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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 <email@example.com>
Jazz, newspapers, and pre-code Lee Tracy wackiness! Who could ask for anything more?
Along with the 1958 Montgomery Clift potboiler, "Lonelyhearts," this 1933 comedy/drama shares the honor of being based on Nathanael West's novella "Miss Lonelyhearts." However, it is hard to imagine two leading men more different; whereas Montgomery Clift was the epitome of post-war angst and brooding introspection, Lee Tracy, one of the most popular comedians of the early '30s, embodied the Depression-era wisecracker, all snappy cynicism, rapid-fire delivery and loads of energy (almost reminiscent of Bugs Bunny, actually). "Lovelorn" was made at the height of Tracy's A-list career, and Nathanael West's dark story about an idealistic young journalist's descent into madness was tailor-made into a peppy star vehicle.
In brief, Tracy plays a troublemaking reporter, Toby Prentiss, who is forced by his editor to take up the Miss Lonelyhearts column. Much hi-jinx ensue, as Prentiss gives screwy "modern" advice to everyone who writes in, in the hopes he'll be fired. But, in the best tradition of "The Producers," Prentiss's column turns out to be an unexpected boffo hit, and the editor refuses to let him go. There's more jazzy early '30s wackiness, with lots of gleeful mugging from everyone involved, until the story takes an abrupt turn into melodrama, as if the scriptwriters suddenly remembered the original Nathanael West novel. In exchange for cash, Prentiss has been plugging some drugs for a shady manufacturer, until (**SPOILERS**) he gives those same drugs to his ma who's having a spell of heart trouble- and she promptly croaks. The scene where he realizes he was partially responsible for his own mother's death is startling, since until then the film was strictly light comedy. Yet albeit odd, it is interesting and moving to see Tracy act other than a goofy wiseacre- he emotes quite well indeed, and it's a pity that the film doesn't develop his new-found angst. Instead, it makes another abrupt turn and becomes a fairly standard "righteous reporter vs. the evil corporate thugs" drama, with everything ending happily. There's a wedding too! Golly gee whillikers!
In any case, plot problems asides, this is a lot of fun, and it even has a great soundtrack. Sterling Holloway (aka the Cheshire Cat) is very amusing as Tracy's sidekick, and Sally Blane, Loretta Young's sister, is okay as the love interest (though it's hard not to think of her as the poor man's Loretta Young). It's a must-see for Lee Tracy fans out there, since he's in top form here. It's really too bad this film isn't more available (although those curious can find it at Eddie Brant's Saturday Matinee, a most excellent video store in North Hollywood).
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