wrong?
Philo Swift: No, no; nothing, nothing. You’ll pardon me, but it does seem a little trivial for a grown man.
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Well, perhaps I’ll grow out of it. What do *you* do?
Philo Swift: I’m on Wall Street.
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Where’s that?
Philo Swift: I don’t know, but my chauffeur finds it every morning.
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: After you get there, what do you do?
Philo Swift: Buy and sell stocks and bonds.
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Surely not for a living?
Philo Swift: And not a bad one. When stocks go up, I make a little money. When they go down, I make even more.
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: That all you do?
Philo Swift: Well, yes!
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Well, who knows; maybe you’ll grow out of it, too.
[raises glass]
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Here’s hoping!”

“Clementine, Actress in Show: I saw your last picture, Mr. Carrell.
Morgan Carrell, the Director: Yes?
Clementine, Actress in Show: Oh, yeah.
Morgan Carrell, the Director: What’d ya think?
Clementine, Actress in Show: [sighs] yeah.”

“Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: [after spending the night after the play on a park bench] Hey, you don’t look bad for a girl who’s just getting up in the morning!
Linda Paige Esterbrook: For a man who’s been up all night you look great!
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Don’t get the idea that I’m an authority on girls getting up in the morning.
Linda Paige Esterbrook: Well, I’m not the last word on men staying up all night either.”

This was a film that not only entertained me from beginning to end, but also gave me quite a few laugh out loud moments.

on-the-set-of-no-time-for-comedy2

Man, I love Rosalind Russell.  I first saw her in THE TROUBLE WITH ANGLES and ever since then I have just thought she is terrific.  As I have said before, she has a quality of being up for anything that seems authentic to her which she imbues into her characters.  It is a quality that is unique to her and something that makes her so terrific to watch.  While I agree that she and Jimmy Stewart don’t have the sizzling chemistry of Bogie and Bacall or Powell and Loy, they do have qualities that make them likable and charming.  Russell plays the part of Linda Paige with self assured calm and wit.  She loves her husband but never has a moment where she feels the need to yell or scream at him even when she knows he is spending too much time with another woman.  Rather she maintains an air of love and support, hoping that her continued presence will bring him back.  She is smart and independent without going into headstrong territory.  It is the internal spark that is Rosalind Russell that gives Linda Paige that certain special something that it just a little unique and different than most other romantic comedy actresses.  For his part, Jimmy Stewart seems to be doing Mr. Smith (from MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON) with shades of Mike Connor (from THE PHILADELPHIA STORY).  This is not to say that he is not good in this film however.  He brings his small town charm to the opening scenes as Esterbrook adjusts to big city life.  In the later parts of the film he has the indignation of the everyman intellectual railing against the plight of the world.

NO TIME FOR COMEDY was a pleasant surprise for me.  This was a film I went into blind, having no expectations, and found myself spending a very enjoyable ninety minutes with Rosalind Russell and James Stewart, thanks to the Warner Archive.  If you want to see a romantic comedy with something a little different then you might just want to give this one a watch.

 

The Universal Blogathon: OH, DOCTOR! (1925)

This post is part of the Universal Blogathon hosted by Silver Scenes.  Be sure to check out the other entries here!

Wrapping up my month of silents comes a quirky and thoroughly entertaining comedy from Universal starring Reginald Denny and Mary Astor!

Rufus Billop (Reginald Denny) was born with a thermometer in his mouth and a bottle of medication in his hand.  That is to say that dear old Rufus was a wee bit frail when he was born, so much so that he had to spend some time in an incubator when he was an infant, and though he survived the experience left him a hopeless hypochondriac.  Matters weren’t helped much by the fact that pretty much everyone in his family fed his delusions, all except for his Aunt Beulah (Lucille Ward).  Rufus has now grown up into a man dominated by his neurosis and is stuck living with Aunt Beulah because he has outlived every other member of his family.  For her part, Aunt Beulah is under the impression that all Rufus needs is some red meat and a visit from a twelve foot tall lady osteopath.

Rufus prefers the company of other, more conventional doctors.  He is visited by one such doctor, Doctor Seaver (Clarence Geldart), who realizes at once that Rufus is far healthier than he thinks he is.  Dr. Seaver becomes much more interested when he hears about Rufus’ financial prospects.  Although Rufus has no money of his own at present, he stands to inherit $750,000 as long as he stays alive for the next three years.  While Rufus is certain that he will be dead long before that ever happens, Dr. Seaver convinces him to take out a loan against his inheritance so that he can spend the money to have his final months spent in the comfort that any dying man might wish.  As luck would have it, Dr. Seaver also knows just the fellows who would be willing to take on this deal!

Mr. Clinch, Mr. McIntosh and Mr. Peck (Otis Harlan, William V. Mong and Tom Ricketts) are willing to loan Rufus $100,000 in exchange for the rights to his inheritance.  After an extensive medical examination Rufus is declared an absolutely healthy hypochondriac and therefore a completely risk-free investment.  Rufus is touched that these men are willing to help make him comfortable in what he is sure are his final days.  After receiving the money, Rufus sets about creating an oasis of hypochondriacal desires, complete with his own personal nurse.  When Clinch, McIntosh, and Peck go to visit him they find Rufus apparently at death’s door having been ushered closer to there by his nurse, Death Watch Mary (Martha Mattox).  In a panic that their meal ticket might be punched too early, the three men rush off to Dr. Seaver who prescribes a change of scenery for Rufus.

The change of scenery comes in the form of a new nurse named Dolores (Mary Astor).  Dolores is not only young and pretty, but she also believes in sunshine, fresh air, and not paying Rufus any mind.  Rufus does indeed sit up and take notice of Dolores and decides to take a good hard look at himself.  What he sees is not impressive and Rufus is determined to make himself into a new man.  He will become a man who, to quote his pretty young maid (Helen Lynch), is “not afraid of nothing!”

Rufus’ new life begins with pork chops.  From there it is a short leap to new clothes, a new car, a new driver, and some snappy dance moves.  Of course Rufus begins to take things too far and does things like crashing a motorcycle, driving his car on the wrong side of a racetrack during a race, and begins reading up on deep sea diving, aviation, and steeplejack tricks.  This new found lust for life is shortening the collective lives of Clinch, McIntosh, and Peck.  If Rufus gets himself killed they won’t get their money!  The only person he listens to is Dolores, whom he has taken a particular fancy to, so the three men go off to enlist her help.  Dolores however has caught on to their scheme and has been coming up with one of her own to save Rufus from himself, as well as Clinch, McIntosh, and Peck.

Reginal Denny is one of those actors who I know from sight but not by name.  But I know him like this…

Not like this…

So imagine my surprise when I realized that the man who I knew from MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE was the same man crashing a motorcycle in OH, DOCTOR!  Denny was an Englishman and a WWI veteran of the Royal Flying Corps who made a name for himself in silent film by playing the “All-American” guy in comedy films.  I have to say that I found his brand of humor quite refreshing.  While the comedy stylings of Keaton, Lloyd, and Chaplin can sometimes be a little out there when it comes to gag set ups, OH, DOCTOR! features comedy based on real life situations.  Rufus is goofy and quirky certainly but he is goofy and quirky in the realm of reality.  As a nurse I can’t tell you how many of these moments reminded me of patients, and family members, that I had encountered over the years.  I loved the parts when Dolores is practically, and sometimes literally, rolling her eyes at Rufus.  I could completely sympathize.

I was first introduced to Mary Astor via THE PALM BEACH STORY.  Seeing her run circles around Rudy Vallee, Joel McCrea, and “Toto” made me sit up and take notice of this dynamic woman.  I had no idea that she had a career in silent film prior to watching this film and let me say she is just as “sit up and take notice” as ever, which is even more impressive given the fact that she was only eighteen when this film was made. As an aside, can I ask why teenagers in classic/silent films are always twenty times more sophisticated than I ever was at that age?

Anyway, Dolores is fantastic.  Her moments with Rufus when she is first dealing with his neurosis are hysterical, especially to any healthcare professionals who will know exactly where she is coming from.  Not only that but she is also a genuinely smart person.  Sure she likes Rufus and dresses up in a pretty dress to impress him, but she also very quickly gets a read on his situation and figures out a way to deal with it.  No running off to Rufus for help, no soppy weeping for mercy at the feet of Clinch, McIntosh, and Peck.  Dolores, like Rufus and his comedy, feels very rooted in reality and it makes her an even more enjoyable character as a result.

I was classify OH, DOCTOR! as a charming comedy.  It is different than most silent era comedies but is just as funny.  It also has a wealth of great character actors who are all serving up their A-games.  This was one of those films where I enjoyed the supporting cast just as much as the main characters.  The only sour note in the film would have to be the racially sterotyped intertitles given to the Chinese gardener, Chang (George Kuwa).  While this was typical of the time, although it was rare that an Asian character would be played by an Asian actor, it is still a bit jarring in practice.  Luckily it is only a few instances and not enough to ruin what is otherwise a really fun film that is deserving of a good deal more attention.  Don’t worry, I won’t make any jokes about it being just what the doctor ordered.  Even though it is.


Fritz of Movies Silently is the one who introduced this film to me through her great review which can be found here.

Gems From Grapevine: ELLA CINDERS (1926)

I first heard the name of Colleen Moore during the most recent TCM Film Festival.  All over Twitter and the classic film blogosphere were rave reviews of a film called WHY BE GOOD? and the lead actress, Colleen Moore.  While I do have a copy of WHY BE GOOD?, one which I am sorry to say that I haven’t watched yet, my first exposure to Colleen Moore’s talents has come from another film called ELLA CINDERS.  Why how do you do, Miss Moore?  I’m a big fan.

ELLA CINDERS is a retelling of the age old tale of Cinderella but which a bit more pep.  Ella (Colleen Moore) is the unfortunate stepdaughter of Ma Cinders (Vera Lewis), who has apparently talked two husbands to death.  From the first husband she received two pills in the form of her daughters.  Prissy Pill (Emily Gerdes) is the eldest followed by Lotta Pill (Doris Baker) both daughters of Mr. Pill, Ma Cinder’s first victim.  Ella spends her days running about the house, washing furnaces and dishes, making food, and running a rolling pin up and down Ma Cinder’s back.  The only bright spot in her life is her friendship with the hunky ice man, Waite Lifter (Lloyd Hughes), who is the only one to treat her with any kindness or consideration.

Life seems as if it will continue on much the same until the news comes that a beauty contest is being held.  The winner will receive an all-expenses paid trip to Hollywood to break into movies and become a big star.  Naturally, Lotta and her family believe that she is the natural choice for such a prize.  Ella wants to enter the contest too but her chances of winning seem unlikely as Lotta has a manual on acting to study and she does not.  Luckily, Lotta is a heavy sleeper and Ella has nimble fingers.  Her stolen prize safely in her arms, Ella runs off to her room to do some late night studying.  She spends the next few days working overtime and babysitting the neighbor’s kids in order to get the extra money needed to have her headshots taken by a professional photographer.

The day dawns that Ella is due to have her picture taken.  She arrives in a flurry of excitement all ready to blow the judges away with her practiced posing, but there is one small problem.  There is a fly in the studio and it seems to have taken a shine to Ella.  She tries her best to remain composed and smile like the starlet she hopes to be but to no avail.  The photographer snaps away and then sends Ella on with promises that he will give her photographs to the judges.

A ball is being held to announce the winner of the beauty contest and everyone is going except Ella.  She sadly sits at home until Waite arrives and convinces her that she deserves to go just as much as everyone.  Ella agrees and takes one of her stepsister’s dresses to wear.  At the ball Lotta has lined up with rest of the entrants, or the losers as she thinks of them, and is presenting herself to the judges.  Ella and Waite show up with Ella too nervous to get in line.  Some clever moves by Waite get Ella to the head of the queue and she is soon in front of the judges.  Oddly though the judges all burst into laughter when looking at her photograph.  When she takes a closer look, Ella is horrified to see that the photographer has submitted a picture of her with the fly!  Needless to say it is not a beauty shot.  Ma Cinders and her daughters descend on Ella and the judges, demanding to know just what she thinks she is doing her, and in the chaos Ella runs off leaving her shoe behind.

Will Ella make to Hollywood?  Will Lotta spoil everything?  Does Waite Lifter ever tell Ella how he feels?  Can a simple housefly get his big break?

Based on the comic strip of the same name, which was written by Bill Consulman and drawn by Charles Plumb, Ella Cinders as a character was in the public eye from 1925 until 1961.  The strip and character were so popular that they managed to secure a film adaptation one year after they first appeared making ELLA CINDERS one of the very first film adaptations of a comic.  Directed by Alfred E. Green and produced by Colleen Moore’s then husband John McCormick, ELLA CINDERS is a delightful movie. In fact I would call it stinking adorable. It also happens to be completely funny and irreverent to boot.

One of the things that I enjoyed the most in ELLA CINDERS was how pretty much everyone in the film just goes 100% and hams it up with gleeful abandon.  With the possible exception of Lloyd Hughes, who is very nice to look at but perhaps a wee bit stiffer than his co-stars, everyone jumps in with both feet to characters that are not deep and nuanced but extremely funny and entertaining.  There are some great cameos most notably from Harry Langdon.  I had never seen Harry Langdon before but after this small taste I want to see more!  With a dour expression reminiscent of Buster Keaton (and we all know how I love Buster Keaton), Harry Langdon is hilarious as the very confused comic whose movie set Ella crashes.  He and Colleen Moore riff off each other and the result is one of the funniest scenes in the film.  Also keep an eye out for director Alfred E Green playing…a film director!

Let’s take a minute here and talk Colleen Moore.  Having just seen a Louise Brooks film it seems only fitting to give Colleen Moore some credit for popularizing the bob.  Starting her career in 1917 with THE BAD BOY, Colleen Moore’s career continued to grow and her popularity increase.  She was one of the most fashionable stars of the 1920s and at the height of her career was earning $12,500 a week.  She is also one of the most charming, wittiest, and physically able female comediennes I have seen.  Without Colleen Moore this film would not be as wonderful as it is.  She takes what would usually be a simple Cinderella retelling and turns it into an utterly charming and funny story.  Her portrayal of Ella is funny, timid, resilient, clever, and adorable.  Colleen Moore and Harry Langdon are in the running to be my favorite silent film comedian discoveries this month and ELLA CINDERS is definitely my favorite comedy of October!

I will leave you with some Colleen Moore to enjoy.


Want to read more about ELLA CINDERS?  You can find some more fabulous blog posts here and here!

The Fabulous Films of the 30s Blogathon: THE AWFUL TRUTH (1938)

This post is part of the CMBA Spring Blogathon, The Fabulous Films of the 30s.  To check out the other fabulous entries click here!

To me the 1930s are the epitome of two genres of film.  The first is the Pre-Code film, but this is inevitable as the Hayes Code went into strong effect in 1934.  The second is the screwball comedy.  With such films as IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, TWENTIETH CENTURY, BRINGING UP BABY, and MY MAN GODFREY the 1930s brought us films with quick and clever dialogue, zany situations, and hysterical physical comedy which usually ended up being sealed with a kiss.  These films are some of the first ones I fell in love with during my initiation into classic films.  They are a good start for the new fan, easy viewing if you will, but ones that only become richer and more fabulous with repeated viewings.  Even today I find these comedies far more amusing than most modern films.  So when it came time to choose a film for this blogathon I decided to pick one of the quintessential screwball comedies, and the one that debuted the classic Cary Grant “comedic light touch” persona that would catapult him into world-wide stardom.

Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant) is in need of a sun tan.  He is currently under the lights at his sports club trying to get one because he has to prove to his wife, Lucy (Irene Dunne), that his recent trip out-of-town was to Florida as he said it was.  Which of course it was not.  Later that night armed with a gift basket of oranges from California and surrounded by several friends, Jerry returns home expecting to find Lucy there waiting for him.  Which of course she is not.  Everyone sits around somewhat awkwardly while Jerry reassures them that Lucy is most assuredly with her Aunt Patsy and will be home soon.  Enter Aunt Patsy.  Soon after Lucy returns, terribly happy to see Jerry, followed closely by her über suave singing instructor named Armand Duvalle.  Friends and Aunt Patsy slowly filter out as Lucy explains that she and Armand spent the night together, quite innocently, when Armand’s car broke down on their way back to the city.  Jerry is none too pleased with this situation and Armand senses that this is his cue to leave.  Once alone Jerry and Lucy have one of those not so pleasant conversations where Jerry pretty much accuses Lucy of sleeping with her singing instructor and Lucy, denying the first accusation, points out that Jerry never mentioned the terrific rains that Florida was having in any of his letters home.  After some back and forth, and increasingly sharp digs and accusations, the couple decides that without faith there can be no marriage so it is best to call it quits.

Really Jerry? And how were those California oranges?

Their day in divorce court comes and the judge grants the motion.  The only matter left to resolve is who gets custody of Mr. Smith, the family dog.  Both Jerry and Lucy claim ownership so the judge decides to play King Solomon and let Mr. Smith decide.  Much to Jerry’s dismay he chooses Lucy, thanks in large part to the sudden appearance of his favorite toy in her hand, and the group leaves the court room while the judge promises to consider visitation rights for Jerry.  Some time later Lucy is at home in the apartment she now shares with Aunt Patsy.  Patsy is bored with Lucy staying home every night, her only male companion of late being Mr. Smith, and decides to get out for a while.  As she heads to the elevator she runs into Daniel Lesson (Ralph Bellamy), a good old country boy from Oklahoma, who not only happens to be single and handsome but also an oil man.  She brings him home to introduce to Lucy and soon the pair is going out almost every night.  It is during one such date that they run into Jerry and his new squeeze Dixie Bell Lee.  Dixie works at a nightclub singing songs with a backup wind machine, an act which she soon demonstrates, leading Jerry to comment “I just met her.”

Lucy and Daniel become engaged, and Jerry begins his personal mission of trying to breakup the engagement.  Through a series of misadventures he finally does just that, through a complete misunderstanding of course, but by the time that Lucy is single again (and beginning to realize that maybe she still loves Jerry after all) Jerry is not.  Through some misunderstandings of his own, Jerry has taken up with “madcap heiress” Barbara Vance and is himself now engaged.  It is going to take some scheming, some drinks, a fake wind machine, and a sudden appearance by Jerry’s heretofore unknown sister Lola to work things out.

How’d you do? I’m the nut of the family tree!

Director Leo McCarey scared Cary Grant.  McCarey shot THE AWFUL TRUTH with a different style than most directors of the time, preferring to improvise most of it even going into a scene with no idea of what would happen more than the overall plan (i.e. get from point A to point B). In a style that sounds more like the filming of Buster Keaton, McCarey started making THE AWFUL TRUTH and Cary Grant became convinced that the whole thing was going to be a terrible flop.  He even went to see Harry Cohen, head of MGM, to beg him to be let out of the film.  Failing that he asked to be allowed to at least switch to the Ralph Bellamy role.  Harry Cohen basically told him to not let the door hit him on the way back to the studio lot, which thankfully Cary Grant did.  After some time he began to see that the film was not only working but turning out to be a great hit.  McCarey also gets the credit for helping Cary Grant craft the urbane, witty, subtly comedic persona that would become his signature for years to come.  As Peter Bogdonavich said after THE AWFUL TRUTH when it came to light comedy, “there was Cary Grant and everyone else was an also-ran.”  McCarey is said to have borne an eerie physical similarity to Grant as well, so perhaps we have more even more to thank him for.  The sense of improvisation that runs through this film makes it a bit beyond other screwball comedies, in my opinion.  The dialogue flows fast and feels off the cuff, which indeed much of it was, thus making the whole thing feel more realistic and less staged which can sometimes happen in a farce.  Instead of feeling like an excuse to get from gag to gag each scene feels like the natural progression in Jerry and Lucy’s lives and we are just along to enjoy the ride.

THE AWFUL TRUTH helped catapult Cary Grant into worldwide stardom.  Where before he was simply a good actor, now he become a persona and one that would continue to endure to this day.  To say that Cary Grant is good in this movie is like saying that the sun is hot in the middle of August.  It simply doesn’t begin to cover it.  We all know that Cary Grant can act and we all know that he can deliver snappy dialogue better than most.  But let’s pause for a moment and acknowledge the physical comedy that he brings to the film.  Having started his career in vaudeville, Cary Grant is no stranger to the tumbling and acrobatics needed for the more slapstick humor.  THE AWFUL TRUTH is different in that it actually requires the lead actors, not the second tier ones as most other films did, to take pratfalls and do physical comedy.  And Cary Grant does it with the style, the grace, and the wit that we have come to expect from his more “verbal” performances for example, HIS GIRL FRIDAY.  Go back and watch again and see how Cary Grant manages to take pratfalls and tumbles, all while never losing that sense of grace, style, and above all wit.

Of course we can’t talk about THE AWFUL TRUTH without talking about Irene Dunne.  I love Irene Dunne.  She is an actress who is able to bring a lovely light-headedness to her comedic roles without fully straying into ditz.  She and Myrna Loy have a very similar approach to their female comedy roles, I think that Nora Charles and Lucy Warriner would get along swell actually, and I think this is part of why I love her.  After having seen her in films like THEODORA GOES WILD and MY FAVORITE WIFE (another film with Grant and McCarey) I began to really appreciate Irene Dunne’s flair for comedy.  But to me she takes it to a whole new level in THE AWFUL TRUTH.  Lucy is a character that is both serious and funny, in love and hurt, clever and just a little dizzy.  In another actress’s hands one trait could have become more pronounced or outshone the others.  But Irene Dunne manages to balance all these traits perfectly, giving us a character that feels more real than made up.  And she does more than enough to keep up with Cary Grant in the comedy department!

There is some talk that maybe this kind of movie, the marriage/remarriage comedy, is not timeless and might feel dated to today’s audience.  Maybe that is true but maybe it isn’t.  While it is true that the idea of divorce and remarriage is not looked upon with the same societal mores as it was in the 1930s, I think that deep down we all want to see people end up with the ones that they love.  Why else would the whole boy meets girl/boy gets girl/boy loses girl/boy gets girl back formula still be so popular today?  So maybe instead of looking at THE AWFUL TRUTH as simply a movie about divorce and remarriage, perhaps we should look at it as a movie about people learning to trust each other and learning that telling the truth isn’t so bad after all.  Because the awful truth is that we can be our own worst enemies, creating lies where there don’t need to be any and mistrust where there should be faith.  Because really the truth isn’t so awful, especially when we have Irene Dunne and Cary Grant telling it to us.

I solemnly swear that I love this movie

Watching With Warner: THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK (1944)

Another fantastic offering from the Warner Archive, and another installment in my month-long Warner watch-a-thon!  This time it is THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK, a truly wonderful film from the brilliant mind of Preston Sturges.  The miracle of this film just might be that he managed to get it past the censors because this is one of the most pre-code post-code movies I have seen!

Governor McGinty, played by Brian Donlevy, (an inside joke for you Preston Sturges fans) is in his office just before Christmas when he receives a frantic call from the editor of a newspaper in a little town called Morgan’s Creek.  He has a fantastical tale to relate to the governor, and when the governor finds out what the story is about he calls all his advisors and aides to his office immediately to hear the story.  The editor begins his tale…

The Morgan’s Creek newspapers are full of warnings about the dangers of young women and soldiers having a good time.  Beware the horror of the wartime marriage!  After reading this the town policeman, Officer Kockenlocker (William Demarest), decides that there is no way that his daughter is going out to the farewell dance for the soldiers that night!  His eldest daughter, Trudy (Betty Hutton), is devastated by his refusal but soon comes up with a plan.  She believes that it is her patriotic duty to go out and support the boys, so she enlists the help of her childhood friend Norville (Eddie Bracken).  Poor homely, stuttering, Norville is in love with Trudy but is unable to impress her by enlisting because of his blood pressure.  Trudy had already turned Norville down for a date earlier that morning, so he is beyond thrilled when she calls up and tells him that she changed her mind.  He is still thrilled when he picks her up and says good-bye to her father and younger sister, Emmy (Diana Lynn), and drives to the local movie theater.  He becomes decidedly less thrilled when Trudy reveals her true intentions and asks Norville to wait for her in the theater while she goes to the dance alone.  He finally agrees and even lets Trudy take his car, intending to stay at the theater until 1AM when the last picture is finished.  Trudy happily drives off and is soon having the time of her life at the dance.  However, just one farewell dance is not enough and Trudy goes to not one, not two, but three parties with the soldiers.  Dancing and drinking lemonade everything is going wonderfully until Trudy accidentally jitterbugs into a chandelier.  The next thing she knows it is 8AM and she has just arrived at the theater to get Norville, who keeps implying that she is drunk even though she never had a drink before in her life!  She cannot remember anything about the night before or where she has been, and poor Norville is forced to take the brunt of her father’s anger upon their late return.

It’s just lemonade! Isn’t it?

Later, while taking off her party clothes, Trudy is chatting with Emmy when all of a sudden she has a flash and remembers someone mentioning something about getting married.  The two sisters laugh off the thought until they look down at Trudy’s ring finger.  Desperate to remember who it was she married, Trudy tries to come up with a name but all she can get was that it had a Z in it…sort of like “Ratzkiwatzki”.  When Emmy suggests that they simply go and look up the license Trudy remembers that everyone used a fake name, making it impossible to find out the truth!  Things go from bad to worse when, sometime later, Trudy comes out of the doctor’s office with the news that she is pregnant.  Emmy and Trudy try to come up with a plan of what to do, even going to the local attorney to try to get the marriage deemed illegal.  Unfortunately, even though neither party used their real names and Trudy has no idea who her husband is the marriage is indeed legal.  Emmy now comes up with a new plan and it again involves Norville.  Even though up until now Trudy has resisted Norville’s advances, Emmy now tells her to encourage them as Norville is the perfect candidate to marry Trudy.  Initially resistant to the idea, after all it is bigamy isn’t it, Trudy finally agrees and invites Norville over for dinner.

After a lovely meal with the family, Emmy and her father go off to clear the dishes while Trudy and Norville go out on the front porch to talk.  Trudy hints to Norville that she is open to the idea of marrying him at last and Norville, devoted to Trudy since childhood, is stunned.  He eventually takes the hint and proposes, and then promptly falls off the front porch.  Touched by Norville’s kindness and goodness of heart, Trudy refuses to deceive him any further and tells him everything.  Shocked at first, Norville reiterates his desire to marry Trudy but she refuses.  Now Trudy has begun to see the real Norville and has fallen in love with him for real.  Because of her love, she will not marry him and make him a party to bigamy.  By this time, however, rumors have begun to swirl throughout the small town and these rumors soon make their way back to Trudy’s father.  Unaware of Trudy’s true situation, Officer Kockenlocker uses all of his fatherly talents (and his service revolver) to help convince Norville to propose.

Having recovered from his “talk” with his future father-in-law, Norville now has a flash of brilliance!  Marriage by proxy!  Or at least something like that.  In order for Trudy to get a divorce from Ratzkiwatzki she needs a marriage license with the right names on it.  Norville goes about gathering the needed supplies, ring, money, and military uniform (which appears to be from the time of the rough riders), and returns that evening to retrieve Trudy.  Under the guise of a normal date, the two make their way to the Honeymoon Hotel just about twenty-five miles outside of Morgan’s Creek.  Once there the two begin the ceremony of getting married but when the time comes to sign the license there is a problem.  Trudy has signed her rightful name and Norville has signed his, but has told the proprietor that his name is Ratzkiwatzki.  The man now believes that Norville has kidnapped Trudy and is marrying her against her will, and promptly draws a gun.  Calling to his wife to phone the police, Trudy and Norville are warned not to move.  Imagine the surprise of Emmy and her father when Norville and Trudy return from their date in the back of a squad car, escorted by a bevy of police.

Daughters!

This was a movie that I had heard mentioned several times but had never seen.  And yes, I will admit, I am late to the party but this is a fantastic film!  Watching this I was constantly amazed at the cleverness of the script and the acting in its ability to slip things by the censors.  No one ever mentions drinking alcohol, they talk about drinking lemonade.  The first time that Trudy actually says that she is going to have a baby isn’t until about three-quarters of the way into the film, prior to take it is all done with implications and knowing glances.  One of the extra features on the disc from Warner Archive is a short film about Preston Sturges and his circumventing of the Hayes Office when making this film.  Sturges never provided the censors with a completed script, giving them only a few pages at a time which prevented them from seeing some of the racier content in context.  He also played a good game of following the rules to the exact letter and no more.  For example when the censors suggested that a line be changed from “…people aren’t as dirty-minded as when you were a soldier…”, Sturges changed the line to “people aren’t as evil-minded as when you were a solider”.  See?  All fixed!  I think that is part of what makes this film so much fun, because it is an exercise by Sturges in thumbing his nose at the censors and having them thank him in return.  The fact that a film that talks about bigamy, drunken marriage, one night stands, pregnancy, divorce, abortion, and suicide can not only get by the Hayes office but be fun and funny as well speaks to the genius of its creator.  The genius of Preston Sturges is also the subject of a short film which is another bonus feature on the disc.  Speaking of the disc, the film itself looks gorgeous and is just as crisp and clean as you could hope for.  The Warner Archive has done a great job in remastering this film and putting out the disc!

Betty Hutton is hysterical and remarkably self-assured for being only twenty-two at the time this movie was made.  Rumor has it that she and Eddie Bracken were constantly trying to outdo one another when it came to the physical comedy in the film, which lead to some great moments.  In fact, Norville walking through the screen door was a complete ad-lib by Eddie Bracken.  Eddie Bracken was not an actor I was overly familiar with, but his portrayal of Norville certainly won me over.  He is really funny as the stuttering “boy-next-door” but he is more than just a fall guy.  I think that this film works so well because of the terrific cast.  Betty Hutton, Eddie Bracken, William Demarest, and Diana Lynn (who really steals the show as Emmy) are so great together that you can’t help but loving them and rooting for them.

This was also a film that poked fun at things that you weren’t allowed to make fun of in the movies like the army, the police force, and family life, I think it allowed audiences to see themselves in the story and even laugh at some parts of their own lives.  When this film first came out it was so popular that it was literally standing room only in theaters and no wonder.  They don’t make movies like this any more, but I really wish they did.

Watching with Warner: IT’S LOVE I’M AFTER (1937)

Digges!  Pack the bags!

We are starting my month-long Warner Archive watch-a-thon (OK, I made that word up) with a film that I had never heard of before, but one that once I knew the cast I had to see!  What could be bad about a screwball comedy starring Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, and Olivia de Havilland?  Answer; not a thing.

Basil Underwood (Leslie Howard) is a famed stage actor who is currently starring in ROMEO AND JUILET with his love, Joyce Arden (Bette Davis).  Unfortunately, this Romeo and Juliet would rather whisper insults and threats to each other rather than sweet nothings.  Up in the balcony, unaware of the sniping below, Marcia West(Olivia de Havilland) is swooning over Basil much to the dismay of her fiancé, Henry Grant (Patric Knowles).  Once Romeo dies the show is over for Marcia, who quickly leaves the private box to wait outside.  Joyce and Basil continue to spit fire at each other until the very end, and continue to argue during the curtain calls.  Back in their respective dressing rooms, each complains to their assistants about the others.  Basil’s long-suffering valet, Digges (Eric Blore), has heard it all before and is not surprised when the talk of hate soon turns again to love.  In spite of everything, Joyce and Basil truly do love each other.  Basil is interrupted by the arrival of a guest to his dressing room.  Marcia has snuck back in order to tell him how ardently she admires him and that he is her ideal man.  Having delivered her message, she promptly leaves again.  Basil is flattered and is now in a better mood and he begins to consider himself as a person.  What has he done of note, what has he given back?  Digges reminds him that most of his so-called charitable works were more self-serving than he would care to admit.  Basil dismisses this line of thought and returns to Joyce.  Joyce, for her part, has decided that she is through with Basil but after he climbs through her window to ultimately wish her a Happy New Year the two reconcile.  In fact they decide, for about the twelfth time, to be married that very evening.  Their happy plans are again interrupted by the arrival of a visitor to Basil’s dressing room.  This time it is Marcia’s fiance Henry, who has come to inform Basil that Marcia is in love with him and he should leave her be.  Basil recalls a play that he once did in which he acted a cad to make a woman fall out of love with him and Henry strikes upon an idea.  Perhaps Basil could re-enact that play with Marcia and cause her to fall in love with Henry again!  Though reluctant at first, Basil sees a chance to do a selfless act and soon agrees.  The only problem is that they would have to leave for Marcia’s house at once, and that will mean postponing the wedding to Joyce yet again.

Joyce is less than pleased with Basil’s sudden change of plans, and since he won’t reveal his true reasons for doing so, believes that he no longer wants to marry her.  Well, two can play that game!  She declares that she would never marry Basil now and storms off, leaving Basil and Digges to drive to Marcia’s estate for a house party.  Upon their arrival, Digges and Basil set about making themselves at home as the two most disagreeable and annoying house guests ever.  The other party members roused from their beds are bleary eyed and confused, but Marcia’s father is seeing red.  He angrily orders that the two leave the house and demands to know who invited them there!  Basil claims that Marcia did, assuming that she will deny the inference and send them on their way, but Marcia is only too happy to oblige in keeping up the ruse.  She is beyond thrilled to have Basil in her home and Digges is instructed to unpack the bags, as this plan is going to take longer than anticipated.  The next morning over breakfast, Basil is introduced to the other guests and sets about making a bore of himself.  He demands kippers when there are none, insults the guests, recites Shakespeare, and finally storms out of the dining room.  Marcia’s family are shocked and demand that this rude man is sent away, but Marcia steps up and reprimands them.  What are manners, she asks, but little rules for little people!  Of course Basil is rude, he is a great star and is too big for such constraints as manners!

Basil continues his reign of terror over the household, even going so far as to insult Marcia’s beauty marks or “moles” which he suggests she removes.  There are two problems with Basil’s plan to make Marcia hate him however.  First, Marcia does not hate him and seems to fall more and more in love with him the more awful he is to her.  And second, Basil is starting to enjoy her attentions much to the concern of Digges who by this time has packed and unpacked the bags so many times he knows the contents by heart.  He takes it upon himself to call the only person who can help Basil at a time like this, his true love Joyce.  That afternoon Basil and Marcia are taking a stroll in the garden when things become much more cozy.  Basil resists for a time but then finally gives in to his desires, and it is at this moment that Joyce appears.  Both Basil and Marcia are shocked, though Basil is secretly thrilled that Joyce has come to help him, but they are further surprised when Joyce introduces herself as Basil’s wife!

This is such a fun screwball comedy, I am surprised it is not more well-known!  Leslie Howard is terrific and it is fun seeing him play a more caddish role, I am so used to seeing him as a quiet gentleman.  He and Bette Davis, reunited from THE PETRIFIED FOREST, are terrific together and their scenes as Romeo and Juliet are a highlight!  Olivia de Havilland is still a year away from THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD but you can already see what a terrific actress she is.  She is also great at the comedy, playing the eager fangirl with a gleeful attitude.  Two years in the future she and Leslie Howard would be reunited in GONE WITH THE WIND, and this would be the first of four films that she and Bette Davis would star in together.  In watching this you can see the chemistry of all three leads working together to make this a really standout film.  But for me, the one who really steals the show is Eric Blore.  His character of Digges is the comedic glue holding the whole thing together.  The scenes between him and Basil are some of the best in the entire film.  In fact, I almost wish that there was an entire series of movies about the mis-adventures of Basil and Digges.  There is something of Jeeves and Wooster in them and I loved every moment they were onscreen.

This is a great film from the Warner Archive and I highly recommend it!  It has moments that are reminiscent of TWENTIETH CENTURY, and others that seem to have influenced TO BE OR NOT TO BE.  While this is not a new story, especially for a screwball comedy, it is done with such wit and skill that it never feels stale or overdone.  If you get a chance to see this film don’t miss it!  Just remember to get Digges to unpack the bags first!