Sunday, April 29, 2012


I've spent the month of April watching comedies (in honor of April Fool's Day) and I wrap the month up with this mild screwball comedy that includes elements of the earlier LIBELED LADY and THE FRONT PAGE.  Newspaper editor Don Ameche wants to re-sign cocky star reporter Tyrone Power so he gets him working on a story about Loretta Young, an heiress who doesn't like press attention.  Power tricks Young into getting exclusive access to her, and when she finds out, she tricks him, announcing to the press that she and Power are engaged, so he'll know what it feels like to be chased by the paparazzi.  What follows are all kinds of shenanigans, with socks on the jaw, public kissing, a car chase, Power and Young in jail, and Young's fortune-hunting ex-fiancé (George Sanders) showing up and making trouble.  This was Power's first comedy lead and though he's very good looking, his performance is a bit mannered.  He has a good scene in the beginning, playing checkers on a barroom floor with glasses filled with beer.  Young and Ameche are fine; Sanders seems a bit uncomfortable doing silly comedy; also with Slim Summerville, Walter Catlett, and Elisha Cook Jr.  There's an amusing running gag involving Ameche being nattered at over the phone by his (unseen) wife Mabel.  Too much plot is crammed into the short film, but it's mostly painless screwball fun.  [DVD]

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Priam Farll is a famous British artist who has escaped the unwanted glare of the spotlight by living alone, with only his valet, on an island in the East Indies for 25 years.  One day, Priam gets the news that he is wanted back in London to receive a knighthood.  Reluctantly, they go back but on their first night there, the valet takes ill and dies of pneumonia.  The attending doctor mistakes the two men's names and declares that Priam Farll is dead.  Since the valet had no immediate family, Farll doesn't correct the mistake and decides to live a quiet life under his valet's name, Henry Leek.  Unfortunately, the press goes wild with the news, there is national mourning, and Leek winds up buried in Westminster Abbey as Farll.  There's also another complication:  Leek had arranged an assignation with a woman through a matrimonial bureau.  Through a mix-up involving a photograph of Farll and Leek together, the woman, Alice, thinks that Farll really is Leek.  Luckily, the two hit it off and wind up married, with Alice completely unaware of her husband's real identity.  For the first time in his life, Farll is happy but over the next couple of years, more complications arise:  first, it turns out that Leek was already married and his wife and her three husky sons show up; later, a scandal involving new paintings of Farll's that are being sold as lost masterpieces threatens to expose his subterfuge, to the public and to his wife.

This is a charming low-key comedy which, for about the first hour, is almost perfect: witty dialogue, strong performances, unusual plotline.  Monty Woolley anchors the film as Farll, playing him as a comic figure who doesn't think much of his fellow man, a bit like his Sheridan Whiteside in THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, though his character is less broad and cartoonish here.  Gracie Fields, a famous comic actress in England, brings a real humanity to the role of Alice, who takes whatever comes her way in stride.  Eric Blore as the valet (pictured above to the left of Woolley) only has a couple of scenes, but he leaves a strong impression that lasts through the film.  There is a great supporting cast including Una O'Connor as Leek's widow; Franklin Pangborn giving one of his least flitty performances as a cousin of Leek's; Melville Cooper as the doctor; Ethel Griffes as a rich patron of the arts; Laird Cregar as an art dealer; and George Zucco in a too-small part as a barrister.  The last half-hour bogs down in courtroom shenanigans, and Farll acts in odd ways that don't seem consistent with his character, serving only to lengthen the running time.  Still, quite a lovely little gem.  Two memorable lines:  Woolley to Blore on his deathbed: "Don’t make a confession until you feel the rigor mortis setting in."  Later, when someone tells Woolley his wife is a huge fan of his art, Woolley says he left England because of her; the man, taking him literally, says, "You know my wife?"  Woolley replies, in his driest manner, "I speak, of course, in hyperbole." [TCM]

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Jeff Gerber is an average middle-class guy: he has two kids, lives in the suburbs, works in insurance, and has scheduled sex with his wife once a week.  He does have a few quirks; every morning, he leaves the house and, rather than pick up the bus nearby, essentially races it, on foot, to the last possible stop before downtown.  He's also loud and obnoxious, politically conservative, and, at the height of the civil rights unrest in the late 60s, causally racist, making what he thinks are jokey remarks about skin color to the few black people he sees, including a diner worker he runs into every day.  One morning, he wakes up as usual and starts his daily routine only to discover he has turned black—his wife enters the bathroom and shrieks, "There's a Negro in the shower!"  When he goes racing the bus, onlookers assume he's a thief; at work, the hot Swedish secretary is suddenly interested in him (she says she wants to see his "switchblade"), and his wife slowly grows more distant.  He assumes it's the fault of a defective sun lamp, but his doctor has no idea how it happened.  The only person in his life who doesn't seem horrified is his boss, who sees this as an opportunity to sell insurance to members of the growing black middle-class.  

This parable would have worked better as a TV show or a shorter film; though it's only 100 minutes, the last half drags by.  Godfrey Cambridge is very good in the lead role—his make-up as a white man in the first stretch is about as realistic as it could get without the use of digital effects (which didn't exist back then) or a different actor.  He doesn't quite look real, but that could be because I knew going in what Cambridge looked like; a viewer who didn't might have a different reaction.  He tries to bring some humanity to a role that is mostly intended to be symbolic, though his boorishness is done a little too well and even when he becomes more sympathetic, I couldn't really sympathize with him—maybe I wasn't supposed to.  It's a loud, bombastic performance which fits the role, but with the loud and shrill background score, it's a bit of overload and the movie just tired me out.  Estelle Parsons has the thankless role of the wife.  The other roles are mostly small, the only standouts being Mantan Moreland, a comic foil in 40s movies who has a couple of good scenes as the diner counterman, and D'Urville Martin as the bus driver—again, a small role, but the looks that pass across his face are effective.  The inner 60s flower-power child in me loved Estelle Parsons' psychedelic day-glo outfits.  [TCM]

Sunday, April 22, 2012


George Montgomery has married well, into the family of industrialist Thurston Hall, but he’s not happy as a do-nothing vice-president, and he’s just as unhappy with his wife to whom he is more or less separated.  When he expresses his frustrations, she tells him that, on his own, he couldn’t even land a job as a ditch-digger, so that’s what he sets out to do.  Not only does he eventually get a relief-project job digging ditches, he becomes friends with the boss (J. Carroll Naish) who lets him crash in his family’s small apartment.  He also grows fond of Osa Massen, Naish’s lovely neighbor.  They don’t realize that he’s rich and he doesn’t realize that when they complain about their slum landlord, it’s his father-in-law.  Soon, Naish and his friends have convinced Montgomery to represent them in a meeting with Hall; he sneaks Hall into Naish’s place for an evening to show him what the buildings are like, but soon all of Montgomery’s deceptions blow up in his face.  Can he get Hall to do the right thing, get his wife to give him a divorce, and get Naish and Massen to trust him again?

This is a very cute Capraesque romantic comedy with built-in social responsibility lessons.  The working class and immigrants are romanticized, there’s a lot of talk about the wonders of democracy, and it’s certainly not a spoiler to note that the wealthy finally see the errors of their ways.  I’ve become a fan of Montgomery in his 40s films (CHINA GIRL, ROXIE HART) and he’s handsome and robust here—even getting a couple of beefcake shots including one scene in which he races across a busy street in his underwear—and makes a perfect B-movie Capra hero (effective but a notch below James Stewart, Clark Gable, or Gary Cooper).  Massen is rather bland, but Naish is better, though at times his exaggerated ethnicity is laid on a bit too thick.  There are plotholes—why Naish thinks the lily-white all-American Montgomery is a fellow immigrant is beyond me—but it’s a fun little hour-long filler.  [FMC]  

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Paramount Pictures plans to make a movie of the stage hit Louisiana Purchase, but a studio lawyer is worried that the events of the satirical play are too close to life, so he dictates a letter (in song) to the studio advising them to make it absolutely clear that the characters bear no resemblance to any real people.  They do so by making the first production number a song sung by colorfully-dressed chorus girls, singing about the movie being fiction.  Victor Moore is a U.S. senator who arrives in New Orleans to investigate graft charges involving the owners of the Louisiana Purchasing Company.  The owners set up state politician Bob Hope to be the fall guy, but tell him his only chance is to get the straight-arrow Moore into a compromising position with a woman for blackmail purposes.  Hope enlists the help of Irene Bordoni, owner of an infamous "restaurant," and she talks the lovely Vera Zorina into entrapping Moore.  They get Moore drunk (telling him he's just drinking Mississippi River water) and take a picture of Zorina sitting on his lap.  The plan backfires when Zorina regrets her role and decides to say she’s engaged to Moore.  Next, Bordoni tries a similar scheme only to wind up actually getting engaged to Moore.  Finally, on the floor of the Statehouse, Hope pulls a three-day filibuster (in which, among other things, he reads all of Gone with the Wind) so Moore can't make his charges.  At the end of the filibuster, just as Hope collapses, Moore gets a telegram with proof about the real wrongdoers, and Hope is free to pair up with Zorina. 

This Irving Berlin musical was a hit on Broadway but most of the songs are gone here, leaving the mildly amusing political humor intact.  While Hope is the star, Moore has almost as much screen time.  His befuddled, slow-talking persona is an acquired taste, but his pairing with the sprightlier Hope makes for a nice mix of comic styles.  Hope is quite good here, about as fun as he is in his "Road" movies, and both Bordoni and Zorina are fine.  The lovely Dona Drake dances up a storm in a mid-movie Mardi Gras number.  There is nice support from Raymond Walburn, Frank Albertson, and Maxie Rosenbloom.  The material here is above-average for a Hope comedy, with some good, if obvious, jabs at politicians which are still relevant today.  I especially liked one of the politicians saying, about attacking Moore's morals, "The public loves a good crusade—it makes them think we’re looking out for their interests."  I also liked Hope saying he got permission from Jimmy Stewart for his Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style filibuster.  The best thing about this movie is its use of Technicolor; I have rarely seen a color movie of the classic era look so eye-poppingly good.  Even scenes set in average-looking offices look great, and the Mardi Gras parade, with its purples, gold, blues, and reds, is gorgeous.  I think it’s interesting that in the Production Code era, they got away with calling the restaurant/bordello owner Madame Bordelaise.  [TCM]

Saturday, April 14, 2012


In this silly, ridiculous, stupid sex farce which suffers from miscasting and bad writing (do you really want to read any further?), gap-toothed comedian Terry-Thomas plays a British archeology professor at a Southern California university who (for some reason unknown to viewers) is absolutely irresistible to the female students—and to the slightly older women who live nearby. He's renting a beach house from his fiancée (Celeste Holm) who is in Paris on business. Living a trailer on the property is handsome law student Richard Beymer (and his cute dachshund Jessica) who has become quite buddy-buddy with the professor. One day, out of the blue, beautiful young Tuesday Weld arrives looking for Holm; she's Holm’s daughter, about whom Holm has never told Thomas. For some unfathomable reason, she adopts a tough-girl accent and pretends to be a runaway juvenile delinquent. Thomas tries to help her out while avoiding any hint of scandal—an underage girl sharing his beach house—while Beymer, a more age-appropriate fellow, starts to fall for her, and also starts to see through her subterfuge. There's also a plot point involving a gigantic dinosaur bone that Thomas has found and a rival professor (Howard McNear, Floyd the barber on The Andy Griffith Show) who sneaks around trying to find out where Thomas got it. The climax involves a drunken Thomas, egged on by Beymer, trying to discourage his female admirers by being aggressive with them, when who should arrive on the scene but Holm.

This seems so very dated, it feels like it might have felt old and tired just months after its release. The colorful sets and the attractive young people are pluses, but the whole thing just seems too shrill and forced. No reason is given for Weld not just coming out and saying who she is; the way women throw themselves at Thomas is not explained (except by a brief prologue stating that even as far back as the Revolution, American women have found British men sexy(?)); and poor Holm has practically nothing to do. Thomas seems uncomfortable throughout, though Weld and Beymer (pictured above) are OK. It's a sad situation when the high spots in a sex farce involve the cutesy shenanigans of a dachshund and a dinosaur bone five times its size. An early door-slamming scene involving Thomas trying to hide two girls in his bedroom from Beymer is fun, but it's downhill from there. [FMC]

Friday, April 13, 2012


Boring, forgettable, half-baked musical comedy produced at a time when Hollywood was into promoting "good neighbor" policies between North and South America. James Ellison, in Buenos Aries on a job for his oil company boss, meets Maureen O'Hara, an heiress who is collecting money at a race track for the Pan-American Goodwill Fund. His boss wants him to buy a prize race horse owned by O'Hara’s father (Robert Barrat), but when Ellison and his sidekick (Buddy Ebsen) pretend to be interested in his cattle rather than his horses, Barratt sees through their subterfuge and plays games with them, tricking them into bidding on a bull even though they're only authorized to buy horses. In the meantime, Ellison and O'Hara embark on an on-again, off-again flirtation. In the end, Barrat steps in to play matchmaker for the two. Though there was a brief trend in these Pan-American musicals in the 1940s, they were almost always drab and uninspired (unless they featured Carmen Miranda). Ellison is a fine leading man in B-movies, and he and O'Hara might have been a decent team in a non-musical, but here they're wasted along with the minor talents of a mostly unknown supporting cast and a bland musical score (by Rodgers and Hart). The one interesting sequence shows gauchos playing El Pato, a roughneck polo-type game played on the pampas. Skip this one unless you're a die-hard Maureen O'Hara fan. [TCM]

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


To avoid the draft, Kevin Coughlin and Larry Casey, two red-blooded All-American lads, decide to play gay so the Army won't take them. Simply acting like they're gay in front of the draft board colonel (Jack Starrett) is one thing, but when Starrett tells them there may be an investigation, the two move in together. At first, living in a small gay apartment enclave isn't too bad (despite the single pink bedroom with the heart-shaped bed), and even the friendly effeminate landlord (Michael Greer) isn't too much to put up with. But things get uncomfortable when family members visit and, not knowing about the draft evasion plan, start to suspect that they really are lovers. Because of the snooping Starrett, swinging playboy Casey can’t have his usual parade of women come by, and though Coughlin tries to explain things to his steady girl friend (Brooke Bundy), she is understandably confused. When rumors start to fly, Casey loses his lifeguard job (can't have a gay man around the kids) and Bundy breaks off her engagement with Coughlin. They begin thinking that going to Vietnam might not be so bad after all, and the ending, though hardly tragic, is surprisingly downbeat, as anti-gay discrimination alters their lives forever.

I'd heard about this comedy for years, but assumed, arriving as it did at the very dawn of the "gay liberation" era—released just a month after the Stonewall riots in New York—it would be a distressingly dated and stereotyped piece of silliness, so I'd avoided it. Now out of DVD, I gave it a shot and found it’s not bad. It's definitely low-budget, and the script should be more clever and knowing by half. I was surprised how not-campy the movie is. Coughlin and Casey never indulge in flaming-gay stereotype behavior, even in their initial visit to the draft board, during which they take the route of dropping relatively subtle hints rather than shrieking and lisping. Greer's performance, which is campy and stereotyped, is what has made this film a lasting cult item; I'm of two minds about him here. On the one hand, he is playing the "queeny" stereotype complete with some prancing and make-up, and in this day and age, it gets a little irritating; on the other hand, he only goes halfway there. If the character had to be portrayed like this, I sort of wish Greer (pictured above) had been directed to go all the way. I suspect a subtle screaming queen is no one's idea of fun. His best scene is one without dialogue in which he makes breakfast for the boys while skittering around the kitchen humming an aria. I like that Greer catches on to the boys' subterfuge and does nothing to either give them away or give them a hard time; he seems to be a real "live and let live" personality. As far as gay eye candy, we get several shots of the hunky blond Casey (pictured above right) with his shirt off (and look closely for the seemingly well-endowed loincloth guy in the party scene near the end), but ultimately this movie isn't about sex, but about discrimination, and somewhat sadly, its message is still one that is relevant today. [DVD]

Sunday, April 08, 2012


In a swinging Sixties variation on the tried and true plot of three women looking for love (from MOON OVER MIAMI to THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN), this film follows three stewardesses for Polar Atlantic Airlines on flights between New York, Paris, and Vienna. Pamela Tiffin is new and naïve and has a little trouble fitting in at first but quickly sets her sights for the handsome pilot (Hugh O'Brian), not aware that he's in the process of disentangling himself from an affair with a married woman (Dawn Addams) whose husband keeps lodging complaints against him with the airlines. Delores Hart, pictured, who tends to the first-class passengers, flirts with a dashing Baron (Karl Boehm) who turns out to be a smuggler who uses her, unwittingly, to get stolen jewels past customs. The slightly older Lois Nettleton attracts the attention of recently widowed businessman Karl Malden; she feels she would just be a pale copy of his wife and so she becomes a bit stand-offish, but finding out that he's a millionaire complicates matters. Despite the jaunty title tune, a Sinatra hit performed over the credits by Frankie Avalon, this isn't as much fun as its first few minutes would indicate. Part of the problem is a lackluster lead performance by Tiffin, a model turned actress who left the business in the 70s. All of the romantic plotlines have their fun moments, but all also turn serious, though only the Hart-Boehm story comes anywhere close to being compelling. Much of the action was shot on location which adds interest, but too much of this remains drab and predictable. This was starlet Hart’s last film before she left Hollywood to become a nun. James Dobson has a couple of fun scenes as a prank-pulling flight engineer. [TCM]

Thursday, April 05, 2012


Edmund Gwenn, a longtime faculty member at a research institute, has just been denied the $20,000 grant he needs to continue his studies. His niece (Frances Gifford), also a researcher, convinces three of Gwenn's fellow professors to help out. One of them (Reginald Owen) has developed a scientific system to determine winners in horse races, so they decide to bet their combined savings of $2000 on a horse called Mr. McGillicutty. When they go to Pasadena for the race, the four of them wind up having to share a hotel room with James Craig, who owns the horse. He tries to talk them out of the bet, certain that the horse has no chance. Gifford changes the bet at the last minute, but McGillicutty wins after all. Bad news for Gifford, but good news for Owen, as it's proof that his system works, so they try to raise money to bet on another race. In the meantime, Gifford falls for Craig just as an old flame of Craig's (Ava Gardner), also a horse owner, shows up at the hotel.

This is the set-up for a frothy screwball comedy, but as a B-picture, it can't quite capture the magic of an AWFUL TRUTH or PHILADELPHIA STORY. Gifford is bland and Craig (pictured with Gardner at left and Gifford at right), starting to lose his matinee idol looks, is only marginally better. Gardner supplies some much-needed spark in the last half of the film. The most fun, however, is supplied by the professors: Owen, Sig Ruman, and Charles Halton. Owen shines in the standout role, with Ruman doing his best to steal scenes. Gwenn is reliably fine, and two lesser-known character actors, J.M. Kerrigan (as the horse’s trainer) and Frank Orth (as a bartender) also do nice work. I lost track of the various shenanigans, but it closes with a nice bit involving Gifford and Gardner placing bets on the last race, with the winner getting Craig. Good line, from Ruman, when told that the betting system doesn't take into account the human factor: "We are scientists—with this 'human' business, we have nothing to do!" [TCM]

Monday, April 02, 2012


In 18th century Scotland, kilt-wearing playboy Murdoch Glourie spends too much time flirting with the ladies and not enough time fighting the English or sparring with the rival clan, the MacLaggens, and when he is killed (just after dallying with a lass) by a shell explosion, his father's curse on him takes effect: he must haunt Glourie Castle as a ghost, appearing every midnight, until he can avenge the pride of the Glouries against the MacLaggens. In the 20th century, Donald, the latest Glourie, is forced to sell the castle to pay his debts and the Martin family is interested in buying it, taking the castle apart, and putting it back together in Florida. Because Mrs. Martin is freaked out by the rumor of a Glourie ghost, Donald tries to get the Martins out by midnight, but their daughter Peggy stays the night and sees the ghost, who is a friendly and flirtatious one; she assumes that Donald dressed up in a kilt and played a prank, so she's a little put off when Donald is not quite so flirty the next morning. Nevertheless, the sale goes through with the ghost accompanying the castle bricks on a ship across the sea. By the night of the castle's grand opening, Martin wants Donald to impersonate the ghost, but when the real ghost finds out that one of the guests at the ceremony is a descendent of the MacLaggens… well, you can figure out where it goes from here.

This is a sweet romantic fantasy, based on a short story called "Sir Tristram Goes West," and is very similar in tone and some plotpoints to the later THE CANTERVILLE GHOST which was based on a story by Oscar Wilde. Robert Donat plays both Murdoch and Donald, and is much more appealing as the mildly roguish Murdoch; as Donald, he is basically the same old drab persona he was in many of his movies—Donat is well loved my many, though not by me. Jean Parker (pictured above with Donat) is equally drab as Peggy, though in her scenes where she's bantering with the ghost, she and Donat achieve some sparks. The first scene in particular, along the castle parapet, is nicely atmospheric; in general, the film could use a little more of that ghostliness. Eugene Pallette is his usual growly, fun self as Peggy's father, and Elsa Lanchester has a small role in the climactic scene. [TCM]