Monday, March 28, 2016


First, some context that would not have been necessary in 1944: 1) During World War II, there were often housing shortages in big urban areas as an influx of war workers took up all the apartments and hotels; 2) The term "gremlin" for a mischievous imp came into popular usage during the war when pilots blamed all the little things that went wrong in their planes on gremlins. Now, the story. On an overcrowded train to Washington DC, Kathie (Simone Simon) is reading a magazine feature on gremlins when one suddenly appears and curses her with seven weeks of bad luck. She arrives for her job at an aircraft factory and plans to live with her friend Sally, but bad luck hits: Sally has just gotten married so Kathie has to find another place to live. This time, good luck strikes when she manages to sublet the apartment of a man named Johnny (William Terry) who is leaving for the Marines, but (bad luck) unknown to her, Johnny has given out his key to several buddies so they can use the place for sleeping, showering, or dating. So that's what happens: men, women, and even a child come parading in at all hours to use the place for their own purposes. As Kathie counts down the seven weeks of bad luck and all sorts of folks wind up in and out of the room, she falls for a sailor named Mike (James Ellison, pictured with Simon) until Johnny comes back and is smitten with her. When a Navy officer on 24-hour furlough (Robert Mitchum) winds up with the key so he can meet his wife, various elements collide leading to a raucous scene of fisticuffs, a court appearance, and even a proposal from Kathie for a 3-way marriage.

This may well be, technically speaking, the best, most professional looking movie ever to come out of poverty-row studio Monogram Pictures. It's got good-looking sets, a full musical score, and even special effects that, while a bit shaky at times, make the miniature gremlin scenes come off OK. But it's an odd duck of the movie, uncomfortably stuck between fantasy and screwball comedy. The gimmick of the gremlin wears out its welcome fairly quickly, and indeed the gremlin (voiced briefly by Mel Blanc and sounding exactly like Bugs Bunny) drops out of the story for long stretches. Frankly, the movie works best on the non-fantasy romantic comedy level. The director, Joe May, was an important figure in silent German cinema, but once he fled the Nazis, he only got B-movie work in Hollywood. Still, he gives the movie a fun, quirky and mildly sexy style. All the above men are very good, as are Chick Chandler as another sailor and child actor Billy Laughlin (Froggy in the Our Gang films—this was his only non-Our Gang credit; he was killed in a car accident a few years later). Simon (best known as the mysterious Irena in CAT PEOPLE) is attractive but weak in the acting department and I didn't really care about her increasingly complex circumstances, but Minna Gombell steals a few scenes as the landlord's aggressive wife. It's cute and frothy, and has one of the strangest endings of any movie of its era. [Warner Archive streaming]

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