Wednesday, March 12, 2014


During the Depression, we are introduced to a wealthy Brooklyn family, the Rimplegars, on the day when they find out that their fortune is gone due to bad investments. There's Nellie (Mary Boland), the slightly ditzy but well-meaning widowed matriarch; Elizabeth (Claudette Colbert) is the charming, more level-headed daughter, though she seems unable to see what a drain and a drip her boyfriend Ronald (Hardie Albright) is—a struggling would-be writer, he's being kept by her, and at one point contemplates suicide but gets distracted by a head cold; Kenneth (Wallace Ford) is a low-paid law clerk casually working on passing the bar; Douglas (William Bakewell) is an actor (with an affected accent) who only gets single-line parts with an amateur "little theater"; and Eddie (Tom Brown) is a college student who seems to be majoring in playboyism. When Nellie gets the bad news, the family has no idea what to do, but Alan Stevens (Richard Arlen), the family doctor, helps inspire them to dust themselves off and face reality. He rents a room from them to help give them some immediate cash; Eddie gets work as a lifeguard, working so hard that he drives himself almost to collapse; Liz lies about her experience and gets a job at a shoe factory; Douglas gets a real acting job—only one line, but he gets paid; and Kenneth buckles down on his law studying. Even their maid Jenny, who speaks and understands almost no English, stays on without pay. As they slowly get back on their feet, the only suspense is, will Elizabeth stick with the useless Ronald, or finally see that Dr. Stevens is perfect for her?

This is essentially a screwball comedy before the genre existed: rich eccentric characters, some broad physical comedy mixed with witty dialogue, and a romance between two disparate types. One difference from many later screwballs is that it is fairly well rooted in a (somewhat) realistic context—the Depression. Most main characters in movies like BRINGING UP BABY or MY MAN GODFREY don’t really have to worry about money, but this group does, and they rise to the occasion. There are also some slightly darker tones to the proceedings occasionally, as when Eddie collapses and the family thinks he's dying. The acting is good all around. Boland does a nice job playing scatterbrained without too much exaggeration. Arlen underplays a bit too much, perhaps, but the others are fine, the standouts being Bakewell and Brown. Favorite line: when Colbert, in an existential funk, sighs, "What’s it all about?" Boland replies, "It's that cheese you ate last night!"  [TCM]; photo, featuring Tom Brown at far right, from

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