THREE GIRLS ABOUT TOWN. Columbia, 1941. Joan Blondell, Robert Benchley,, Binnie Barnes, Janet Blair, John Howard, Hugh O’Connell, Frank McGlynn Sr., Eric Blore. Director: Leigh Jason.


    What this movie is, if I may be allowed to say so, is a screwball comedy that is not only not screwball, but for the most of its 75 minutes of running length, not even funny.

    Robert Benchley always cracks me up, though, no matter what movie he’s in, and as Wilburforce Puddle, the manager of the hotel for which Joan Blondell and Binnie Barnes work, he’s no exception here. Even his name is funny.

    Joan Blondell and Binnie Barnes (as Faith and Hope Banner) are hostesses for the hotel, which caters to conventions, but the wholesome kind. One wonders, though, what the local women’s civic league thinks they have been doing, marching in on the manager to deliver their complaints in person.

    Puddle has other problems. There is a magicians’ convention that is just closing, and a morticians’ convention that is coming in, and never the co-mingling should meet. Not to mention the upstairs ballroom where a defense-oriented corporation and an angry employees union are waiting for a government mediator to arrive, and worst of all, a dead man in the room next to our two ladies.

    Whose sister has just arrived, naturally named Charity (Janet Blair, in her debut film), who’s delinquent from the school where they’re sending her and a delinquent in more ways than that, the way she has eyes for Faith’s fiancĂ©, who’s in the hotel covering the labor battle but who discovers that he has another story on his hands, if the body would ever stay in one place long enough for the police to do anything about it. (Charity also gets what’s coming to her at the end of the movie. Rather remarkably, too, that’s all I can say.)

    Getting back to the main proceedings, also worth mentioning is the wandering Charlemagne, a drunken magician (Eric Blore) who interrupts the proceedings looking for his good friend Charlie wherever the laughs seem to be dying out — which is something like every five minutes.

    It is hard to say what exactly goes wrong, that this movie isn’t more fun than it should be. Everyone tries hard, but it’s tough slogging when the jokes just aren’t as funny as whoever thought them up thought they were. Either that, or my taste in humor and theirs just don’t jibe.