Friday, April 17, 2009


A drab generic title hides a sweet comedy about a larcenous family that reforms its ways. We first see the Carleton family in operation on the French Riveria. Patriarch Roland Young claims to be a ex-colonel with the British Army in India and calls himself Sahib--in reality, his "title" comes from a play he and his wife (Billie Burke) did in their youth about the Bengal Lancers. While he fleeces folks at the gambling tables, his son, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., is about to marry a rich woman while daughter Janet Gaynor is flirting with a young Scotsman of promise (Richard Carlson). However, they're caught in the their scamming ways and are ordered out of the country. On a train to England, they befriend a lonely old woman (Minnie Dupree) who has recently come into a great deal of money. They help her out when she's injured during a train derailment and she insists they come to live with her in her mansion. Smelling a shot at getting into the old lady's will, they agree. Carlson returns and threatens to expose them, but when they insist they are serious about reforming, he calls their bluff, beginning with getting Young honest employment with the Flying Wombat car company (sounds a little Monty Pythonish, doesn’t it?). The rest of the film follows the gradual change in all of them: Fairbanks gets a menial job at an engineering firm and falls in love with his boss (Paulette Goddard), and Gaynor warms to the attentions of Carlson. But we don't know for sure how far the family has come until Dupree does indeed put them in her will, then becomes seriously ill; the family finds out that her estate is almost bankrupt. Will they stick around for Dupree's sake or return to their con artist ways? The first half of this film is quite charming; the family members are all allowed to be unrepentant rogues, and even the usually curdly-sweet Gaynor seems to be having fun being bad. Once they start getting serious about being honest, some of the fun goes out of the proceedings. All the actors are fine, with Young and Burke standouts; I kept being scared that Carlson's heavy artificial Scottish accent would slip, but he does a pretty good job with it. [DVD]

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