Sunday, May 09, 2010


Though not a conventional "screwball comedy," as it lacks serious romance, verbal wit, or the upper class, this B-move is still an enjoyable knockabout farce filled with screwball characters. Joan Blondell and Binnie Barnes are sisters (named Hope and Faith) who work as convention hostesses at a big city hotel. I’m not certain what their duties are, above and beyond making sure that conventioneers have a good time, but they seem to be looked upon with some condemnation by the press, being called a threat to public decency. Just as airline strike negotiations are beginning in a hotel conference room, the arbitrator is discovered dead in his room. Afraid the discovery of the body will spell disaster for the hotel’s reputation, Blondell and Barnes take on the task of hiding it for the time being. Meanwhile, reporter John Howard (who is sweet on Blondell) finds out about the body and, knowing he has the potential for a good story under his nose, tries to outwit the girls and get the body out in the open. To complicate matters: 1) the girls' sister (of course named Charity, played by Janet Blair), who is supposed to be in college, arrives looking for fun and adventure and falls for Howard; 2) the cops, egged on by a high society women's group out to stop any immoral activity on the part of the hostesses, are sniffing around; 3) Eric Blore, a drunken magician from an earlier convention, is roaming the floors looking for someone named Charlie.

I’ve never seen Weekend at Bernie’s but this movie is based on a similar foundation: the locomotion of a dead body by people trying to keep the existence of the corpse a secret. It moves along at a good clip with very little (pardon the pun) dead air between gags. The Blondell/Blair/Howard triangle gets a little old—it's clear that Howard doesn't care a bit for Blair, so we just have to wait for Blondell to realize that in the film's last few minutes—but most everything else works. Blondell (pictured with Howard) bears the brunt of the movie on her capable shoulders. Howard, best known as Katherine Hepburn's stick-in-the-mud fiancĂ© in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, is OK but doesn’t have much spark with Blondell. Robert Benchley shines as the hotel manager, Una O'Connor is a washer woman, and you might recognize Lloyd Bridges and Larry Parks in bits as reporters. Blore doesn’t have much to do, but his character winds up being crucial to the wrap-up. Could be sharper, but overall a fun little surprise from the Columbia Pictures vault. [TCM]

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