Favorite Comedies: The 30’s

The 1930’s brought sound movies to the forefront. Along with it came the fast talking world of screwball comedies, the best of the Marx Brothers and much more. It was hard to limit this list to just ten. But that is the name of the game. The great film critic Andrew Sarris once described “screwball comedy as a sex comedy without the sex.”

This is the Part 3 in a monthly series.

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The Americanization of Emily (1964) Arthur Hiller

“The first dead American on Omaha Beach will be a sailor!”

    Six years before Catch-22 and M*A*S*H were released in theaters, The Americanization of Emily appeared almost out of nowhere. Vietnam was still low on the boiling plate of the American conscience, however, this film does hold the distinction of being the first anti-war film of the Vietnam era. Sweet Julie Andrews, only a few months earlier had burst on to the screen in the Disney film, Mary Poppins (1964). Five months after the release of Emily, she would be forever anointed in the public’s mind as Miss Goody Two Shoes with more sugar than a Cuban cane field, after the release of The Sound of Music (1965). Yet, in between those two films, slipping under the public’s radar, Andrews appeared in this dark biting anti-war satire.

   James Garner is Lt. Commander Charlie Madison whose official position is acting as an aide for Admiral William Jessup (Melvyn Douglas). More importantly Madison’s unofficial position is being a “dog robber,” an aide who will obtain whatever the Admiral wants, legally…or not so legally, and Charlie’s the best.  Charlie’s bartering arsenal includes a large supply of Hershey bars, stockings, bourbon and clothes to get what he needs. Stationed in England just prior to the D-Day invasion, Charlie can “buy” anything his commanding officer desires including steak, wine and women.  Everyone knows good ol’ Charlie and likes him. If Charlie needs a favor, a box or two of Hershey’s chocolates or maybe a couple of pairs of nylons will help secure it. Remember, this is England, heavily rationed during the war.

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The Candidate (1972) Michael Ritchie

Note:  A couple of years ago I did a series of reviews for Halo-17 an Australian music and arts website which from what I can tell is no longer out there in cyber space. In the past I have occasionally linked to some of these reviews here at Twenty Four Frames. Recently, it seems all the links lead to an internet void, subsequently over the period of the next few weeks and months I will be posting these reviews here in updated versions. The current postings with broken links to some of the reviews, like “The Panic in Needle Park” and “Thieves Highway” will be deleted and new full reviews, updated will appear sometime in the near future. “The Candidate” appears here for the first time.

In the early 1970’s Michael Ritchie was an up and coming filmmaker with a fairly decent list of films including, “Downhill Racer,” “Prime Cut,” “Smile,” “The Bad News Bears,” “Semi Tough,” and “The Candidate.” After “Semi-Tough” in 1977, Ritchie’s career became somewhat erratic. There were still a few minor decent works like “Fletch”, and the concert film “Divine Madness” but more and more there were depressingly bad films like “The Couch Trip”, Wild Cats”,  “The Golden Child”, “Cops and Robbersons”, “The Island” and “An Almost Perfect Affair.” Sports, competition have been major themes in Ritchie’s films and if on target, well pointed satire. Of all his films, ‘The Candidate” is arguably his best. An on target assault on the American political system that is even more relevant today than it was over thirty-five years ago when it was first released.   Continue reading

There’s Always a Woman (1939) Alexander Hall

There always is blondoug

    “There’s Always a Woman”, is pretty much a forgotten film in Joan Blondell’s filmography. Made for Columbia in 1938, the film is a less sophisticated “Thin Man” variation with Blondell and Melvyn Douglas as the husband and wife detective team. The film won’t make you forget Nick and Nora or even Jean Arthur and William Powell in “The Ex-Mrs. Bradford”; still it is a fun light weight movie.

    What’s make the film most enjoyable is Joan Blondell, who on loan to Columbia, is out of her sassy, smart aleck Warner’s Brother mode and into a more Carole Lombard/Jean Arthur type, though there may be a little Gracie Allen tossed in too.   The snooping couple are Sally and Bill Reardon who are going broke operating a detective agency due to a lack of clients. William, a former Assistant D.A. decides to go running back to get his old job when the bills begin to pile up too high. Sally meanwhile, is determined to make the private eye business a success and stumbles onto a client, Lola Fraser (Mary Astor, another tie to The Thin Man) who suspects an affair is going on between her husband and his former fiancée (Frances Drake). Lola’s advance practically wipes their debits off the books. The remainder of the story involves the comical sleuthing of the Reardon’s trying to track down the murderer of a double homicide.

Theres always a woman still   The script and the jokes are rather thin though Blondell confirms to all that she is a wonderful comedienne. She’s excellent in a scene when the police are interrogating her under a harsh light and the only ones to show a strain from the interrogation are the police while Joan remains as perky as the moment she walked in.  My biggest problem with the film is the treatment Sally receives from her husband, which is a bit troubling unless you think pulling your wife’s hair or making gestures that you are going to smack her for “disobeying” you are the stuff of yucks. Bill Reardon comes across as an archaic Neanderthal who only wants his wife home, cooking with those pots and pans in the kitchen, and not meddling in a murder investigation though in the end she is partially responsible for solving the case.

   Alexander Hall, who keeps things moving at a nice pace directed the film that was based on a short story by Wilson Collison. Columbia’s original plan was for this to be the first in a series, however it only resulted in one sequel in 1939, “There’s That Woman, Again” with Douglas reprising his role, however with Virginia Bruce replacing Blondell. The film opened at Radio City Music Hall in April of 1938 to moderate business. Look for Rita Hayworth in a bit part as a secretary to an attorney.

Too Many Husbands (1940) Wesley Ruggles

Too_Many_Husbands_1940

“She’s been a good little wife.”

“….yes, to the both of us”

Jean Arthur’s talents shine in this light, witty, sophisticated comedy.  In “Too Many Husbands” Jean has, well too many husbands, one too many to be exact. Husband number one, Bill Cardew (Fred MacMurray), is presumed lost at sea. His widow, Vicky (Jean Arthur) marries Bill’s publishing partner, Henry Lowndes (Melvyn Douglas). At the one-year anniversary of Bill’s disappearance, Henry is having Bill’s office cleaned out and his name removed off the firm’s door. Meanwhile, Vicky’s father who is at home answers a phone call, on the other end of the line is Bill announcing that he is alive! Sound familiar? Well, yes since the premise is similar to the Cary Grant, Irene Dunne film, “My Favorite Wife” which was released in May of 1940 two months after “Too Many Husbands” hit the screen. Only in the Garson Kanin directed movie Cary Grant ends up married with two wives.   Too mnay husbands

The grand reunion is needless to say a confusing one especially for our heroine who soon realizes she loves both men. She in fact loves them so much she cannot make up her mind who she wants to stay married too. Both men compete to win Vicky’ heart hoping that she will dump the other, however, it turns out Vicky is enjoying the attention she is receiving and cannot, or will not, make a decision. The two husbands start to rekindle their friendship and conclude they are being played for saps. They decide to teach Vicky a lesson by disappearing. Unfortunately, she calls the police who uncover that our heroine is a bigamist. The case is brought before the court where the presiding, judge rules who Vicky is officially married to. However, it does not end there since the loser refuses to give up his pursuit of his “wife.” Vicky and the two men pretty much ignore the court’s decision and as the films ends, she and her two “husbands” are dancing the night away as a threesome.

Too Many Husbands poster    “Too Many Husbands” is a fun film with three wonderful and charming performances, directed with a light touch by Wesley Ruggles. Jean Arthur, and a witty script, though are the real reasons to watch this film. She is enchanting and simply seems to be having a good time in the role. Melvyn Douglas provides a stylish touch having already whet his feet with sophisticated comedy having just come from filming Lubitsch’s “Ninoctchka.”  Fred MacMurray is the less sophisticated of the two playing Jack Lemmon to Douglas’s Walter Matthau. MacMurray was fortunate enough to have worked with both Arthur and Carole Lombard. The film opened in March 1940 at Radio City Music Hall and surprisingly, at least to me, did not do well at the box office. The script, written by Claude Binyon, was based on a play called “Home and Beauty”, by W. Somerset Maugham. There are also entertaining performances by Henry Davenport as Vicky’s father, Melville Cooper and in small role as a police officer is Edgar Buchanan.

“Too Many Husbands” is a somewhat more suggestive film than “My Favorite Wife” especially the ending where it seems  Vicky will be continuing to have a relationship with both men. There is also an underlying hint of gay references in the dialogue, when the two husbands are forced to share a bedroom. It is surprising how much the filmmakers were able to slip passed the censors. One wonders if they were too busy paying attention to the bigamy plot letting these other subtle insinuations get by?Jean Arthure photo

As previously mentioned, only a couple of months later the better-known “My Favorite Wife” was released. In another touch of irony, both films were remade years later, “Too Many Husbands” was turned into a musical in 1955 called “Three for the Show” with Betty Grable and Jack Lemmon and “My Favorite Wife” in 1963 as “Move Over, Darling.” This last film has a long history of it own, which is well know. Originally, it was to be a vehicle for Marilyn Monroe co-starring Dean Martin called “Something’s Got to Give.”  Monroe was difficult during the shoot and was fired by 20th Century Fox who then signed Lee Remick as her replacement. Dino walked off the film saying, no offence to Remick but he signed to star with Monroe. Fox rehired Monroe but unfortunately her problems ran deep and was soon found dead of an overdose. Production was shut down and the film was never completed. The story was resurrected a couple years later with Doris Day, James Garner and Polly Bergen, and now called “Move Over, Darling.”

“Too Many Husbands” is a pleasant diversion not reaching the level of screwball greats, still it has aged well with Ms. Arthur’s character looking more modern and certainly more liberated than most female characters of the day. The film has recently been released on DVD as part of the “Icons of Screwball Comedy Volume 1.”