Films: Comedy/Musicals

Some Thoughts by Dan Stumpf

   I recently got me to watching some of Mae West’s old Paramount movies, and for a fat girl, she don’t sweat much. Even in a post-code vehicle like Klondike Annie (1936) she manages some saucy one-liners (a prim cabin-mate asks Mae if she snores, and she replies, “I never had any complaints.”) and when let go full-throttle in Belle of the Nineties (1934), the results are fine indeed.

   Directed by Leo McCarey in one of his Duck Soup moods, Belle features a sensuous musical montage at set at a revival meeting that I still don’t believe: one of those surprising moments of perverse genius that are why I watch movies.

   Mae’s film debut was in an odd little gangster flick called Night After Night (1932), based on a Louis Bromfield story, “A Single Night.” (There’s a quip there somewhere.)

   Directed with surprising competence by Archie Mayo, this offers Mae West in a picture-stealing supporting role as a former girlfriend of George Raft. Raft runs a classy speakeasy in the mansion formerly owned by neuveau-poor Constance Cummings, who is planning to marry Louis Calhern for his money, and obviously the accent here is more on romance than anything criminous, but there are some surprisingly edgy moments between Raft and a competitor who wants to “buy” him out, carried off neatly by`the actor’s casual flair for that sort of part.

   And there’s an odd, moving moment when Raft realizes just how little he means to Cummings that carries a dramatic punch almost amazing, coming from a shallow actor like this and a flat-footed director like Mayo. Add the effect of a brand-new Mae West sashaying around tossing off her own one-liners, and you get quite a nice little movie indeed.

   But alas. Alas I say. Since Mae West’s first film was in support of George Raft, I thought I’d follow it be watching her last film Sextette (1978) in which Raft has a cameo — along with Tony Curtis, Ringo Starr, Walter Pidgeon, Alice Cooper, Keith Moon and Rona Barrett. They’re the lucky ones: poor Dom Deluise and Timothy Dalton have to stick around for the whole picture.

   This is quite simply a bad movie. No, not simply Bad, but garishly, ennervatingly, appallingly awful and not even worth watching for its badness. The conceit here is that Mae West — eighty years old and looking every nano-second of it in makeup thick enough to embarrass Tammy Faye — is about to marry Timothy Dalton but is lusted after by hordes of handsome young men who keep rushing in and dancing around her.

   Meanwhile, Deluise tries to get her to make love to the Russian ambassador for World Peace and Dalton sings “Love Will Keep Us Together” while Mae looks off camera and reads her lines from a cue card. Her timing is shot, the wit is gone, and the whole sad effect is like watching the last appearances of once-snappy performers like Bob Hope or Muhammad Ali.

   This is a film you should cross the street just to keep from seeing, and one that will plague my mind in those long dark nights of the soul.

   A short clip from the movie Swing Time:


JOHN GOLDFARB, PLEASE COME HOME. 20th Century Fox, 1965. Shirley MacLaine, Peter Ustinov, Richard Crenna, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Jim Backus, Fred Clark, Scott Brady, Harry Morgan, Jerome Cowan, Telly Savalas, Jackie Coogan, Charles Lane, Leonid Askin, Richard Deacon, Jerry Orbach. Screenplay: William Peter Blatty. Director: J. Lee Thompson.

YOU KNOW WHAT SAILORS ARE! General Films, UK, 1954; United Artists, US, 1954. Akim Tamiroff, Donald Sinden, Sarah Lawton, Naunton Wayne, Bill Kerr, Dora Bryan, Martin Miller, Michael Shepley, Ferdy Mayne, Shirley Eaton (unbilled). Screenplay by Peter Rogers, based on the novel Sylvester by Edward Hyams. Director: Ken Annakin.

   These two films, done a little over a decade apart, are both cold war satires and sex farces set against a never never land of exotic Middle Eastern Arab states (more Grand Duchy of Fenwick than Graustark) and broadly drawn caricatures of both Western and Mid-Eastern types. One is a pleasant, even charming comedy with real laughs and sex appeal, the other is John Goldfarb, Please Come Home.

   Starting with the brassy and annoying title song sung by Shirley MacLaine, John Goldfarb, Please Come Home sets the tone for the entire film, loud, obvious, and painful to endure. Fawzia is a fictional Arab state run by eccentric King Fawz (Peter Ustinov at his absolute worst doing incredibly unfunny and offensive slapstick) who is upset his darling son has been kicked off the football team at Notre Dame and wants revenge.

   When U2 pilot, John “Wrongway” Goldfarb (Richard Crenna “He said, funny, you don’t look Jewish.”) manages to ditch over Fawzia on a mission over the U.S.S.R. (they don’t call him Wrongway for nothing), and King Fawz learns from his chief minister Gus (Wilfrid Hyde-White) that Goldfarb was a football star and coach, — well you can see where this is going — and nowhere fast.

   Meanwhile obnoxious harridan reporter Jenny Ericson (Shirley MacLaine), who gave Goldfarb his hated nickname, has gone undercover in King Fawz harem only to find the old boy is more active than she was told and she is anxious to maintain her amateur standing blackmailing Goldfarb into protecting her.

   All this leading to one of those hate turns to romance things so beloved by script writers and here wholly unlikely as the only proper reaction to MacLaine’s character would be homicide and not chivalry. This film really doesn’t like women. It doesn’t like anyone much, but it really dislikes women, the harem consisting of gold diggers with no self esteem whatsoever. Women exist only as sex objects, and the only vaguely intelligent one is a screaming shrieking harpy with a shrill laugh and all the charm of a scorpion.

   I like MacLaine, in fact I like everyone involved in making this film including the screenwriter and director, but what any of them were thinking escapes me. This film is an almost physical assault from start to finish, the cinematic equivalent of being slapped in the face with a wet dead fish repeatedly.

   Back in Washington the boys (Secretary of State Harry Morgan, CIA chief Fred Clark, diplomat Jim Backus, Sec. of Defense Richard Deacon et al) think Goldfarb is dead, and are concerned about getting an airfield in Fawzia, but having recently presented the king with a set of pigskin luggage (yes, that’s the level of humor here) things are looking bad — unless they can persuade Notre Dame to play a game against Fawzia’s new team with their mystery coach, and Notre Dame loses …

   Loud, often racist, rude, crude, painfully unfunny, sexist, silly, strident, and just awful are just a few of the adjectives that come to mind about this painful satire that makes Mad look subtle. There is something here to offend everyone including the total waste of talent. To give you the level of humor here, Fred Clark is the CIA director named Overreach and Jim Backus a diplomat named Whitepaper.

   These are the jokes, folks …

   I will give Scott Brady this, though. In a film with so many funny men and women being not funny he has a nice turn as the thoroughly flustered Notre Dame coach. It’s not much, but it’s something.

   You Know What Sailors Are! starts with Lt. Sylvester Green (Donald Sinden) and friends, Royal Naval officers on a binge, who as a joke build a Rube Goldberg contraption from a pram and three gold balls from a pawn shop on the prow of an Arab destroyer in port and paint it gray. Come the next morning the Royal Navy spies the thing and before an hour has passed they have identified it as Project 998, a super-secret new radar, and want to know how the Arab’s got it first.

   In short order Lt.Green is ordered to accompany the Arab ship back home to Agraria and find out from a brilliant scientist living in retirement there, Professor Hyman Pfumbaum (Mark Miller), how the Agrarians got the new radar, and he can hardly tell his superiors it’s a drunken joke.

   Traveling with Sinden is the malaprop-dropping President of the Arab state, Akim Tamiroff, who believes 998 is a secret weapon, just what he needs against one of his militaristic neighbors, Smorgisgov, who have his country ringed by missiles, and who decides he must keep Lt. Green a prisoner, so he locks him ups in his harem of beautiful daughters watched over by his eccentric English wife (Dora Bryan) and an army of scantily clad beautiful girls as guards.

   “He must be marrying one of my daughters, then everyone will be happy, myself excluded.”

   Things get more complicated as Tamiroff and his friend Hyman try to convince their neighbors that 998 actually works by blowing up Smorgsnigov’s missiles deceiving their foreign scientist Stanislaus Voritz (Ferdy Mayne) who has a thing for missiles, and Sylvester’s girl Betty(Sarah Lawton), secretary of his boss (Naunton Wayne) and best friend Lt. Smart (Bill Kerr) parachute into Argaria to break into the harem and rescue him before the Royal Navy gets too suspicious why he doesn’t come home.

   You Know What Sailors Are! is genuinely funny, it’s barbs sharp but delivered with wit and not malice, and aimed at pretty much everyone with equal wit and warmth. Tamiroff’s fractured English is a delight — “Bang Crash Ruddy Wallop!” is how he describes his countries plight, and when he and his friend scientist Hyman meet to talk announcing “Let us both talk in broken English so we can misunderstand each other.” — and the girls are genuinely attractive.

   There is a funny, but still sexy, musical number with Lawton posing as a dancer trying to capture Green’s attention that compares more than favorably to the jolting and unattractive numbers that dot John Goldfarb with little or no point other than MacLaine and skimpily clad models gyrating unattractively to bad music. You know a Hollywood movie is in trouble when it can’t even organize a sexy Arabian nights style faux belly dancing number.

   You Know What Sailors Are! is a pleasant minor satirical diversion, sexist yes, but not jarringly so and not without intelligent and capable female characters, beautifully shot in soft pastel colors with a cast of attractive and talented people poking gentle barbs at themselves and others, probably offensive if you really want to get offended, but all done with such good humor and affection it would be hard to take real offense.

   It comes across as a sort of Middle Eastern The Mouse That Roared. John Goldfarb, Please Come Home is a garish assault on the senses, eyes and ears, painfully arch, blatantly offensive, utterly without a redeeming feature, screechingly played at the top of everyone’s voice, and with all the charm and subtly of a herd of sexually frustrated camels stampeding through your china closet.

   I’m recommending one of them. Guess which?

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         

UP TO HIS EARS. Les Films Ariane, France, 1965. Originally released as Les tribulations d’un Chinois en Chine. Jean Paul Belmondo, Ursula Andress, Jean Rochefurt, Valêry Inkijioff, Valéry Legrange, Jess Hahn, Joe Said, Mario David. Paul Prèbost. Screenplay by Daniel Boulanger, based on the novel Tribulations of a Chinaman in China by Jules Verne. Directed by Philippe de Broca.

   The popularity of Mike Todd’s Around the World in 80 Days and films like Ken Annakin’s Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines produced a type of film popular in the sixties and seventies that doesn’t exist today, big production action comedies full of globetrotting adventures and eccentric broad characters in prolonged chases and races often resembling films from the silent era in that plot took a back seat to continuous movement and action in a light vein.

   French director Philippe de Broca (En Garde, Dear Inspector, King of Hearts) had a big success earlier with a Bondian spoof That Man From Rio featuring French superstar Jean Paul Belmondo as an innocent caught up in spy-jinks and very physical action adventure in a comic in the style of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Up to His Ears is de Broca and Belmondo’s followup to that international hit.

   Belmondo here is Arthur Lemepeur, a poor billionaire so bored with his fortune he wants to kill himself, but keeps failing at it. To that end, and to the discomfort of his valet Leon (Jean Rochefurt), his fiance Alice (Valéry Legrange, and her parents (Jess Hahn and Marie Pancome), all on his yacht with him in Hong Kong, he asks his Chinese lawyer Mr. Goh (Valêry Inkijioff) to hire someone to kill him, a contract that will expire in thirty days.

   The assassins show up (Mario David and Paul Prèbost), Roquentin and Cornac, a sad sack pair if there ever was one, but Belmondo eludes them ending up in the nightclub where Alexandrine Pinardel (Ursula Andress) strips. He ends up in her dressing room, and she takes him under her wing when he and Leon hide there and as must be expected, it is love at first sight.

   In the meantime he has also learned he lost his fortune, so he no longer has any reason to die, but Mr. Goh has traveled to Nepal and can’t call off the assassins.

   So Arthur and Leon are off to the the roof of the world, where they are very nearly sacrificed by natives in a remote area before being rescued by Roquentin and Cornac, who rather than assassins are private detectives Mr. Goh hired to protect him.

   He returns to Hong Kong and finally finds Mr. Goh, only to discover that in an effort to help him his future mother in law has hired Hong Kong gangster Charlie Fallinster (Joe Said) to murder him and he now has an army of assassins pursuing him, Leon, Alexandrine, and Roquentin and Cornac as they try to live out the remaining time. Meanwhile, Fallinster is so angered by Belmondo’s continued escapes he no longer cares about the deadline and plans to kill him anyway.

   Antic is the best way to describe this film. It doesn’t always make sense, but it is a live action cartoon as were several Belmondo did in this period, and his mobile face and lean athletic form give this the grace of a Jackie Chan film, which it resembles at times. The scenery and Andress are both gorgeous to look at — the word spectacular comes to mind — and she proves more adept at comedy than you might expect, much less an ice goddess than in most roles. A few bits here and there fall flat, but for the most part they work and there are some spectacular stunts.

   The film is silly in an inventive and cartoonish way, a broad comedy that benefits by a decent script and the charm of the stars, particularly Belmondo and Rochefurt playing off of each other. It is currently available on Hulu in a nice letterboxed print, and one well worth the effort for fans of the genre, Belmondo, or de Broca’s films. It is not as good as That Man From Rio, but only misses that by a little. If you like this kind of broad action comedy, it is a fine example of the form.

TWO GIRLS ON BROADWAY. MGM, 1940. Lana Turner, Joan Blondell, George Murphy, Kent Taylor, Richard Lane, Wallace Ford. Director: S. Sylvan Simon.

   Reportedly a remake of The Broadway Melody (1929), a movie I have not seen, but which was described to me as definitely being a pre-Code film in many ways. You will have to tell me.

   What most is definitely true is that Lana Turner is the featured attraction in this one, and although still very early in her career, she certainly is extremely attractive, innocently glamorous and intrinsically eye-catching as well as any other similar compounded adjectives you can think of. Besides looking quite shapely getting dressed (or undressed) backstage, Miss Lana Turner also demonstrates that she could keep up very well on the dance floor with Mr. George Murphy, a pretty good hoofer himself.

   The story is only incidental. Two sisters (Lana and Joan Blondell) head for New York with the fiancé of the latter in search of fame and fortune on Broadway, only to learn that the younger sister and the fiancé are meant for each other, while the young lady in question is at the same time resisting the advances of a Broadway cad, who has been married five times already and is trying to leer his way into the arms of a sixth.

   But who cares? I enjoyed this one.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         

THE VILLAIN. Columbia Pictures, 1979. Kirk Douglas, Ann-Margaret, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ruth Buzzi, Jack Elam, Mel Tillis, Paul Lynde, Strother Martin, Foster Brooks. Directed by Hal Needham.

   The most amazing thing about this laughless painful attempt at a live action Road Runner cartoon is just how plodding and unimaginative it is. Kirk Douglas is oily Cactus Jack Slade, an inept outlaw whose horse, Whiskey, has all the brains, and the best lines. He is hired by crooked banker Jack Elam (his comedic talents wasted) to steal the money he has loaned to miner Strother Martin from Martin’s daughter Charming Jones (Ann-Margaret) so he can foreclose and take control of the mine. Arnold is Handsome Stranger, the inept and brainless hero Martin persuades to accompany his daughter.

   That is pretty much it. Kirk plays Wily E. Coyote to Arnold’s clueless Road Runner in an endless series of gags as Cactus Jack finds more and more imaginative ways to fail in his attempts to steal the money and assault Charming’s virtues, which are on display for everyone to admire, while Handsome and Charming go their wearying way never noticing.

   This could have been fun. It is not. Every gag is set up by long tracking shots, and drawn out to the point every non laugh is telegraphed. No, telegraphed, telephoned, emailed, snail mailed… this film has all the pace of a high school documentary on how a bill passes through Congress. Even the stunts are done in endless slo mo and dragged to their death by Needham’s static camera, and apparent belief that the audience needs them spelled out as if they were pre schoolers.

   Look, look, see he’s grabbing that branch, he’s leaning out over the canyon, the branch is going to break off, see, see…

   The one-liners, delivered by a top notch cast, are also done as if the actors were waiting for the laugh track to kick in. This film has more pregnant pauses than a maternity ward full of premature labor patients. Paul Lynde has a few decent lines but his weird accent as Native American chief Nervous Elk and the dead slow delivery every actor gives their lines kills them. Every line is delivered with that strange other worldly slowness we recall from friends in college so stoned they were experiencing out of body phenomena. It’s as if the sound track was out of sync with the film, or maybe had been put with the wrong film entirely.

   I will be honest, I downloaded this for free off YouTube, and it wasn’t worth the cost. I am grateful I paid nothing to see this dog’s long painful death.

   I will single out the horse playing Whiskey, Douglas’s steed. The horse is a fine comedic talent with impeccable timing and an easy grace on screen. Sadly he is defeated by the incredibly inept direction, acting, stunts, papier mache boulders (you can actually see the seams), laughless screenplay, and over all gormless stupidity of the proceedings. When Ann-Margaret’s considerable charms are on such obvious display and I still can’t keep my eyes on the screen, the film is indeed hopeless. This one is worse than that.

   The villain here is the studio for not burning all the copies of this deadly dull thud ear film. It’s escape into theaters surely qualifies as some sort of war crime.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         

BANG BANG! Fox STAR Studios, India, 2014. Hrithik Roshan, Katrina Kaif, Pavan Malhotra, Danny Denzongpa. Directed by Siddharth Anand.

   This 153 minute action comedy/musical is nothing less than a remake/ripoff of Knight and Day with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, save this one is actually funny, the leads attractive, the action cartoonish but dazzling, and the plot halfway fun.

   Indian Super Criminal Omar Zafar (Danny Denzonpa) escapes from a super prison, murdering Colonel Nanda, who captured him, and announcing he wants an Indian national criminal to steal the Kohinoor diamond, the centerpiece of the British Crown in the Tower of London.

   That is no more said than it is done. Meanwhile in Simla province in the mountains, Harleen Sahani works at her boring job as a receptionist and the Bank of Shimla (their spelling) and lives with her grandmother who would like her life to be more exciting, like meeting the dashing thief who stole the Kohinoor from the British.

   Meanwhile, also in Simla, Rajveer (Hrithik Roshan) is meeting with Zafar’s men to sell them the diamond. Of course they plan to double cross him, but then he was going to double cross them as well.

   There’s a fight, a chase, Rajveer meets Harleen cute, there is another fight, meanwhile the Internal Security Service gets onto Rajveer’s presence in Simla and shows up, and Harleen is suddenly sought by both sides for being involved with him.

   The first big musical production number, a staple of Bollywood films of all genres, takes place after Rajveer and Harleen meet cute and before the second big fight/shootout. And we are off, he drugs her and then saves her from the ISS, they end up on the run, she’s a handicap, then a help, they fall in love, she believes he lied to her, she double crosses him, she goes back home, Omar Zafar kidnaps her, Rajveer shows up to rescue her and we find out what has really been going on all along …

   But along the way it is nice to see the beautiful winter scenery in Simla, and Abu Dhabi and Prague are lovely to look at… It’s that kind of film. It doesn’t have a serious bone in its head. But it is noisy, silly, handsome, funny, goofy in a likable way, and not half as annoying as I found Cruise or Diaz’s smug self-satisfied screen personas in the basic same story.

   Truth is, save for the musical numbers, this works much better than Knight and Day as both a love story and an action film. In fact some of the action scenes are actually exciting and there is a little suspense, which is more than I could say for Cruise and Diaz.

   Yes, it goes on too long, and you will most likely take a snack or bathroom break or fast forward through those endless musical numbers, but the last half of the film is an action fan’s delight, and the cartoonish violence much more fun than anything in Knight and Day.

THE MAGNIFICENT DOPE. 20th Century Fox, 1942. Henry Fonda, Lynn Bari, Don Ameche, Edward Everett Horton. Director: Walter Lang.

   I haven’t checked Lynn Bari’s filmography in detail, but I have a feeling that this is one of her relatively few big budget movies she’d made up to this point of time, 1942, and maybe even later. It’s a comedy-romance, and even with Henry Fonda as a goofy guy from Vermont come to the big city to be taken advantage of (a role at that time of his career he was born to play), it’s not all that funny.

   But perhaps it was in 1942. Funny, that is. Today the best it might be considered is amusing.

   Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

   Don Ameche plays Dwight Dawson, the smooth-talking head of a personal success school that’s floundering on the rocks and going down for the third time. Lynn Bari is his level-headed assistant (and steady girl friend) who comes up with a great ad campaign: to create a contest to find the laziest, least successful man in America, give him a check for $500 and a free course in the Dwight Dawson school, and make him a big success.

   You can probably take it from here: Henry Fonda accepts the check, refuses the course, but falls (secretly) in love with Lynn Bari, and decides maybe he needs to become a success after all.

   Question: Who changes who? Henry Fonda or the world of big business? Who gets the girl? Henry Fonda or Don Ameche?

   That’s what I thought. But to their credit, they all play their parts extremely well.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         

HAZARD. Paramount Pictures, 1948. Paulette Goddard, Macdonald Carey, Fred Clark, Stanley Clements, Percy Helton, Frank Faylen, Charles McGraw. Maxie Rosenbloom Screenplay by Arthur Sheekman and Roy Chanslor (his novel). Directed by George Marshall.

   Looking at that cast and those credits you can forgiven for thinking this must be a small missing gem you have somehow overlooked.

   I had fairly high hopes for this when I saw the cast and credits — for about fifteen minutes.

   Goddard is Ellen Crane, a spoiled rich girl with a gambling problem ever since the boy she was engaged to died in the war. Fred Clark is Lonnie, the owner of Club 7 who has a thing for her. She is into him for $5,000 and a hot check and he offers her a deal; high card wins and she is either clear or she marries him.

   She doesn’t draw the high card or there would be no plot. She skips town, but Lonnie hires skip tracer Storm (Macdonald Carey) to stop her starting a cross country race that leads to Chicago and Los Angeles, and then a road trip back as she and Storm connect. He even does a little cheap analysis proving she has been trying to lose her father’s money by compulsive gambling because she blames that for her boyfriend’s death.

   George Marshall was one of the masters of the comedic form, and the cast is uniformly good, but this is the flattest film you have ever had the bad luck to see. There is no spark between Goddard and Carey, the script is dishwater dull, and not even the character actors manage a bright moment.

   There isn’t a genuine laugh in the picture. There’s not a moment where the film ever rises above the level of one single note. Even a bit of action and rough stuff at the ending leaves the blood pressure low. When George Marshall can’t even choreograph a comedic fight you know things are bad.

   There is one single funny line, the last one in the film delivered by Frank Faylen to Fred Clark followed by Clark’s double take, but by then it is far too little too late. Skip this and take a nap instead. It will be more exciting — likely more laughs too.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         

THREE GIRLS ABOUT TOWN. Columbia Pictures, 1941. Joan Blondell, Binnie Barnes, Janet Blair, John Howard, Eric Blore, Una O’Connor, Hugh O’Connell. Bruce Bennett, Lloyd Bridges. Guest Star: Robert Benchley. Screenplay by Richard Carroll. Directed by Leigh Jason.

   Joan Blondell and Binnie Barnes are sisters who work as Convention Hostesses at the Merchants Hotel where Binnie has a thing for chief clerk, the much harassed Robert Benchley. It’s the busy season and things are more hectic than normal because a convention of magicians is being followed by a staid convention of morticians and because Joan’s boyfriend, reporter John Howard, wrote an article implying the ladies are more than just helpful to convention attendees. This has caught the attention of the head of the undertakers convention and a ladies group who meets weekly at the hotel.

   Add to all that a major union and the bosses are having nationally important talks at the hotel in hopes of avoiding a strike that could leave the country vulnerable, and as yet the mediator from Washington has yet to show.

   Howard just wants Blondell to quit so they can marry, but she and Binnie can’t think of themselves because younger sister Janet Blair is away at an expensive finishing school they are paying for. Which is why Blondell decks Howard for the first of several swings in this lightweight but fast and smartly written screwball comedy well played all around.

   Of course Blondell could do comedy blindfolded and still hit her marks, as could Barnes and of course Benchley and Blore, but Howard does surprisingly well as the fast-talking, fast-thinking reporter whose life is about to get complicated.

   Then there is a very drunk Eric Blore pestering everyone by asking where Charlie is.

   It’s at this point that maid Una O’Connor and her helpers find a body in the bedroom next to the girls’ room.

   Don’t get ahead of me. You are expected to get the connection.

   Joan and Binnie quickly convince Benchley, Binnie’s boyfriend, that the hotel can’t afford a body to be found like that, especially with those staid undertakers and pressure from the Ladies Club who have read Howard’s article and want answers, so they decide to move the body. Which is all well and good until Howard discovers the corpse and recognizes it is the mediator everyone is looking for. It’s the scoop of a lifetime for him and a certain raise at the paper if he can be the one to turn in the story. But Blondell is determined the body won’t be found in the hotel.

   Now, to make things decidedly worse, little sister Janet Blair shows up, and finishing school has about finished her. She sets her sights on sister Joan’s boyfriend John Howard from the get go, showing all about what she learned of the fine art of lip oscillation at that exclusive school for hormonal young women.

   There is also a cop, Hugh O’Connell, whose wife is having a baby that is taking its time getting here, the only thing he can think about until he discovers Howard is hiding a body.

   There is nothing startling or new here. If you have seen a screwball comedy you will recognize the form from the first scene, but here it works with almost perfect timing, an attractive cast of mostly B or minor A stars and supporting actors and some clever bits including Howard caught in a poker game where the corpse can’t lose a hand no matter how hard Howard tries — he throws away three aces and draws three queens to match the one he has — and a bit straight from The 39 Steps where he poses as the mediator and fast talks the settlement of the strike while the police look on.

   Meanwhile Eric Blore still can’t find Charlie.

   Not much more I can say, save that this is not a comedy mystery, though it plays much like one for most of its run. No spoilers to explain why it isn’t, save that the why would have you throwing things at the screen in frustration if you saw it in an actual mystery. Here it just seems to fit the whole screwball format of the film.

   Blondell looks as good as you ever saw her in a film, and Blair makes a satisfactory tempest of a sexpot little sister. Binnie Barnes couldn’t help but be good in this kind of film, and Eric Blore and Robert Benchley … well, do I really have to say it?

   It’s John Howard, who usually played rather stalwart unimaginative leads or decidedly stiff second or third leads (Lost Horizon, The Philadelphia Story), who is a surprise here, though if you watched him in the Bulldog Drummond films or The Invisible Woman, you might not be quite as surprised.

   He shows considerable charm and comic timing in this one, and the ending when he referees while Janet Blair receives a much deserved public spanking from sisters Joan and Binnie, and soon to be brother-in-law Robert Benchley actually rises to that kind of giddy high usually only achieved in major screwball comedies with people like Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in Bringing up Baby or James Stewart and Claudette Colbert in It’s a Wonderful World.

   I’m not comparing this to those classics, only pointing out it achieves one genuine lighter than air moment of sheer exuberance mindful of those found in those films. That’s quite an accomplishment for a film with these credentials.


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