Saturday, August 04, 2007
I guess I should first define what I mean by the "films of the 1930s." Which isn't that easy. It's not as easy as it sounds. It's not quite 1930 to 1939. I'll be including early sound films of the late 1920s. And I'll probably be including late silent films, if I see any. ("Queen Kelly" is on my Netflix queue right now.) There are also some films in the 1940s that, by my definition, are "films of the 1930s." On into the 1940s, maybe 1946 or so, there are movies that have that "1930s feel" to them.
There are also films made in the 1930s that do not make the list. Good films, even great films, some of them, from the late thirties, have staked out the formulas that we still see in American film today. "Gone With the Wind" would be my best example, a 1939 film that is not a thirties film. I should perhaps discuss some of these, and maybe get at what I mean by "the films of the thirties."
But that will keep for awhile. I'm still thinking about what special characteristics and qualities make a film a thirties film. I have some examples of really good '30s films that really define what I love about the 1930s, and I have a good 1940 hybrid film ("Pride and Prejudice") that has elements of the '30s but just as many elements of the later decade. (And I'm having a difficult time deciding to which decade "Pride and Prejudice" belongs. Edmund Gwenn and Greer Garson adapted quite well to a transitional style and wouldn't seem out of place in either decade. But Edna May Oliver (who plays Lady DeBourgh) and the fellow playing Mr. Collins pull the film to the 1930s, whereas Laurence Olivier (as Mr. Darcy) tries to drag the film kicking and screaming into the 1950s and beyond.
What I don't have yet is a good example of a 1930s film that is unquestionably showing signs of casting off the 1930s entirely. I'll be on the lookout. Until then, please enjoy these reviews of some films of the 1930s.
THE LAWLESS FRONTIER – 1934
I'm trying to imagine a reality where this would be considered a good movie. (It would be a lot like the world in "Idiocracy," only in black and white.
It's fun, though, and I have to give this movie points for being focused. It's about the conflict between Tobin (John Wayne) and the bandit Pandro Zante.
They go all-out to make sure the audience knows that Pandro Zante is a bad guy. They make it a point to repeat that he's half-white, half-Apache Indian (to distinguish him from the Apache Pakistanis, I presume) and that he pretends to be Mexican. (Presumably so he can get all that free health care and then mingle with the day laborers at the Home Depot parking lot when he's hiding from the law.)
You can tell Zante's really bad because of his thin moustache, his squinty eyes, his sombrero, and his ostentatiously embroidered leather suit and boots. He looks like a super-villain called Mariachi Fu Manchu.
A bad, bad man.
He kills some people that Tobin seems to know. This is never really explained. Tobin finds the bodies and somehow seems to know that Zante did it, probably because everyone knows that if a half-white, half-Apache Indian pretending to be a Mexican, looking like Fu Manchu trying to pass himself off as a mariachi singer, is in the same movie as you are, then he must have murdered your friends. (It would have been harder to figure out if Bela Lugosi had been in the movie as well.)
So there's a cute girl who usually wears men's clothes, except when she wears jodhpurs and a beret, for some reason. And she looks like Faye Dunaway. And her father is Gabby Hayes.
And Tobin throws in with them and they all ride into town being chased by Zante and his gang and, once again, I can't figure out which one is Yakima Canute. And Tobin does a bunch of riding tricks, jumping into trees from his horse and then jumping on straggling bad guys, and delaying the bad guys so Gabby and his daughter can get to town.
And there's a really dumb sheriff who doesn't like Tobin for some reason, and he rationalizes like a conservative talk-show host trying to blame everything on Tobin, who is kind of like Al Gore to the sheriff's Rush Limbaugh.
There's a lot of chasing, and catching, and getting away, and the sheriff doesn't mind very much that he continually looks like an idiot (much like Rush) and John Wayne uses a water slide to try to catch the bad guy (it doesn't work, but he gets an 'A' for effort) and they both fall off their horses in the middle of the desert and the movie sort of ends with them both too tired to run and they have a walking chase scene and Zante is walking about ten steps ahead of Tobin, and then Zante, mad with thirst, drinks from a poisoned water hole and dies.
Then Tobin and Gabby and Faye Dunaway girl take care of the rest of the gang, and Tobin becomes sheriff, and then it ends. It's less than fifty minutes and it has some weird transitions where it seems like there's a reel missing, but most of Wayne's early films are like that.
I really like this one. Having a really ludicrous villain seems to help these movies immensely. This might be one of the ultimate bad '30s westerns I've been looking for. Maybe not the western version of "Bowery at Midnight," but the western counterpart of "Black Dragons."
THE MAN FROM UTAH – 1934
Another John Wayne movie. He's helping Sheriff Gabby investigate a crooked rodeo. Wayne foils a stagecoach robbery with a lot of trick riding. This one has two girls. One is dark and has a Mexican accent and is working with the crooked rodeo people. The other is the banker's daughter and she looks like Joan Crawford. John Wayne has to act like doesn't like Joan Crawford girl because he's undercover. This makes her look very sad. Sad, sad, sad. Poor girl who looks like Joan Crawford.
In the first scene, Wayne is a singing cowboy. A lip-synching cowboy, actually. It's real gay. Gay, gay, gay. Wayne surely denied he was ever a singing cowboy and I don't blame him.
This movie has lots of rodeo stock footage, including a bunch of Indians and some scenes of a charming activity called bull-dogging, which apparently means trying to twist a bull's head off for some reason.
Of course, John Wayne is the bestest at everything at the rodeo.
And there's another sheriff in this one and he is pretty damn dumb, like the sheriff in "Lawless Frontier."
The music is WEIRD! Like a really bad soundtrack for a very low-grade silent film DVD.
It all ends up OK, the bad guys get caught, Wayne ends up with the girl who looks likes Joan Crawford, and he doesn't do that silly lip-synching cowboy thing at the end.
Not the worst western ever made.
TEXAS TERROR – 1935
This is a pretty good one. Fast-paced and fun, and lacking the egregious stupidity that makes these films so delightful to make fun of. (Or maybe I've just watched too many of these lately and I'm getting stupider. Just last week, Rush Limbaugh was making sense.)
John plays John, the sheriff, and he thinks he killed his friend Dan by mistake in a shoot-out. So he quits the sheriffin' business and hands his star over to Gabby Hayes. And John sort of becomes a bum, living in the woods, panning for gold and making friends with Black Eagle and the local Indians. (And these are nice Indians. They only help the good guys and they don't go on and on about the broken treaties and they don't take over Alcatraz or anything like that. And Black Eagle gives John a ring. What a nice Indian! And he's not all worried about political correctness, so he talks like a real movie Indian should talk.)
And John doesn't shave! This is the most amazing thing about the movie. John Wayne with about five days' growth on his face! Awesome!
The other most amazing thing about this movie is that the girl (she's the daughter of the guy that John thinks he shot and she's come to take over the ranch) looks just like a blonde Julia Louis-Dreyfus! You know, Elaine from Seinfeld! Something about the idea of a western with the characters from Seinfeld, I find it irresistible.
But that's not what this movie is. John pulls himself together, shaves, goes to work for the blonde Julia Louis-Dreyfus and starts investigating what really happened when her father was killed.
There's a big dance! And they dance the Virginia Reel! For real! And a milking contest! And some really bland villains! And the Indians ride to the rescue when the bad guys try to steal the horses! (They are really nice Indians. Really, really nice.) And lots of trick riding! The dialogue sounds an awful lot like the way people really talk! Acting for the principal characters is pretty good!
Not bad. Not bad at all.
SIX OF A KIND – 1934
This is one of the forgotten comedy gems of the 1930s. I saw it on Turner Classic Movies a couple of years back and I was kicking myself that I hadn't taped it. However, it is now on a triple feature DVD collection that I got from Netflix and I highly recommend this to everyone who likes really screwy comedies.
The star of the film is Gracie Allen, but George Burns has some very funny stuff as he is kind of a dick (at times) to some of the other characters. The truth is that everybody in this is pretty good. The rest of the cast is: Charles Ruggles and Mary Boland as Mr. and Mrs. Whinney, a married couple going on a second honeymoon on their twentieth-wedding anniversary; W.C. Fields as Honest John, the sheriff in a town in Nevada; and, Alison Skipworth as a hotel owner.
The Whinneys are going to drive to Hollywood, on a carefree cross-country trip, for their little outing. Mrs. Whinney has advertised for another couple to come along and help with expenses, and so, George and Gracie show up. And so begins a week of ABSOLUTE HELL for the Whinneys that is a great delight for the audience. Gracie doesn't shut up and she will not leave the Whinneys alone to enjoy the vacation. She causes Mrs. Whinney to fall off a cliff. She wakes up a couple of hobos to ask directions and they pull a gun and rob them. And you should see Gracie's dog! It’s a Great Dane (called Rang Tang Tang for short) who's as big as a horse!
Fields is funny, but he's only in it for the last half of the movie. George and Gracie, especially Gracie, steal this movie right out from under everybody.
This movie gets my highest recommendation. It was directed by Leo McCarey, who also directed "Duck Soup" and "The Awful Truth." McCarey really knew his stuff.
HERE COMES COOKIE – 1935
This is almost as funny as "Six of a Kind." There is a troubled millionaire named Mr. Allen. He is troubled because his daughter Phyllis (Betty Furness, who is, by the way, totally hot) is engaged to a slick-looking fellow who Mr. Allen thinks is just interested in Phylis because of her wealth. So Mr. Allen signs over the entire estate to the other daughter, Gracie. (So Gracie Allen is playing Gracie Allen).
Brilliant plan. What could go wrong?
So Gracie gets it into her head that they all have to look poor, and that she should have the house torn up a bit, and that she shouldn't pay the servants, and that she should invite all the starving actors in New York to the house, and that she should have the house converted into a theater. So there's a seal in the bathtub, dogs all over the place, acrobats, a trick drummer, a fake swami, and Gracie does the balcony scene from "Romeo and Juliet."
Funny, funny, funny. It was directed by Norman Z. McLeod, who also directed "Monkey Business," "Horse Feathers," "It's A Gift," "The Paleface," and "My Favorite Spy."
Norman Z. McLeod knows funny. Highly recommended.
LOVE IN BLOOM – 1935
A bit of a disappointment after seeing the other two films on the DVD. George and Gracie work in the carnival and the opening song by Gracie is pretty funny. The circus is having a bit of trouble and the owner, who is George's father in the movie, is thrown in jail. So George and Gracie take off for New York to find George's sister.
George's sister is a hot blonde who left the circus because it was kind of demeaning and also the father is a shit. She meets a nice boy (who is a songwriter) on the day when they both get kicked out of their apartments. And they have adventures in New York and he sings to her. A lot.
So the movie goes back and forth between George and Gracie driving to New York, and shifts to the singing people in New York. The parts with George and Gracie are hysterical. Especially where Gracie gets pulled over by a cop. Watch how she gets out of a ticket!
The singing people are not quite so entertaining. This movie overstays its welcome more than a little bit. Fast forward through the singing bits and watch the bits with George and Gracie.
SAGEBRUSH TRAIL – 1933
This may be the ultimate Bronson Cave movie. The outlaw gang has a secret hideout in Bronson Cave and this movie can't stay away from it. Half the scenes are riding into Bronson Cave or standing around inside it or shooting at each other in front of it or riding a stagecoach through it, for some reason. So if you collect movies with Bronson Cave, this is the movie for you!
(Bronson Cave is in Griffith Park, not far from the Hollywood sign. It's real easy to get to, even for a tourist. It's been used in about a zillion movies and TV shows. It's the entrance to the Bat-Cave. It's in the episode of "Wild, Wild West" that has Boris Karloff. It's used in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "Robot Monster," "Night of the Blood Beast," "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavera" and about a million other movies. At least.)
I would think Bronson Cave would be a very inconvenient place for a secret hideout. There would be movie crews swarming all over the place. And when they aren't making movies there, tourists are always underfoot coming to see where all these movies were made. The bad guys would be rushing to the cave, with the posse RIGHT BEHIND THEM, and they would have to stop when they saw the tourists.
"Damn! They’re filming 'Mighty Morphin Power Rangers'! We can't get into the hideout! We'll have to fight it out here!"
"Lucky there's all these tourists milling about. The law will be reluctant to have a shoot-out."
"Dude! This is Los Angeles!"
The movie has John Wayne as a guy named John Brant and he was in prison for a murder he didn't commit but he escapes and he's hiding on a train but the law flushes him out and he steals a horse and falls in a creek and he breathes through a reed to stay underwater while the cops are looking for him. And he hooks up with the gang that has the secret hideout in Bronson Cave and they make him a cook and they have a card game and his best buddy in the gang is THE GUY WHO SHOT THE WOMAN HE WAS SENT TO PRISON FOR KILLING. But the murderer is really a nice guy at heart (WTF?) so John likes him anyway. John foils all the robbery plans by leaving notes on the wrapping paper at the local general store. He foils the stagecoach robbery by malingering at Blind Pete's with a gunshot wound, then sauntering out to rob the stage before the bad guys and hiding the strongbox in a hollow tree. He tells the shopgirl, Sally, about the box in the tree and then she goes to see him at Blind Pete's, the sheriff trails her and there's a fight. And a posse. And an ambush. And a chase, a stagecoach crash and a chariot race! A deathbed confession! And a giant caterpillar under the Salton Sea!
Yow! This movie made me hyperventilate. Not from excitement so much as from anxiety.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE – 1940
I really love "Pride and Prejudice." I got bit by the Austen bug when I saw the 2005 version of "Pride and Prejudice," the one with Kiera Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet. And then I caught the 1940 version and it is a very charming movie. And a bit strange as well. I wasn't thinking about my project to write about the films of the '30s, but I quickly realized that the 1940 version of "Pride and Prejudice" is a very good example of a transitional film between the two decades.
For one thing, you have Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier as Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, and neither of them is a '30s actor. Especially Olivier. Garson never really seems out of place, no matter who she is appearing with. But Olivier seems to be a bit baffled at times when he is interacting with some quirky fellow players who seem to have wandered in from "Alice in Wonderland" or "Oliver Twist."
On the other hand, you have Edna May Oliver as Lady DeBourgh and Melville Cooper as Mr. Collins. Edna May Oliver had appeared during the 1930s as the Red Queen in "Alice in Wonderland," as the Nurse in "Romeo and Juliet," and in "A Tale of Two Cities." Very much a '30s actor. (As a matter of fact, she only made one more film after "Pride and Prejudice." She died in 1942. This makes me very sad.) She's a very imposing presence, in a very humorous, British Lit way.
Mr. Collins, in the 2005 film, is a rather disagreeable character, funny but not at all endearing, pathetic but not in a loveable way. It's almost too real, and I fast forward through some of his scenes in the 2005 version because it's a little uncomfortable to watch. (Particularly the scene where he asks Elizabeth to marry him.)
In the 1940 version, he is a freaking joke. A buffoon, but so broadly played that I feel none of the discomfort I feel when I see the 1995 version. The actor's name is Melville Cooper and he must have been in one of the 1930s Charles Dickens novels because he is just too Dickensian. He would have been perfect as Uriah Heep or Mr. Bumble.
Then there's Mary Boland as Mrs. Bennet. We saw Mary Boland recently as Mrs. Whinney in "Six for the Road" and she was hanging off a cliff. She's very good in this, and very 1930s.
Mr. Bennett is played by Edmund Gwenn, who, like Greer Garson, seems very much at home no matter who he is with. Edmund Gwenn is probably best known for playing Santa Claus in "Miracle on 34th Street" or for the scientist in "Them," with the big ants. He's pretty good in "Pride and Prejudice."
And then there's Frieda Inescourt as Miss Bingley. She is a total bitch! She is totally awesome.
Also on hand is the totally hot Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane Bennett. Yes, that's right, Tarzan's Jane played Jane Bennet!
The movie touches on all the important scenes from the book, hitting the high points with considerable wit, charm and talent. But it is a bit jarring at times to see Laurence Olivier interacting with a Dickensian stereotype like Edna May Oliver.
I've also heard that the sets and the costumes are from "Gone with the Wind" because the studio was trying to save money, which may account for the odd, yet often familiar feel of the film. (I was trying to figure out why the film was set in 1835 instead of 1810 (or so). And then when I heard they were trying to economize with fashions from 1860, I understood why that earlier date would never work.)
All in all, a worthy effort. Much more like a Classics Illustrated version of the novel than like the novel. But Classics Illustrated has its place.
DIRIGIBLE – 1931
An early talkie aviation film about a dirigible expedition to the South Pole. Kinda fun, if you like that sort of thing. The first try ends up getting as far as the Caribbean when a storm makes it break in half, thus discrediting dirigibles for polar expeditions. The second expedition has the explorers taking a boat to the Weddell Sea and a small crew flies to the Pole … and crashes! They have to walk 900 miles to get to the base camp. The dirigible captain of the first expedition redeems himself and the dirigible fleet by flying to the rescue and saving the survivors of the plane crash. Huzzah!
The film also has a little subplot with Fay Wray as the wife of the South Pole pilot and she is upset that her husband is a bit of a show-off and she's afraid that he might not come back alive. And he's gone a lot. But it never seems to have occurred to her to fucking tell him. This plot gets a little annoying. But it's Fay Wray and she's awesome and we forgive her.
Directed by Frank Capra. Not bad. Not bad at all. This film pulls no punches about the harrowing effects of the unforgiving Antarctic. It also has those neat maps that so many 1930s films have where the black line shows you where the characters are going.
THE LAST FLIGHT – 1931
This is one of those totally amazing movies that make it so much fun and so worthwhile to watch a lot of movies from the 1930s.
It's about a small group of American World War I veterans, pilots, who have all been deeply affected by the war in one way or another. It's a year or so after the war, and they are all hanging around in Paris, getting drunk, playing pranks, trying to shake off the trauma of war and not doing a very good job of it. The main character is Cary, played by Richard Barthelmess, a very fine actor of the late silent actor era who seemed to be on the verge of being a big star … until sound came in and changed the film dynamic so much. Barthelmess did not reach the stardom that many were expecting for him. In this film, his character burnt his hands very badly in the final days of the war. He seems to have almost no feelings in his hands, and he struggles with lifting a glass to his lips for a drink.
Get a straw, dude!
His best buddy is Shep, played by David Manners. He has trouble with his eyes and wears sunglasses a lot. His real trouble is that he just has a bad attitude. Manners is famous for his role as John Harker in the Bela Lugosi version of "Dracula." But when you watch as many movies as I do, you seem him in lots of stuff, such as "The Mummy" with Boris Karloff and "The Black Cat" with Lugosi and Karloff both. And he's also the star of a very nifty Hollywood murder mystery called "The Death Kiss." He’s very good in "The Last Flight."
Then there’s Bill, who basically just seems to be crazy. He’s a former college football star. Early in the film he shows off by tackling a horse and knocking it over. He thinks this is pretty damn funny. Bill is played by cowboy actor Johnny Mack Brown. This is, I think, the only movie I've ever seen him in.
And there's a guy named Francis who is narcoleptic. He seems to be asleep in pretty much every scene he's in. Francis is played by Elliott Nugent, who later became a director. He directed "The Great Gatsby" and he also directed "Love In Bloom," which we discussed earlier.
These four guys are all pals who don't do anything but cut up and drink and sleep late. There is a lot of rapid-fire banter, very clever, well-scripted, almost too quick to follow.
There's a fifth guy who also used to be a pilot, but he's kind of a dick. He has a job as a foreign correspondent and he’s always giving the other guys shit about being so useless. He kind of has a point. But he's such a dick about it. They don't like him much but he hangs around and they don't say too much because he's a fellow American.
The final player in this film about the Lost Generation is Nikki, an American girl in Paris who seems to be a trust fund baby. They meet her in a bar, of all places. She has millions of shoes and some turtles in her bathtub. She's a bit of a dimwit, but she's very charming, in her way, and she starts hanging out with them.
Nikki is played by the beautiful, starry-eyed Helen Chandler, most famous for playing Mina Harker in "Dracula." This is the only other film I've ever seen her in. She's great.
I never really did figure out what kind of a movie this was going to be. It just didn't fit any of the recognizable patterns. They all hang out in Paris. Cary and Nikki almost seem to be about to have a thing going, but Cary is horribly bitter about what the war has done to him. He is very self-conscious about his hands. It brings out the mother instinct in Nikki and she starts talking about his hands, which is the very worst thing to do. They seem right for each other in so many ways, but she pushes his buttons on this issue without understanding what she's done wrong.
Then they go to Portugal for a change of scenery. All of them. A sense of coming doom grips the viewer but he still has no idea what's going to happen.
First, Bill gets all excited at the bullfight and jumps into the ring to show he can be a bullfighter too! It doesn't work out too well for Bill. He dies in the infirmary.
The Fates take care of our cast of characters pretty quickly. The guy who is a dick (and take my word for it, he's a dick – Cary flattens him in one scene and he totally deserved it!) ends up dead. Shep too, after a tragic death scene in a Lisbon taxi. Francis sort of disappears into the night.
Which leaves Nikki and Cary, on their way back to the states. Cary seems to be on the road to dealing with his various problems and they seem to be a happy couple on their way to a happy life.
I love this movie. It's not just funny and crazy and well-written. It also goes somewhere. It keeps you off-balance. You're not sure what to expect.
It was apparently popular enough in 1931 that it was made into a play called "Nikki" by the end of the year.
This movie is one of the reasons why I love the 1930s.
CENTRAL AIRPORT - 1933
A fun 1930s aviation film with the very pretty Sally Eilers and the ubiquitous Richard Barthelmess. Richard is one of two brothers, both pilots, who are both in love with the same girl, also a pilot, played by the totally hot Sally Eilers. At one time or another, she barnstorms with each of them, traveling around the Southwest and doing flying stunts at state fairs and air shows and things. They have these great transition scenes where they fly into a new airport and you can see the name of the town painted on the roof of the hangar. Santa Fe. Tucson. El Paso. Pomona.
The girl picks one of the brothers and they get married, and the other guy becomes a wandering vagabond pilot, serving in various air forces around the world, in places like China and Chile, and getting an eye patch and a wooden leg and a hook and a parrot in the course of his travels. (Just kidding, except for the eyepatch.) After several years, they all meet in Havana and the girl realizes she picked the wrong one because of a misunderstanding. She stays with the one she married, but the one she didn't marry realizes that she really loves him, and it seems to give him the courage to go on with life.
Not bad. Fun to watch. The girl is totally hot.
WITHOUT ORDERS – 1936
Reviewing this is kind of a cheat, I'm sorry to say. I started it a few minutes late and then I got a phone call from a good friend and I was only barely paying attention until the last twenty minutes. Normally, I wouldn't have bothered reviewing it, but those last twenty minutes were pretty exciting and I was kind of peeved that I hadn't paid closer attention.
There's two pilots flying around, working in the early days of commercial aviation. One of the pilots is Robert Armstrong, most famous for playing the crazy filmmaker in "King Kong." He's great. He's always great.
The other pilot I can't remember who played him. He's a total jerk, but a real glory pig, hogging the spotlight, going after flight records and stuff like that.
The totally hot Sally Eilers (from "Central Airport") is a stewardess, and the two pilots are both after her. (I think. Or maybe not. I missed an awful lot of it. Actually, I think maybe the pilot who was a dick smacked his girlfriend because he lost his temper but the others didn't know until later.)
In any case, the pilot who is a dick is losing it. And he's on a flight with totally hot Sally Eilers and another pilot, and he FREAKS OUT and gets in a fight with the other pilot and knocks him cold and then runs screaming through the plane and takes the only parachute and bails.
So Sally has to land the plane! Eeeek! And there's a big snowstorm! (Just like in every episode of Sgt. Preston.) And Sally doesn't show much alarm, she sits her ass down and grits her teeth a little and makes a pretty good landing on a frozen lake.
It's a great scene. I'd like to see the rest of the movie sometime.
POPPY – 1936
This is a mid-1930s film with the very funny W.C. Fields and the very yummy Rochelle Hudson, who we met earlier in such films as "The Savage Girl" and "Mr. Moto Takes a Chance."
I rather like this movie. If you are expecting a Fields laugh riot like "The Bank Dick" or "The Man on the Flying Trapeze," this may be disappointing. It's more of a 1930s hybrid comedy/drama/musical. They made a lot of these back then, and some of them are good and some of them are bad. When they are bad they are mind-numbingly horrid. And when they are good they can be very pleasant.
It is actually based on a Broadway show from the mid-1920s called, well, "Poppy," and it starred W.C. Fields. It was made into a silent film (with Fields) about 1925 under the name "Sally of the Sawdust." (This was directed by, of all people, D.W. Griffith, bless his Klan-loving heart.)
Fields and his daughter, Poppy (the very yummy Rochelle Hudson), are carnival people in the 1880s, rambling across the country, having adventures, one step ahead of the law. Fields is a snake oil salesman. Poppy wears a crown with stars on it and sings. (The musical numbers are not bad at all, generally short, and there are only two that I can remember.) Poppy thinks she'd like to settle down and have a regular home, then she meets a guy she likes, and has second thoughts about whether she's good enough for him because he's the mayor's son. Fields swindles the locals with a fake talking dog and various stratagems. He plays croquet the way he played golf in several of his other films. He forges a marriage certificate to get a million dollar fortune.
It's seldom uproariously funny, but Rochelle Hudson is awful easy to look at, and I ended up really liking it. No complaints here.
HIGH FLYERS – 1937
I almost didn't tape this on DVR and I was very glad I did. This is one WACKY movie. It very rarely makes sense but it is frequently hysterical.
This is the final film of the comedy duo of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey. They are largely forgotten today, but I hear they have a kind of a cult following among those who watch classic movie channels. And I can see why. I have seen a few of their movies over the years and some of them are pretty damn funny. They made 22 films between 1929 and 1937. I almost didn't tape this because I think the earlier ones are much funnier, but I changed my mind at the last minute because I haven't seen a Wheeler and Woolsey film for a while.
Um, let's see, it starts on the grounds of a very fancy home with a big yard and a swimming pool. Margaret Dumont is the slightly snooty lady of the house. She is obsessed with crystal balls and second sight. Her daughter is the totally hot Marjorie Lord. The maid is the very funny Lupe Velez.
Jack Carson is in it too.
And they're all missing things like fountain pens and purses.
It's the dog. They don't find out until later because it's a major plot point. He is the cutest little dog ever! Some kind of miniature boxer or something. He's black and white and he hops up on the table and takes what he wants and buries it in the garden.
His name is Squeezy!
Wheeler and Wolsey are, unwittingly, smuggling some stolen jewels. In a plane. Even though neither one has ever driven a plane before. They start looking through the stuff they're smuggling, and it's not just jewels. There’s also a powder that gets blown in their faces and they get all giggly and crazy and high and they start fiddling around with the steering wheel until they crash … in the backyard of the big house from the first scene.
(And, I should add that the guy who owns the big house is also the rightful owner of the stolen jewels. And I should also add that Wheeler hides the jewels in the chimney.)
Marjorie Lord and Bert Wheeler have some damn funny dialogue of the “They-hate-each other-they-love-each-other” type.
Lupe Velez imitates Dolores Del Rio, Simone Simon, Shirley Temple and (I think) Ethel Merman in a musical number that had me on the floor. (Especially the Simone Simon and the Shirley Temple part.)
Lupe and Woolsey do a weird number about a gaucho. Then Wheeler dances a whole number as Charlie Chaplin. Then he puts on blackface and imitates Al Jolson. (Although one Web review I read said it was Bill Robinson.)
The smugglers show up and pretend to be psychiatrists and say that Wheeler and Woolsey are escaped lunatics. (Not at all far-fetched.) But everyone in the house is suspicious of the psychiatrists and they all call the cops separately, so four or five groups of cops show up. And the dog steals the jewels from the fireplace and buries them in the backyard. So the movie ends with a crazy scene with the fake psychiatrists, a hundred cops, Margaret Dumont, Lupe Velez, Marjorie Lord, Jack Carson, Wheeler and Woolsey all digging up the backyard and chasing the dog and talking to the dog and whatever the hell.
An unbelievably silly movie. This is what I love about the films of the 1930s.