Sunday, November 03, 2002


This was a Broadway hit for Preston Sturges (although otherwise he had nothing to do with this film version) and the version most people are familiar with is the 50's one with Ezio Pinza and Janet Leigh, which I've never seen. This one is stagy, too long, and hampered by a static directorial style, but it does have its moments. Its primary asset is the performance of Paul Lukas as Gus, an opera singing lothario whose heart is captured by a relatively innocent Southern belle (Sidney Fox) who has been transplanted to New York City by her totally obnoxious finace, George Meeker. The film takes place over one night and the next morning, beginning just after midnight in a boarding house/speakeasy as Fox and Meeker wander in and make the acquaintance of a couple of colorful characters who frequent the place: Lukas as the womanizing singer and Lewis Stone as a retired and heavy-drinking judge. Meeker is quick to display his true colors, bullying Fox around but full of empty bluff when confronted by anyone else. He winds up in jail overnight and Fox talks Lukas into letting her stay in his room. Apparently, he plans to add her to his list of conquests (he has an entire closet filled with women's clothes), but instead he discovers a soft spot for her, an honest "babe in the woods," and he gives her his bed while he shares the judge's room. Relationships get further tangled and straightened out the next morning.

Lukas is quite good; I mostly think of him as a rather dull presence in movies like WATCH ON THE RHINE and LITTLE WOMEN, but he shines here, giving the best comic performance that John Barrymore never gave. He and Fox generate an interesting moment of heat in a long kissing and caressing scene (played standing up). Even though they have chemistry and are both likeable, and Fox and Meeker clearly don't belong together, the movie doesn't make us particularly confident that she and Lukas will ultimately be a much better match. At a little over 90 minutes, the pacing is a bit too leisurely up until the somewhat rushed ending. The look and feel of the film remind me of the later THREE MEN ON A HORSE, also based on a play, and largely set in a similar boarding house/bar establishment. Sidney Toler, best known as Charlie Chan, plays an understanding Irish cop. A memorable line from Fox: "I read in a book on psychology that nothing is immoral except--well, I plumb forgot!"

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