Wednesday, September 30, 2009

aka TONIGHT AT 8:30

An adaptation of three short plays by Noel Coward (at right), each presented with the opening of red stage curtains, even though they are not performed on a stage--though they might as well be, as all three are rather stagy in presentation and acting. The first, "Red Peppers," is about a second-rate, husband-and-wife music hall duo, a spat they have one evening between shows, and the surprising outcome onstage when a drunken conductor, upset with their insults, tries to sabotage their act. This sets the tone for the rest of the film: witty dialogue, generally well handled, but given shrill, sometimes obnoxiously so, delivery. Ted Ray and Kay Walsh are OK as the husband and wife; I give them points for being bad (deliberately, I assume) while performing their musty old stage act. It's a fine line to walk, being good actors while trying to pull off a bad act, and it's something that Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor didn't even try to do in the flashback scenes early in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (they're way too good for the audience to think that they were "bad").

The second play, "Fumed Oak," is about a horrible little suburban family in which the wife, daughter, and wife's mother spend all their time whining and fussing until one evening, the husband (Stanley Holloway) unleashes his pent-up anger and frustration against them. It's the funniest one of the three, due to Holloway's fine low-simmer performance, though it feels a little uncomfortable these days as much of the bile seems to be aimed at the women just for being women. The last, "Ways and Means," concerns a broke couple who are about to be kicked out of a French villa at which they've been staying, and the plan they hastily concoct with their wealthy hostess's chauffeur, whom they discover is also a burglar. I enjoyed the acting in this one the most: the chemistry between the husband and wife (Nigel Patrick and Valerie Hobson), the low-key playing of Jack Warner as the burglar, and the silly frippery of Jesse Royce Landis as the hostess, though as the longest of the three, it feels a little dragged out with a couple of characters who seem to exist just to pad out the running time. The print shown on TCM was in Technicolor but a bit washed out and very heavy on the reds. All in all, worth seeing if only as a novelty. [TCM]

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