Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Screwball comedies of any kind are difficult to pull off; the writing, acting and direction have to be top-notch or else it just becomes a shrill, irritating mess. B-level screwball comedies, usually with lesser talent behind and on the screen, rarely work for me. This one has promise but goes off the rails by the halfway point. It starts out as a re-working of the nutty-family classic YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU. The eccentric Pemberton family from South Carolina owns property in New York that a country club wants. One lawyer who tried to get signatures from all the family members quit in frustration so Henry MacMarrow (Jack Haley), a junior partner at the law firm, is sent to complete the job. The patriarch is an elderly scientist who has a life-sized teddy bear robot (pictured), son Herbert (John Carradine) fancies himself an abstract artist, Uncle Alan (Walter Catlett) is a stamp collector, genius ten-year-old Junior is already a college graduate, pixilated maiden aunts Pitty and Patty keep a rigged-up loaded shotgun aimed at their door in case of burglary, and Uncle Goliath owns a mansion but lives outside on its grounds dressed like a caveman. The only "normal" person is the young vivacious Toni (Ann Sothern), who falls for Henry—though it takes a while for him to reciprocate.

This has an interesting cast, but no matter how hard they try, by halfway through the almost 90 minute running time, they've all worn out their welcome. The two leads are OK: Jack Haley (OZ's Tin Man) actually does a good job managing to remain relatively unflustered by all the zaniness around him. He's also a kind of anti-romantic leading man, not acting terribly interested in Sothern, which is a nice change of pace for this kind of film. For her part, Sothern mostly remains charming in the middle of the whirlwind of crazy relatives. The two have an awkward musical number out of nowhere. Mary Boland is Sothern's mom, and child actor Benny Bartlett is fun as the obnoxious Junior. Edward Everett Horton plays against type a bit as the villain, Sothern's fiancé and the author of a self-help book on how to be masterful, who is trying to get his hands on the property, and Elisha Cook Jr., looking like a juvenile, has a small role as a chemist. The first half is fun, but the shenanigans get more and more ludicrous and I was chomping at the bit for the end. This may have influenced the makers of the later MURDER HE SAYS. [TCM]

1 comment:

dfordoom said...

There's nothing worse than a second-rate comedy. A second-rate movie in any other genre can still be enjoyable but an inferior comedy is torture.