NIGHT LIFE OF THE GODS. Universal, 1935. Alan Mowbray, Florine McKinney, Peggy Shannon, Richard Carle, Theresa Maxwell Conover, Phillips Smalley , Wesley Barry. Based on the novel by Thorne Smith. Director: Lowell Sherman.

   Speaking of the Obscure and Bizarre, I had the good fortune to run across a tape of Night Life of the Gods, a long-lost comedy based on a book by Thorne Smith, from a studio that was never much good at comedy.

   Despite the typical Universal clumsiness — or maybe because of it — Night Life captures the flavor of Smith’s unique style quite nicely. The plot (something about a scientist who can turn people into statues and statues into people) lurches forward in typical Smith fashion towards nowhere in particular as our hero-scientist (Alan Mowbray) contends with insipid relatives, a loving secretary, a host of soliloquizing drop-ins and amorous women, all of whom, in typical Smith-fashion, seem to be pursuing plots in books of their own.

   The result is hardly Great Comedy (Thorne Smith was always more whimsical than humorous), but it’s an effective translation of Smith’s peculiar ethos from page to film.


   As for the actor playing the lead — in a flattering wig with his chins taped up — Alan Mowbray was always one of my favorite Unknowns. He generally played pompous, rather dull Englishmen (no one who sees him in THE KING AND I will ever remember him), and if you recall him at all, it’s probably as the Shakespearean ham in a couple of John Ford Westerns, but he was by all accounts a witty and charming man off-screen — he was one of the loyal coterie of friends who looked after John Barrymore in his later years — and his film career included highlights like the rakehell Cpt. Crawley in Becky Sharp, a bizarre Butler in the Topper films, The Devil once and George Washington twice.