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Los Angeles newspaper reporter Toby Prentiss is continually in trouble with his editor. He is demoted to running the paper's "Miss Lonelyhearts" advice column because he missed the scoop on a major earthquake whilst out on the town. Determined to be fired from the column he starts to give crazy advice to the readers, but this only makes him even more popular. Written by
Col Needham <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Great comedy-drama owes nothing to Nathanael West.
'Advice to the Lovelorn' is ostensibly based on the novel 'Miss Lonelyhearts' written by Nathaniel West, who changed his forename to the more pretentious Nathanael. (My own name may seem pretentious too, but at least I spell it properly.) While watching this splendid comedy, I got my first laugh during the opening credits when I saw that they'd (mis)spelt the author's name as Nathaniel. Even better, this movie takes almost nothing from West's over-rated novel except its initial premise of a male journalist required to write an agony-aunt column. (The same premise was used again a year later, in "Hi, Nellie!".)
Oddly, 'Advice to the Lovelorn' spends its first half as a very funny screwball comedy, then suddenly swerves into dead-earnest drama, abruptly switching back to comedy during the climax and fade-out. Commendably, it works.
Lee Tracy spent most of his career playing fast-talking newsmen in the style of Walter Winchell, whom he physically resembled. He's in excellent form here, ably handling both the comedy and dramatics. I'm often intrigued by the elaborate hand gestures used by 1930s Hollywood actors. Tracy has one particular hand gesture here that seems more contrived than usual, but it turns out to have a payoff.
The script of this 1933 movie wisely jettisons West's plot and replaces it with some topical humour. The opening sequence is inspired by the earthquake that hit Long Beach, California on 10 March 1933. Later, Tracy has some dialogue concerning the untrustworthiness of men named Adolf. (Has he a particular Adolf in mind?)
Sally Blane (not quite as pretty as her sister Loretta Young, but even sexier) is excellent here and wears some chic outfits, including an ensemble that seems to have only one glove. Jean Adair, as Tracy's mother, is a bit too twee even though at one point she actually complains about the 'damn' weather.
SLIGHT SPOILER. Columnist Tracy is in collusion with the owner of some 'druggee shoppees' (sic) who hawks cut-rate medicines. Tracy happily pockets his share of the graft until his mother dies after taking substandard medicine. From this point, Tracy's character seems inspired by Samuel Hopkins Adams, the journalist who agitated for the creation of the Pure Food and Drug Act.
In other IMDb reviews I've often criticised Sterling Holloway, an extremely annoying performer. Film historian William K Everson considered Holloway the most annoying male actor in Hollywood history. (I consider Chester Clute even worse, but just slightly.) In 'Advice to the Lovelorn', I was pleasantly surprised that Holloway gives an energetic and well-timed performance, without the deeply annoying mannerisms and vocal whinnyings that have consistently blighted his work elsewhere. He's even useful at the film's climax. Well done, Holloway! For once, Sterling is sterling.
As Tracy's boss, actor Paul Harvey is splendid: why didn't he become better-known? Jimmy Conlin and Charles Lane are excellent in their brief turns, Conlin even better than usual and Lane in a rare non-sourpuss role. Adalyn Doyle (who?) is charming and effective as the newspaper's switchboard operator.
Some of this film's exterior sequences were filmed at the front entrance of Villa Ramona, a posh residence in Baldwin Park, CA. The production budget includes several diagonal wipes and impressive montage sequences consisting solely of newspaper close-ups. Since so much money was splashed out elsewhere in this movie, I was annoyed that they didn't spend a bit more effort on the typesetting. We see a montage of Tracy's syndicated column published in what are meant to be newspapers from several different cities ... yet they all have exactly the same typography, and his column has the same heading in every newspaper. Not likely!
'Advice to the Lovelorn' is one of those they-don't-make-'em-like-this anymore Hollywood delights, with a brisk climax and plenty to recommend it. I'm pleased that, for once, Sterling Holloway doesn't seem to be auditioning for Holloway Prison (yes, I know). My rating: 9 out of 10.
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