Films: Comedy/Musicals


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


PARIS WHEN IT SIZZLES. Paramount, 1964. William Holden, Audrey Hepburn, Noel Coward, with appearances by Marlene Dietrich, Mel Ferrer, Frank Sinatra and Tony Curtis. Written by George Axelrod, based on the film Holiday for Henrietta (La fête à Henriette, 1952) written by Julien Duvivier and Henri Jeanson. Directed by Richard Quine.

   Someone’s going to have to help me with this; I’ve seen Paris When It Sizzles a bunch of times and I still can’t figure out whether it’s a sophisticated bit of avant-garde filmmaking that slipped in under the Hollywood radar — or a complete flop.

   It’s certainly a styish affair, with guest stars, location shooting in Paris and Antibes, lavish sets and two mega-stars. The photography is lush, the colors bright and the music bouncy, but at times all the Paramount splendour mitigates against the intimacy of what is essentially a two-character/one-set story.

   Said story is set (unsteadily) on the premise of an overpaid, boozy, middle-aged screenwriter (guess who?) who, having run through the exorbitant fee paid him to write a screenplay, is holed up in a luxury hotel in Paris trying desperately to churn out a story. Enter Audrey Hepburn as his day-job typist tuned amanuensis and we’re launched into a knowing duologue about film theory that turns into a love story.

   Only there’s a bit more to it than that; as Holden and Hepburn craft their tale, the movie suddenly turns into the film they’re writing, a slick caper-flick (starring Holden & Hepburn, natch) about international thieves, dogged cops and …

    … and then we suddenly cut back to our stars in the hotel room, re-writing the story as they hedge their emotional bets, hearts on sleeves but cards close to the vest….

    … and then back to the film-in-the film, as the characters flirt with danger and each other, bluffing about their motives and feelings as they get closer to the big score and the police move in on them….

   I don’t know how Holiday for Henrietta (the film this was based on) handled all this, but the notion was sufficiently off-beat at the time that when Robbe-Grillet used it a few years later in Trans-Europ Express (1966) the critics called it avant-garde. Paramount was so nervous about the concept as to hold off releasing the film for two years, and when it finally escaped it was roundly razzed by critics who couldn’t resist rhyming sizzle and fizzle.

   And in fact, some of the most elaborate gags in the film fall totally flat. Writer George Axelrod (The Manchurian Candidate, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter) is wonderfully trenchant when dissecting pop culture and the movies, but someone (I hope it wasn’t he) decided to inject lethal doses of broad slapstick and overdone excess.     (*)

   (*)   “overdone excess” Isn’t that a bit redundant? Well I’ve always felt that excess serves an aesthetic function in some movies, but you have to be careful not to overdo it.

   Anyway, I should mention in passing that Tony Curtis is screamingly funny as a sulky bit-player, and though the biggest moments of Paris/Sizzles deflate themselves, the quieter bits sneak pleasantly up on one. Shaw once observed that our faults and our virtues don’t come in matched sets like bookends, and perhaps this is true of films as well as people. This film anyway.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


ROUSTABOUT. Paramount, 1964. Elvis Presley, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Freeman, Leif Erickson, Sue Ane Langdon, Pat Buttram, Joan Staley, Dabbs Greer. Director: John Rich.

   Elvis Presley made a lot of movies, some better than others. While Roustabout may not immediately come to mind as one of his best cinematic achievements, it’s nevertheless an exceptionally well-paced and enjoyable 1960s film that makes great use of bright colors and Elvis’s musical abilities. The soundtrack apparently did well on the Billboard charts. That’s no surprise, as a few of the numbers, such as “Little Egypt” and “Poison Ivy League,” are just great, if lesser known, Elvis songs.

   Directed by John Rich, with cinematography by Lucien Ballard, Roustabout was produced by Hal Wallis and stars Elvis as Charlie Rogers, an itinerant, motorcycle-driving, young man without much faith in the goodness of everyday people. He is rough around the edges, scornful of those born into privilege, and drifts from place to play, playing his guitar, hoping to get to Phoenix or to Los Angeles.

   When a vehicular mishap damages Rogers’ motorcycle, he ends up staying at a carnival run by Maggie Morgan (Barbara Stanwyck). Morgan’s got her hands full. A bank agent is on her tail, pursuing claims stemming from a lawsuit. One of her top employees, Joe (Leif Erickson) has a drinking problem and a temper. And then there’s Joe’s lovely young daughter, Cathy (Joan Freeman), who develops a love-hate relationship with our boy, Charlie, who doesn’t have much experience on how to conduct himself professionally with the world weary Maggie.

   In general, Roustabout plays it light. But there are genuine dramatic, even tragic moments. The majority of the film takes place within the confines of the traveling carnival. There’s nothing necessarily surreal or spooky about the carnies. They’re just, to be honest, quite a sad bunch, societal misfits forced together by circumstance. It takes Charlie Rogers nearly the whole movie to realize that he’s a bit of a misfit of himself and maybe, just maybe, he needs something more stable in his life than the open road and a yearning to hit the big time.

   Director John Rich and cinematographer Lucien Ballard would work together again on Boeing Boeing, also a Hal Wallis Production that, like Roustabout, has that unmistakable mid-1960s feel and which also makes extensive, and impressive, use of bright colors.



BOEING BOEING. Paramount, 1965. Tony Curtis, Jerry Lewis, Dany Saval, Christiane Schmidtmer, Suzanna Leigh, Thelma Ritter. Director: John Rich.

   A comedic farce based on a play by Marc Camoletti and starring Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis, Boeing Boeing’s theatrical roots are quite evident throughout the course of the movie. This, of course, has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, the theatrical nature of the film allows both Lewis and Curtis to showcase their penchant for physical comedy, manic energy, and quick timing.

   Unfortunately, however, the movie at times feels too much like a play on screen, and some of the immediacy and magic that a live audience would experience seeing a stage production of Boeing Boeing just seems to be missing here.

   The premise is simple enough. Curtis portrays Bernard Lawrence, an American newspaperman based in Paris. His hobby, as it were, is stewardesses. Much to the chagrin of his housekeeper, Bertha (Thelma Ritter), he dates more than one at a time. Lawrence has to keep constant track of their flight schedules so as to prevent them all landing at once, as it were.

   When his friendly rival, Robert Reed (Jerry Lewis), shows up in Paris, all bets are off. Reed soon learns what Lawrence is up to and he wants in on the action.

   And by action, I mean a British stewardess (Suzanna Leigh). That still allows Lawrence time enough with his other two gals, a Lufthansa girl (Christianne Schmidtmer) and a somewhat local French girl (Dany Saval).

   It’s a fast-paced, thoroughly frantic, race to the finish, as the two bachelors attempt to prevent each of the three gals from knowing about, let alone, meeting one another. And as you might very well guess, it doesn’t work out for the two scheming men.

   Although I didn’t enjoy Boeing Boeing quite as much as I had expected, the film does have a simply great performance by Jerry Lewis in what was to be his last motion picture with Paramount. If you like him as a comedic actor, it’s worth seeking out. At times, his facial expressions and body language are just comedic gold.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


SUSAN SLEPT HERE. RKO Radio Pictures, 1954. Dick Powell, Debbie Reynolds, Anne Francis, Glenda Farrell, Alvy Moore, Horace McMahon, Les Tremayne. Screenplay by Alex Gottlieb, based on his play with Steve Fisher Directed by Frank Tashlin.

   “Any judge that starts handing out 17 year old girls to thirty five year old lawyers is going to be elected President next time.”

   This surprisingly open sex farce squeaks by for inclusion on this blog because it stars a former Philip Marlowe, Honey West, and is based on a play co-written by Steve Fisher (I Wake Up Screaming) — and yes, it as about as tentative as a connection to this site as I could find, but I came up with one anyway. You don’t have to buy it, just accept it.

   I don’t think you could sell this one today or make it, but somehow with Dick Powell and Debbie Reynolds and narrated by Powell’s screenwriter character’s Oscar, this one skates all over its premise, never quite going too far or letting you really consider what is going on here.

   Powell is Mark Christopher, screenwriter and novelist, whose career is headed south for the pole in double time. On Christmas Eve his cop pal Horace MacMahon shows up on his doorstep with juvenile delinquent Susan Landis, Debbie Reynolds, in tow. Christopher once considered writing a movie about a JD, maybe if he spends the evening with her he’ll get some ideas.

   Ideas he gets. Not for a screenplay, though.

   Powell is none too happy, but he can’t throw her back in reform school on Christmas Eve, so after they calm her down a bit, he arranges for his secretary Maud, Glenda Farrell (keep an eye out for Red Skelton in a cameo as her long lost boyfriend Oswald — “You’ll get another Oscar, I get an Oswald”), to keep her, but Maud is on a bender, and his old Navy pal Virgil, Alvy Moore, who was his lieutenant in the war, leaves him in the lurch. His fiancee Isabella, Anne Francis, isn’t the forgiving sort either when Susan answers his phone.

   Susan: She said she was going out with the assistant butler … What does an assistant butler do?

   After a night that includes a long gin game, an uncomfortable couch and Susan sleeping with a rolling pen under her pillow in his bedroom, Powell calls in lawyer Les Tremayne with the bright idea of marrying Susan — she has a paper from her mother in Peru on her honeymoon allowing her to marry — to keep her out of reform school. Of course in name only. When she is 18 and safe in four months, they’ll get her an annulment, some money, and a job.

   So it’s off to Vegas, and a honeymoon night spent on the dance floor, and the next morning Mark takes off to work in Sun Valley as Hurricane Isabella hits. Susan plans to leave, but Maud persuades her to take some motherly advice.

   Virgil: You, a mother?

   Maud: I typed the script for “Stella Dallas.”

   So Susan stays and spider lady Isabella gets thrown out, though she’s not through.

   Mark can’t get a divorce because they never consummated the marriage and Susan lets his lawyer know in no uncertain terms Mark can’t have an annulment, but he can a divorce. Then she very publicly lets everyone think she is pregnant and Mark assumes it was Virgil.

   Then his lawyer’s analyst convinces him that he’s in love with Susan.

   Mark: How can I love her, she’s a delinquent girl?

   Doctor: You seem to be a delinquent husband.

   Of course the age difference does come up, a determined Mark no match for an even more determined Susan.

   Mark: When I’m 60 how old will you be?

   Susan and Mark together: I’ll (You’ll) never be over 30.

   As Virgil informs him: You accidentally married the right girl.

   Of course Reynolds had a career at this point as the sexy wholesome outspoken but practical virgin (Tammy) and film makers of the era were experts at the tease, but this one teases hard with a difficult subject, and it could go so wrong so easily and doesn’t.

   Other than Cary Grant, I can’t think of any actor by Powell who could bring this off half so well.

   I suppose some one will find this offensive, but this is Hollywood and not the real world, a romantic comedy, and not a police blotter or a case for a social worker. Lighten up, recognize this has no connection to reality, and enjoy some fine players, finely playing their assigned rolls.

   This was Powell’s last film, and ironically includes a musical fantasy sequence from Susan’s dream, though he doesn’t croon. Don Cornell does the only song in the film other than the brief title song (“So This is the Kingdom of Heaven”). It’s fitting Powell that should go back to his roots for his last screen outing. He even wears a sailor suit in the fantasy sequence.

   To give this full credit, maybe no one in the world but Debbie Reynolds and Dick Powell could have pulled off how sexy this film is without offending anyone, and Frank Tashlin is one of the few directors who could have brought it off. (Tashlin had a great touch with humor and sex for someone who started out directing cartoons and made his live screen debut with Bob Hope and Trigger in Son of Paleface.)

   Susan Slept Here is bright, funny, sexy, gorgeous to look at, and deftly done at all points. Reynolds and Francis are at their most attractive and it is always fun to see Francis get a shot at comedy, something she was quite adept at. There is a very funny and at the same time sexy scene when teen Susan compares herself to Francis’s sexy photo and tries to rearrange things to better recreate it. It’s a perfect showcase for what Reynolds did better than almost anyone else. It’s fine and funny final nod to the medium for Powell, and its nice to see Farrell still funny and sassy this late in the game.

   It’s the kind of thing Rock Hudson and Doris Day would later do to great success, but lacking in the rather tasteless sniggering attitude to sex of those films.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


THE GHOST BREAKERS. Paramount Pictures, 1940. Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Richard Carlson, Paul Lukas, Anthony Quinn, Willie Best, Virginia Brissac, Noble Johnson, Tom Dugan, Paul Fix, Lloyd Corrigan Screenplay Walter DeLeon, based on a play by Paul Dickey Director: George Marshall.

   If you asked me to list the ten best comedy-mystery films of the Golden Age of Cinema there are certain films that could not be left off the list, The Thin Man, Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back, The Cat and the Canary, My Favorite Blonde … But there is only one film that could be in the number one spot, the perfect blend of comedy, mystery, and scares, The Ghost Breakers.

   It wasn’t a new story then. It had been filmed twice before in the silent era and was based on a play that had also been novelized (it’s available as a free e-book), and it would be filmed again with Martin and Lewis as Scared Stiff (1953), but when you find the perfect cast, directors, and script — helped along to no small extent by Bob Hope’s army of gag writers — familiarity is a small problem.

   Bob Hope is radio star Laurence (Larry) Lawrence in this one. His middle name is Laurence too: “My parents had no imagination.” Larry does a radio show in which he uses his contacts in the underworld, namely Raspy Kelly (Tom Dugan), to get the inside dope on racketeers. When he reveals gangster Frenchie Duval (Paul Fix) is running a diaper service racket and not cutting his men and partners in on it, Frenchie is unhappy and invites Larry over to ‘talk.’

   It’s the night of a spectacular thunder storm (“Basil Rathbone must be having a party.”) that keeps knocking the power out which will further complicate things, but the station assures Bob they have auxiliary power and the show will go on.

       Receptionist to Bob: “You were great tonight, in your own opinion.”

       Bob, taken aback with no comeback: “I’m working on it.”

   Larry was going on vacation after the show, but not as far as he fears Frenchie will send him.

   Staying at the same hotel is Mary Carter (Paulette Goddard), who has inherited an island off Cuba known as Black Island on which stands the old slave castle Castillo Maldito once owned by her ancestor Don Santiago — who doesn’t care to vacate the place it seems. Anyone who goes there save the old black woman caretaker (Virginia Brissac) and her zombie son (Noble Johnson in terrific makeup) dies.

   Paul Lukas is Mr. Parada who wants to buy the place for $50,000, but when Ramon Mederos (Anthony Quinn) calls and warns her against selling she pulls back. She’s sailing for Cuba that night and might as well see what she owns.

   Larry and his man Alex (Willie Best in one of his best roles) show up at the hotel with Larry packing Alex gun, and on the 14th floor Larry, Mederos, and Parada come together. Mederos is killed and Larry thinks he did it so he ducks into Mary’s room and she takes pity on him.

   Larry hides in her trunk and ends up in her stateroom sailing for Cuba when the police search her room and her trunk is loaded to take to the dock.

   There is a classic bit on the dock as Alex hunts among the myriad trunks for the one Larry is in.

       To policeman: “I used to be a porter, I just love trunks.”

   It gets even better when a drunk becomes convinced Alex is a ventriloquist when he hears Larry in the trunk.

   Once on board Alex informs Larry he couldn’t have shot Maderos because the gun is the wrong caliber, but by then Larry notices Goddard is in trouble and despite himself he decides to go to Cuba with her to investigate Black Island; though he might regret that a bit when someone tries to drop a fire bucket full of sand on his head on the foggy deck.

   Ghosts or not, there is a very real killer lurking in the shadows.

   In short order they end up in Cuba where Goddard meets an old friend who lives there, Geoff Montgomery (Richard Carlson), and he joins the quest to help her, but that night when he takes Goddard to a local club she realizes Larry and Alex have gone to the island ahead to protect her. She determines to go too, but before she can leave meets the threatening Francisco Mederos (Quinn playing twins). Once he is gone she decides to swim to the island despite the sharks and see for herself leaving a note for Geoff that Mederos spots and reads as well.

   And once on the island, they are all in for a surprise or two.

   The film moves at a clip, joke on top of scare on top of clever line on top of intriguing mystery. It never stops to breathe or let you, or let you worry if any t’s are left uncrossed and i’s undotted. (Lloyd Corrigan keeps appearing running into Mary but we never find out who he is or what his role was.) Hope and Goddard had previously starred in the hit The Cat and the Canary (another remake) which is why Ghost Breakers got made in the first place.

   A word has to be said about Willie Best in this film, because without him, much of this would not work. I suppose to be politically correct it must be mentioned the role is a common stereotype of the era as is Noble Johnson’s part as the zombie. I can understand why that might interfere with some people’s enjoyment of the film, but beyond that, and making no apologies for the prejudices of the time period, Willie Best, one of the best light support comics of his era, is every bit Bob Hope’s equal in this exchanging quips and punch lines as brightly and cleverly as Bob. He is no more cowardly than Bob, and his reactions are just as funny. Compare this to the more offensive similar role he plays in The Smiling Ghost, and you will see what I mean.

   It really is a pleasure to watch them playing off each other in this. They are much more a team here than the usual black supporting character of the era is in other films. He may play a servant, but he is every bit Bob’s equal in every scene, and the two characters show real affection and respect for each other while exchanging smart lines and gentle barbs. Even the few racial jokes are less offensive than most.

   The scenes at Castillo Maldito are the film’s highlight, and Marshall milks them for all they are worth, with specters, an organ that plays itself, secret passages, cobwebs on cobwebs, and one stunning moment when Goddard descends the staircase dressed in her ancestors black gown to the shock of zombie Johnson. There are some genuine frissons in these scenes of a type that won’t be seen again on screen until The Univited, a serious ghost story.

   You know this will all work out, the mystery of Black Island and Castillo Maldito will be solved and the killer revealed, and as you have to expect from the beginning there is at least one final kicker, but this is easily the best of a great tradition, and one of the rare perfect films ever made. There isn’t a single false step in it. No gag falls flat, no scene plays false including a punny bit where Bob and Goddard are trying to unscare each other with phony British airs while dancing and exchanging awful puns and word play. This would not work at all with almost anyone else, but these two have it down pat, and you can see the mischief in both their eyes. You have to know that scene was broken up numerous times by Bob and Paulette getting more risque than the censors would allow on screen.

   The Ghost Breakers is funny when it is supposed to be funny, and it is scary when it is supposed to be scary, and it sometimes manages to be both at once. There is even a pretty good clue which hadn’t been quite so over used in film then, though it was pretty old hat in books long before that.

   I first saw this around age ten and I recall it was pretty scary then. Less so now of course, but I still appreciate the art that goes into it, and every time I watch it I see something new in the three main characters performances: Hope, Goddard, and Best are the reason to watch this film and the three divide the pleasures surprisingly equally. They are reason enough to watch this one, even if it wasn’t the perfect model of its type.

   But don’t misunderstand, I am saying unequivocally that The Ghost Breakers is the best comedy mystery Hollywood ever made. There is everything else and then there is The Ghost Breakers.

HORROR ISLAND. Universal Pictures, 1941. Dick Foran, Leo Carrillo, Peggy Moran, Fuzzy Knight, John Eldredge, Lewis Howard, Hobart Cavanaugh, Walter Catlett, Ralf Harolde, Iris Adrian. Director: George Waggner.

   Sometimes you’re expecting one thing and you get something else. Not all the time, not most of the time. It’s actually rather seldom, and sometimes it doesn’t turn out well at all. But when it does — and I imagine you’ve guessed by now that this is one of those times — it’s makes you feel great just to be able to stand up and tell other people about it.

   Or maybe just a little foolish.

   Horror Island may not be to all tastes. You have to be fond of creaky but often still entertaining tales of old dark houses or mansions, isolated for one reason or another from the rest of the world — snowbound, stormbound (lots of thunder and lightning), or the like — filled with strangers, mostly, with some kind of evil or sinister presence among them, or controlling them in weird or evil ways for some nefarious purpose unknown.

   And — of course! — lots of hidden panels and secret passageways, suits of armor perhaps with eyes peering out from within, painting with peepholes and in active use. You know what I mean. It’s all kind of silly and fun, except when the dead bodies start to pile up, at which point your sense of make believe has to kick in. The actors are not taking this all very seriously, so why should you?

   What makes Horror Island a little different is that it takes place on (guess what) an island, where two enterprising entrepreneurs (Dick Foran and Fuzzy Knight) have created a tourist trap mystery-adventure cruise, complete with a castle-like mansion and all the trimmings (see above). And naturally a treasure map that helps attract a small boatful of various individuals of both genders and with all kinds of motives (not all of them good).

   Even though this came in a boxset of DVDs entitled Universal Horror: Classic Movie Archive (along with such non-ringers as The Black Cat, Man Made Monster, Night Monster and Captive Wild Woman), you will noticed that I have classified this as a comedy as well as a mystery. And so it is, and if you’re in the same mindset as I am, it’s a gem.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


TRUE CONFESSION. 1937. Carole Lombard, Fred MacMurray, John Barrymore, Una Merkel, Porter Hall, Edgar Kennedy, Lynne Overman, Fritz Feld, Tom Dugan, John T. Murray, Hattie MacDaniel. Director: Wesley Ruggles.

   Honest lawyer Ken Bartlett (MacMurray) won’t represent anyone unless he thinks they are genuinely innocent, and as a result he and wife Helen (Lombard) are struggling. Since opposites attract in film as well as life, Lombard is a compulsive liar and writes fiction that doesn’t sell because as friend Merkel says, “all the people you write about are crazy.”

   Desperate for work Lombard takes a job as personal assistant to a wealthy man (John T. Murray) with plans to hide the job from her husband despite warnings from Merkel about her best qualification being something other than shorthand.

         Lombard: Where does the secretary usually do most of her work?

         Butler Fritz Feld: Hah!

   Sure enough boss gets a bit handsy, Lombard resists and hits him , and then when she goes back with Merkel in tow for her hat, the police led by Edgar Kennedy show up, and Mr. Arnold’s body is shot dead in his home office. Good thing she is married to a lawyer, but he only defends the innocent, and he’s not so sure she’s among them.

   This was the fourth and final outing for Lombard and MacMurray, and by this point they were a smooth team with another even better screwball comedy, the mystery The Princess Comes Across, under their belts. Here a mustache-bearing MacMurray is more than a little peeved with her, but still can’t live without her or with her.

   Ironically John Barrymore, top billed not that many years before in Twentieth Century, is third billed here and well towards the end of his career.

   Lombard is delightful with a fine scene when she gets caught up in Edgar Kennedy’s theory of why she did it, and then when she finds Kennedy doesn’t want an easy case, her too fertile mind leaps to his aid, and she confesses more or less just to entertain him. Whenever her tongue wanders into her right cheek there is trouble afoot.

   When her gun shows up in her apartment she is headed for a cell, and an angry MacMurray still can’t stay mad when he is near her, his stern lectures always ending in a clench even in a cell. But when he finds out she didn’t do it, his whole strategy is shot, since he can’t claim self-defense, and Lombard sees it as a chance for him to get headlines and business — even with her neck on the line, so she tells MacMurray she shot the man in self-defense even though she didn’t.

   Enter John Barrymore blowing balloons and popping them in a saloon to the annoyance of owner Lynne Overman. Barrymore lays claim to being a great criminologist as a “student of life,” and after reading about the case, he is off to the courtroom where he is a regular in his white Chaplinesque suit (clearly his character is modeled on Chaplin’s little tramp even miming the walk and the cane twirl).

   Things look bad. Prosecutor Porter Hall seems to have a perfect case for first degree murder against her, so her confession doesn’t look half so promising for her husband’s career. As Barrymore tells Merkel, “She’ll fry.”

   Barrymore shows up to talk to Lombard in her cell and frightens her to death describing how she will look “fried,” leaving her more than a little scared as reality sets in so she retracts her confession — again, but now MacMurray only wants to win the “honest way.” She’s stuck with her lie, only now she realizes she could end up in the chair.

   Watch for the scene where she and MacMurray recreate the crime in court a bit too strenuously with the less than cooperative aid of a prop door that won’t open while Barrymore lets air out of one of his balloons as commentary.

   By now even the jury is lost and find her not guilty out of sheer confusion. And there’s more to come…

   This is a fast, often zany, and at times delirious screwball comedy. It really isn’t a mystery despite the murder, and MacMurray has a point that it a lot of happiness to come from someone’s murder, but no one seems to mind as much as he does.

   Lombard rides again, unrepentant to the end, the last shot of her, as MacMurray slings her over his shoulder to try and teach her the error of her ways again, is tongue literally in cheek.

   This may not rank with It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby, or Nothing Sacred, but that said, it is fresh, funny, and thanks to Lombard, sometimes takes flight as only the best of screwball comedy can. In any case a Lombard film I’ve never seen before is always worth watching.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


HOLD YOUR BREATH. Christie, 1924. Dorothy Devore, Walter Hiers, Tully Marshall, Jimmie Adams, Priscilla Bonner, Jimmy Harrison, Lincoln Plummer, Max Davidson. Director: Scott Sidney. Shown at Cinefest 26, Syracuse NY, March 2006.

   The audience greeted the silent comedy with considerable pleasure. In its own way, it is somewhat bizarre, as cub reporter Dorothy Devore attempts to get an interview from reclusive millionaire Tully Marshall in his well-guarded apartment.

   Through a series of ruses, she gains entry and even manages to ingratiate herself when an organ-grinder’s monkey reaches through an open window and makes off with an expensive diamond bracelet, the most recently acquired bauble in Marshall’s collection.

   The rest of the film consists of Devore’s hair-raising attempts to retrieve the necklace as the monkey climbs about the building’s exterior, with a detective in hot but somewhat less exposed pursuit, A highlight for the audience was a cameo by Max Davidson as a street pedlar who takes advantage of the crowd gathered to hawk his wares.

   Devore is a delight, and this film was one of the comic highlights of the weekend. Sidney also directed the Elmo Lincoln Tarzan of the Apes, as well as another Christie comedy that I’ve seen and liked, Charley’s Aunt (1925). According to the program notes, Devore was the top female comedian on the Christie lot in the 1920s. I don’t find that hard to believe.

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