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Alfred E. Green
After her father's death, Mary Rainey takes over the Rainey Circus (which operates twice daily, rain or shine) but runs into financial troubles. In one bit reminiscent of the Marx Brothers, the circus performers are up to some ridiculous antics at a dinner party with the family of Bud Conway, Mary's beau. As times become worse and the performers go on strike, Mary must try to save the circus from rioting patrons. Written by
In the 1930s, Joe Cook was one of the biggest stars on Broadway, headlining in several hit musical comedies. He co-starred with Ethel Merman in the Broadway show "Fine and Dandy", getting billing equal to Merman's. Joe Cook's talents were amazing: he was a juggler, an acrobat, a song-and-dance man and a comedian who did weird monologues while wiggling his thumbs. Tragically, he succumbed to Parkinson's disease after making only two feature films and a few shorts. "Rain or Shine" is the film version of one of his Broadway musical hits, with all the songs left out ... and it's the best surviving evidence of Cook's astonishing talents. "Rain or Shine" is also an excellent example of Frank Capra's early directorial skill.
In this movie, Cook plays the utility man in the Rainey Circus, which gives performances "Rain or Shine" ... except that it's always raining. When most of the circus performers can't go on, Cook becomes virtually a one-man circus, with just a couple of helpers for his acrobatic routines. Joe Cook's chief stooge in this film (and on Broadway) was Dave Chasen, a Harpo-ish comedian who later became famous as the founder of Chasen's Restaurant in Los Angeles. Chasen's schtick was a distinctive hand-waving gesture which many comedians today are still copying.
Joe Cook is brilliant in this film. In one scene, he does an astonishing juggling trick with a cigar and a kitchen match that will make you want to rewind several times so you can watch it again ... and again, and again! It looks so simple, yet Cook must have spent hundreds of hours practising this one trick.
"Rain or Shine" has a lot of broad slapstick humour, most of it hilarious. One scene at a dinner party doesn't work, involving a huge pile of spaghetti. We can clearly see that the "spaghetti" is really twine, which kills the joke. Unfunny comedian Tom Howard plays a grouch named A.K. Shrewsbury, and there's an obscure joke about what an "A.K." he is. (A.K. = "alter kocker", a Yiddish insult.)
Among the circus acts in this movie is Ethel Greer, a fat lady who weighed well over 25 stone. I was astonished by the scene in which this huge woman falls out of her circus caravan into a rain puddle. Ethel Greer actually did this stunt herself, because no stuntwoman was large enough to double for her. Kenneth Anger's book "Hollywood Babylon 2" contains a photograph of an immensely fat woman whom Anger unkindly claims is Elizabeth Taylor. She's not, you know: she's Ethel Greer, and the photo in Anger's book is a scene from "Rain or Shine". Also in this movie is a snake charmer, played by silent-film comedienne Louise Fazenda in a rare sound-film appearance. (Fazenda married producer Hal Wallis and retired.)
Some bad news: the dignified African-American actor Clarence Muse appears in this film, playing one of the "Yassah, boss" roles that Frank Capra kept lumbering him with. In Capra's autobiography, he refers to Muse as his "pet actor". No comment. SPOILER WARNING: At this film's climax, the circus tent catches fire. There's an exciting sequence as Cook and all the circus hands try to put out the flames. Ironically, the only time it STOPS raining on the circus in "Rain or Shine" is when the tent is on fire and the rain would have done some good. As soon as the fire is out, the rain starts pouring down again. "Rain or Shine" is must-see viewing! My rating: 10 out of 10, since Joe Cook's brilliant talents more than compensate for any of this film's flaws.
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