Wednesday, December 19, 2001

LOVE CRAZY (1941); Or, Me and Screwball Comedy

When I first discovered the wonderful world of old movies, back in my college days, screwball comedies were among my favorites; BRINGING UP BABY, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, HIS GIRL FIRDAY, and MY MAN GODFREY were all films I saw and loved early in my classic-movie education. Therefore, I assumed I was a screwball comedy fan. But as time went on, I found myself growing immune to the the charms of such films. My theory is that comedy is a delicate balance to begin with, and when you throw in the volatile elements usually found in screwball comedy (zany rich people, irritated and obnoxious lovers, stupid mistakes that in real life could be resolved in two minutes, etc.), it becomes difficult to get all the ingredients to come together just right. When they do, it's sparkling and hilarious and lighter than air--THE AWFUL TRUTH may be the single best example. When they don't, the movie collapses into shrill shrieking and buffonish battling and I just want to go lie down in a dark room for an hour or so. As much as I love William Powell and Myrna Loy in most of their movies together (the THIN MAN series, MANHATTAN MELODRAMA, etc.), they don't quite save this movie from screwball hell.

Powell and Loy are celebrating their fourth wedding anniversary when a visit by Loy's mother starts a chain of mishaps that results in Loy seeking a divorce and Powell acting insane in order to postpone the divorce proceedings. The supporting cast (led by Jack Carson, Gail Patrick, and Florence Bates) either isn't very strong or isn't given enough to do. One of the few highlights of the movie is the scene where are Loy barges into Carson's apartment, thinking he is someone else, and starts making out with him to make Powell jealous; Carson has no idea what's going on, but quickly plays along. Another good scene is at the climax when Powell dresses in drag as his sister to avoid capture by the cops and the insane asylum folks. Unlike many other actors who resort to this, he could seriously pass as a studious old lady! The first 15 or 20 minutes work well, largely due to the Powell/Loy chemistry, but I found this tough to stick with, although I did.

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