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.

hqdefault

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.

notimeforcomedy2

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.

no-time-for-comedy-6

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.

 

My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon: THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940)

This post is part of the My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon hosted by Rick’s Classic Film and TV Cafe.  Check out all the other terrific entries here!

I can’t tell you exactly when I started loving THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.  I can’t tell you exactly what made me start watching it or what made me keep watching it.  What I can tell you is that it is one of those movies that holds a special place in my heart.  It is one of those films that I have to watch every few months, one of those films that I know lines of dialogue from, one of those films that I tell everyone about.  Any time that I see that THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is on TV, it doesn’t matter what point in the movie we are at, that is it I have to stop everything that I am doing and watch.

I am not going to get too involved in the plot, as I think many people know the movie and for those who don’t I really don’t want to spoil much and would much rather entice you to see the film and let me know what you think!  That having been said…

Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) is a Philadelphia socialite from a very old and very wealthy family.  She is the ex-wife of one C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), sportsman and recovering alcoholic.  The marriage between the two childhood sweethearts broke up due to Tracy’s imperious and holier-than-thou attitude which is due mostly to her wealth and privileged upbringing.  Two years later Tracy is engaged to self-made man, and wind bag, George Kittridge (John Howard).

Tracy’s absentee father has caused the family some embarrassment of late by taking up with a dancer.  Unfortunately for everyone, the publisher of the biggest gossip magazine has gotten a hold of some dirt on the affair and is now threatening to publish it.  C.K. Dexter Haven now shows up at Tracy’s door with a reporter named Mike Conner (James Stewart) and a photographer named Elizabeth Imbrey (Ruth Hussey).  It seems that Dexter has agreed to allow Mike and Liz to cover Tracy’s upcoming nuptials in exchange for the magazine agreeing not to publish the embarrassing information about Tracy’s father.

What follows is a most delightful mess of family dysfunction, love triangles, champagne, swimming, and redemption.  All in all my idea of a really perfect movie.

Katharine Hepburn was considered undesirable in 1938.  Several flops had led her to be added to Manhattan movie theater owner Harry Brandt’s list of “box office poison”.  Taking some time away from Hollywood she starred in a play on Broadway, entitled THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.  Inspired by the life of socialite Helen Hope Montgomery Scott, a Philadelphia socialite known for her crazy antics, it was written by Philip Barry who happened to be friends with Montgomery Scott’s husband.  Barry wrote the role of Tracy Lord specifically for Katharine Hepburn and she played alongside Joseph Cotten (Dexter), Van Heflin (Connor), and Shirley Booth (Imbrey).  Barry and Hepburn both backed the play, with Barry forgoing a salary, and the play (and Hepburn) were a great success.  Howard Hughes, then Hepburn’s boyfriend, purchased the film rights and gave them to her as a gift.  In the hopes of undoing her label of “box office poison”, Hepburn sold the rights to Louis B. Mayer in exchange for $250,000 and veto rights over director, producer, cast, and screenwriter.

George Cukor was selected as the director and Donald Ogden Stewart was brought in as screenwriter.  Hepburn initially wanted Clark Gable to play Dexter and Spencer Tracy to play Connor but both had other commitments, and Mayer was still wary of Hepburn’s poisonous status.  As insurance he put in two A-list celebrities to co-star with Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart.  Grant agreed to the part as long as he received top billing and his salary would total $137,000 which he would donate to the British War Relief Society.  The film went into production in Culver City from July 5 to August 14, 1940 and was opened for general release on January 17, 1941.  THE PHILADELPHIA STORY went on to break a box office record by taking in $600,000 in six weeks.

Now that we know a bit more about the history of the film, let’s talk about why I love it so.  But first, here is the trailer which should give you a little taste of the greatness to come!

First of all, can you beat this cast?  Katharine Hepburn is Tracy Lord.  Full stop.  No one else but Katharine Hepburn could pull off the role and give Tracy the complex dimensions that she does.  Tracy is cold and aloof but underneath it you can sense that hurt and disappointment with her father and her ex husband have made her that way.  She is privileged and wealthy but she also is in love with George and with the hope that he will give her something real, honest, and true because he is a self-made man.  She is totally in control and wildly out of it.  Tracy Lord is a woman who starts as one thing and ends as another and we take the journey with her and whats more we actually like her as well.  In spite of the hard time she gives everyone, in spite of what other people say about her, we still like her and find ourselves rooting for her.  Only Katharine Hepburn could do this and Tracy Lord is the role she was meant to play.

Then there is Cary Grant.  What can I say?  I would watch Cary Grant tie his shoes and it would be amazing.  Here he brings his quintessential light humor to the role and where C.K. Dexter Haven could have been a somewhat nasty piece of work, he makes him into a man who is still in love with his ex-wife but feels betrayed by her lack of support and, more importantly, love during his struggles with alcoholism.  He brings a humor to his scenes and seems to be having a fantastic time during the filming.  Just watch his face sometimes, even when he isn’t the focus of the scene and you will see what I mean.  And let’s be honest, only Cary Grant could start off a film shoving a woman to the ground by her face and still be a man you root for.

James Stewart won an Oscar for his role as Mike Connor and while I would have liked to see a double Oscar between him and Cary Grant, you can’t deny that this is a breakout role for him.  Not to say that he had never made any great films prior to this, I mean THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER and MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON are fantastic, but I think that this film really showed Jimmy Stewart holding his own in an ensemble and even having moments of outshining even Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant.  Mike is a complex character, an everyman who is tired of being the everyman.  He wants to be comfortable and rich but sees the “old money” families as obstacles to his ultimate happiness.  He wants to be an author but he works as a newspaper reporter for a gossip magazine.  He also wants to dislike Tracy Lord because of everything she stands for in his mind, but he can’t because there is something magnetic in her and he can’t resist.  Starting out cynical and hard, Mike ends up being chivalrous and genuine making a transformation that we can all believe and one that makes sense.

Like I said, this is a dream cast.  And let’s not forget Ruth Hussey, Roland Young, and Virginia Weidler.  Oh how I love Virginia Weidler in this movie.

If you didn’t at least smile once during that clip…then I’m sorry I can’t help you.

And that brings me to what I think I love the most about this movie.  The words.  I have loved words and books ever since I was little.  True story, my first word was book.  Even now when I am driving or going for a walk or cooking in the kitchen, I would much rather listen to a podcast or a book on tape than music.  So for me, the script in this film is just heaven.  The quick and witty dialogue, the truly funny jokes, the pure poetry of the monologues…this film makes me feel like a really great book has come to life before my eyes.  The quality of the writing is palpable and I would be just as happy closing my eyes and listening to this movie as I would be watching it.  Donald Ogden Stewart wrote in his autobiography that adapting the screenplay for THE PHILADELPHIA STORY was the easiest job he ever had because the original material was so perfect.  So whether it is thanks to Philip Barry or Donald Ogden Stewart that we have dialogue like;

C. K. Dexter Haven: Sometimes, for your own sake, Red, I think you should’ve stuck to me longer.
Tracy Lord: I thought it was for life, but the nice judge gave me a full pardon.
C. K. Dexter Haven: Aaah, that’s the old redhead. No bitterness, no recrimination, just a good swift left to the jaw.

Or

Margaret Lord: Oh, dear. Is there no such thing as privacy any more?

Tracy Lord: Only in bed, mother, and not always there.

Or

Macaulay Connor: The prettiest sight in this fine pretty world is the privileged class enjoying its privileges.

Well, I could go on.  But whoever it was…the script is divine and the movie is divine and I love it.  I wish that I could fill this entry with clips of the film and quotes of dialogue and bits of trivia, but I can’t.  What I can do instead is to wish you all a Happy National Classic Movie Day and encourage you all to go out and watch my  favorite movie, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.