'June Moon' was originally a 1929 Broadway comedy by George S. Kaufman and Ring Lardner. I've never understood why Ring Lardner is so highly regarded. Whenever anyone praises Lardner, they always make a pretence of searching through his entire body of work to find just the right line that epitomises Lardner's style ... and then they always, always, ALWAYS come up with the same example, namely:
"'Shut up,' he explained."
Big deal. That's probably the funniest line Lardner ever wrote, but unfortunately that line isn't in 'June Moon'. Lardner didn't seem to like the stage very much: he wrote a playlet called 'The Tridget of Greva' (never intended for actual performance) which intentionally violates several basic rules of stagecraft. The opening scene depicts three fishermen seated in rowboats in the middle of a lake. One man gets out of his boat and he crosses to another man's boat... remember, this is a stage play.
This movie 'June Moon' is the first film version of Kaufman and Lardner's play. (It was remade as 'Blonde Trouble'.) 'June Moon' might have worked better as a musical. As it is, it's nearly a musical because songs are integrally important to the plot.
Fred Stevens (played by Jack Oakie) is a callow guy from Schenectady who comes to New York City with dreams of making it big as a Tin Pan Alley lyricist. Fred's dialogue perpetrates several malapropisms, which should tell you his skill as a word-smith. When Fred reaches the big city, he teams up with Paul Sears, an older and more experienced songwriter. Paul was a success a few years back, but inspiration has left him and he's fallen on lean times. Now Paul hopes to make a comeback by pooling his talents with Fred's, as the songwriting team Sears and Stevens. But Paul's cynical wife doesn't think he'll amount to anything ever again. (As the wife, Wynne Gibson has some brittle dialogue, and one funny exit while dancing a Maxiford shuffle.) Throughout the movie, we hear snatches of songs by Fred or Paul or both. The music and lyrics for these songs were written by Ring Lardner. Some of Lardner's songs are intentionally bad ... such as Paul's big hit song from a few years back, which goes: 'Paprika, Paprika, spice of my life...' Hoo boy.
Most of the wisecracks go to Gibson (as Paul's disillusioned wife) and to Harry Akst as Maxie, an accompanist at the music-publishing house where Paul and Fred work. Paul is played by an obscure actor named Ernest Wood; he gives an impressive performance with only a few good lines.
In the lead role as Fred, Jack Oakie seems to be rehearsing here for his later (but funnier) role in the movie 'Tin Pan Alley', again as a struggling lyricist with more enthusiasm than talent.
The stage-bound origin of this material is obvious, but I was impressed by several travelling shots: one of them up the gangway of a railway carriage, another one back down the same gangway in the opposite direction, and later a very complicated travelling shot when Oakie and Frances Dee try to have a conversation in a series of rehearsal rooms, getting evicted from each one in turn.
Frances Dee, always an underrated actress, is fine here as the ingénue who encourages Fred to stick to his ideals. The direction (by veteran comedy director Eddie Sutherland) is much better than the material Sutherland's got to work with here. I'll rate 'June Moon' 4 out of 10.
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