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May Robson stars as Mary Jane Baxter, the world's richest woman. She's
a mean old thing, cantankerous, demanding, and she loves only her dog.
Her snarky family is trying to have her declared insane so they can get
her money. She's an eccentric who always wears a long thick veil.
One day while riding in her carriage, she collides with a car and the carriage is overturned enough for Mary Jane to fall out. The horses bolt, leaving the old lady lying in the road.
Along comes a jalopy. The kids carry the old lady back to their house. The little kid is called "Doc" and he tends to her wounds. Meanwhile the stupid police believe Mary Jane Baxter has been kidnapped.
At first Mary Jane is confused and yells and screams at everyone but eventually she regains her memory and warms to the bizarre tenement household where she decides to hide out from her family, But then she is really kidnapped by gangsters.
May Robson is just plain superb in this little film, completely believable as the eccentric millionaire and just as believable as the old lady whose heart is melted by the troubled kid. Other pleasures of this film include major supporting parts for two great character actors: Henry Armetta as Tony the barber who has taken in the kids as his own, and Herman Bing as the Hungarian neighbor. Like Robson, they are a joy to watch.
Frankie Darro is 18 here and sweet on Tony's daughter, played by Charlotte Henry (already in her 20s, but playing younger. Doc is played by Billy Burrud (later the host of many animal shows on TV), and Billy Benedict plays the gangly Flash.
Others in the cast include John Miljan as the lead gangster, Henry Kolker as the crooked lawyer, Ward Bond as a cop, Lillian Harmer as the whiny maid, and Hedda Hopper as Mrs. Cummings. Lots of other familiar faces like Ferdinand Gottschalk, Noel Madison, Tom Dugan, Irving Pichel, Hale Hamilton, E.E. Clive, Barbara Bedford, Jonathan Hale, and George Irving as the judge.
A good old-fashioned film with lots of sentiment and great performances. This was remade in 1946 as LITTLE MISS BIG with the tenement characters all Irish.
May Robson was a truly fine actress. I really like this film and I highly recommend it. It doesn't matter to me if it seems to be "Capra-esque" or seem to try to be like a Damon Runyan story. I prefer to focus on this film as if I hadn't seen "Lady For a Day" or her first film, "Mother's Millions". I do enjoy it when May Robson is the star of the film as she is in this one. She is first cantankerous but one need only to look at her family to see why she is lonely. Films are still made that borrow from previous successful films. What made this fresh for me are the boys who are bound for troubled life until they meet May Robson whom they call "Queenie" and even the "Old Battle-Ax". Frankie Darro gives an excellent performance and is a real asset to the film. The gangster connection adds a fresh and believable aspect to this film. Yes, there are aspects to the story that are rather hard to believe, but the characters portrayed by May Robson and the children make this film charming. It does get sentimental but it is still a very enjoyable film. May Robson was a joy on screen, much like Alison Skipworth and the great Marie Dressler. I am glad to have this film and, despite any flaws, it has action, comedy and it is heart-warming.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Three Brats and an Old Bat' ... excuse me, I meant 'Three Kids and a
Queen' has the general flavour of a Frank Capra movie or a Damon Runyon
story, without being quite good enough to qualify as either. Actress
May Robson had previously starred in 'Lady for a Day' -- a genuine
Capra film of an authentic Runyon story -- and 'Three Kids and a Queen'
feels suspiciously like a cynical attempt to repeat that film's
success. Which would be fine, if this follow-up succeeded. It doesn't,
After playing a beggar woman in 'Lady for a Day', here Robson plays the richest woman in the world. Oh, blimey! The plot requires Robson's character to be wealthy, but did she have to be the richest woman in the world? Even this is a rehash. In her earlier film 'The She-Wolf', May Robson had played the richest woman in the world as a manipulative miser. Here, in 'Three Kids and a Queen', Robson is once again playing the richest woman in the world ... but an altogether different one, and this time she's a kindly soul. Anyway, the world's richest woman Mary Jane Baxter (Robson) tumbles out of her carriage in Central Park, and is dazed. (Even in the comparatively innocent days of 1935, I find it implausible that such a wealthy person would go out unattended.)
She is found by a trio of picturesque waifs. Two of them are orphans, known as Blackie and Flash: apparently they've got no real names. Flash is played by Billy Benedict, the future Bowery Boy: his sobriquet 'Flash' is meant to be a joke, because he's a slow-coach. The third waif is Julia, played by Charlotte Henry (very pretty, but a bit too old to be playing waifs). All three of them live with Julia's widowed father, an excitable Italian barber played by Henry Armetta, who specialised in playing excitable Italian barbers. Armetta's character is named Tony Orsatti, which I suspect is an in-joke reference to the real Orsatti family who were major behind-the-screen figures in Hollywood at this time. (Charlotte Henry is playing Henry Armetta's daughter, but there's no way these two people can be related.) Anyway, the old lady is dazed from her accident, so the three waifs take her home with them. Because of her demeanour, they cry her 'Queenie'.
SPOILERS COMING. Next day, they see her picture in the paper. The richest woman in the world is missing, and the police think she's been kidnapped. The paper also reports that Mary Jane's family want her declared insane, so that they can seize her wealth. Now the brats want the old bat to vamoose, but she decides to stay. Next thing we know, some sub-Runyon crooks with deeze-dem-doze accents show up: they actually *do* kidnap the old broad, and they proceed to hold her to $1 million ransom. Allegedly hilarious complications ensue.
Because this movie's plot centres on kidnapping, I'm amazed that 'Three Kids and a Queen' got made at all in 1935. The Hays Office rigidly controlled the content of all Hollywood films at this time. In general, chief censor Will Hays preferred that crooks in Hollywood movies must get caught (or suffer some horrible fate) by the end of the film. However, kidnapping was a special case. The Hays Office's notorious Production Code singled out kidnapping as the one crime that must be shown never to succeed on screen. A movie villain of the mid-1930s might possibly get away with murder, rape, armed robbery ... but not kidnapping. Chary of the recent Lindbergh kidnapping and a few other such crimes, Hays was determined that no movie might inspire anyone in the audience to seek easy money by kidnapping someone.
If 'Three Kids and a Queen' had been a better film, it might have attracted more attention in its own day, and more wrath from the Hays Office. This film features an excellent cast, but all of them are poorly directed and given a weak script. John Miljan is well cast here, as a suave crook: Miljan was so devilishly handsome that he was always more plausible as a villain than as a goodie. Herman Bing plays, for once, a normal human being. This film is very badly paced, and the 'New York' exteriors are unconvincing, but on the basis of its cast I'll rate it 4 out of 10.
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