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The New Frontier
TUMBLEWEEDS (United Artists, 1925), Directed by King Baggott, stars the legendary William S. Hart (1865-1946) in what proved to become his final screen appearance. Virtually unknown by today's standards, Hart was a popular leading cowboy actor dating back to 1914, whose success would be categorized as a sort of Gary Cooper or John Wayne of his day. Hart was versatile in other roles, but westerns were his specialty, with many, including Hart himself, ranking TUMBLEWEEDS as his finest of all his westerns.
Opening title: "Man and beast both blissfully unaware that their reign is over." Set in 1889, Dan Carver (William S. Hart), a range boss of the Box K Ranch, known as "just another tumbleweed," is introduced as a sympathetic cowboy who fails to shoot a rattlesnake only because it has as much right to be around as anyone else. He also takes in a couple of orphan wolf dog puppies to find them a home after their parent dogs have been poisoned. The plot develops as the United States Government allowing ranchers to graze cattle on their payment to the Cherokee Land Strip, 12,000 square miles of undeveloped prairie land between Kansas and Oklahoma. Riding to Caldwell, Kansas (population 200), on the edge of the Cherokee Strip, Dan spreads the news to its local residents. Journeying to his destination with "Kentucky Rose" (Lucien Littlefield), they encounter Mrs. Riley (Lillian Leighton), a widow woman with three children, who takes a liking to Kentucky Rose. After intervening with Noll Lassiter (J. Gordon Russell) for abusing a boy, Bart (Jack Murphy), and his dog, he forces the brutal man to apologize to both. Dan immediately bonds with Bart who now looks up to him as a father figure. However, after accidentally roping a young girl (Barbara Bedford) in a saloon, Dan soon learns that the girl, named Molly, happens to be sister of Bart and half-sister to the villainous Noll Lassiter. Because of his interest in Molly, Dan decides to settle down and stake out a homestead claim for himself, with the possibility of having Molly become his future wife. Noll, however, unwilling to overlook Dan's defeat over him, schemes with Benton, alias Bill Freel (Richard R. Neill), to have Dan put out of the way. They arrange in having Dave accused and arrested as a "sooner," which finds him being held prisoner inside a bull pen while the bad guys so as much as commit murder so they can legally stake the claim for themselves.
Most circulating prints of TUMBLEWEEDS consist of a 1939 reissue from Astor Pictures consisting of an eight minute spoken prologue by William S. Hart himself where he talks about his "greatest picture" from his Horseshoe Ranch in Newhall, California. After listening to Hart's speaking voice, it is much regret that this once popular actor of the silent screen never starred in at least one talkie western, even possibly a sound remake to his greatest movie, TUMBLEWEEDS. Chances are had be proceeded in his career in talkies, he most definitely would have succeeded, even if later reduced to matinée cowboy star as Tim McCoy or Ken Maynard for example. However, this 1939 prologue is the one and only chance for viewers to get to hear him speak, through his wonderful tribute to both himself and the movie itself.
Home video to TUMBLEWEEDS dating back to the 1980s either from Blackhawk or a decade later from Republic Pictures also contain the Hart prologue. Rather than the orchestral score with off-screen singing to title card songs, both editions are piano scored by William H. Perry for the Killiam collection. Clocked at 77 minutes (not counting the prologue), it seems a shame that this and THE TOLL GATE (1920) to date have become the only two Hart westerns to have limited broadcasts on public television some decades ago. Considering that TUMBLEWEEDS is hailed as Hart's best movie makes one wonder if his other silent westerns are equally as good or even better? The films of William S. Hart deserve better recognition in movie history. At least TUMBLEWEEDS is still available (on DVD) to remain one of the finer westerns to come out from the silent movie era, along with being both an introduction and rediscovery to the great quiet-type cowboy hero named William S. Hart. (***)
Bureau of Missing Persons (1933)
Lost and Found
BUREAU OF MISSING PERSONS (First National Pictures for Warner Brothers, 1933), directed by Roy Del Ruth, is a fast-paced, pre-code production that has the distinction pre-dating those police shows on television by twenty or so years. The basic premise of what's to be shown is best described by its opening passage: "All over the world thousands of persons disappear every day. New York City alone reported over 27,00 missing last year. Why people prop from sight, where they go, and how they are found is the problem of a special and little known department of police The Bureau of Missing Persons. Many incidents in this picture are taken from actual cases in police records." Or so they say.
Based on the story "Missing Men" by John Ayers and Carol Bird, the first half hour follows the day by day routine of what employees of the bureau go through on a daily basis. Joe (Allen Jenkins) checks the morgue to see if any one of the missing people on his list happens to be one of the deceased; Hank Slade (Hugh Herbert in a straight non-comedic performance) has been looking for Gwendolyn Harris for the past six months, with no clue in sight. "Butch" Saunders (Pat O'Brien), a breezy detective with plenty of nerve (with catch phrase, "I bet you dollar six bids"), has been transferred to the bureau under Captain Webb (Lewis S. Stone), head of the department, where Saunders is to discipline himself by using common sense rather than his strong arm method. One of his first assignments is to locate Burton C. Kingman (Clay Clement), a married businessman having an affair with Alice Crane (Noel Francis). His next assignment is locating Caesar Paul (Tad Alexander), a famous boy violinist of 12, missing for ten days, who'd rather disappoint his parents (Marjorie Gateson and Wallis Clark) by being a regular boy with the fellas than having a concert career. Butch's biggest problems occur as Belle (Glenda Farrell), his wife with whom he's been separated for a year, coming to the scene demanding her allowance; and Norma Williams (Bette Davis), a former private secretary, whom Butch helps to locate her husband, Therme Roberts (Alan Dinehart), unaware that there's more to what Norma's been telling him to solve the case that involves a murder. Featured along with a huge assortment of Warner Brothers stock players (except for Lewis Stone on loan from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), include Ruth Donnelly (The Receptionist); Henry Kolker (Theodore Arno); George Chandler (Homer Howard); and Hobart Cavanaugh (Mr. Harris).
Although Bette Davis name heads the cast, she basically a supporting character whose character doesn't appear until 31 minutes into the start of the movie, which very much belongs to the third billed Pat O'Brien, making his Warner Brothers debut. Coming off best is the wisecracking Glenda Farrell as the gold-digging ex-wife whose three or four scenes add much to the antics at the bureau as she enters the scenes yelling for "Butchie Wutchie," yet there's one scene alone, involving Farrell, meant for laughs in 1933, might come across as a little disturbing today.
While basically serious when it comes to police methods, BUREAU OF MISSING PERSONS does have its share of unintentional laughs, especially where Lewis Stone seriously and with a straight face orders his men to hire an airplane to follow a carrying pigeon to the location of a hideout of kidnappers. Interestingly, Bette Davis, looks years older to her true age here, especially later when she changes her hair color from blonde to brown. Her character also comes and goes throughout the story, with at one point showing up at her own funeral to see how she looks in a coffin after being reported dead.
Could it be possible some of the scenes depicted are based on actual incidents? Or is it possible that the writers just simply added doses of their own originality to embellish what actually happened? For O'Brien's debut for Warners, he showed great promise to become the studio's stock player, often opposite James Cagney later on. While O'Brien worked with Davis earlier in an independent reform school melodrama of HELL'S HOUSE (Capital Films, 1932), their paths would never meet again at Warners.
Decades before Turner Classic Movies would acquire the rights to this and other nearly forgotten Warner Brothers programmers from the thirties to forties, BUREAU OF MISSING PERSONS did have its share of broadcasts prior to 1974 on WPHL, Channel 17, in Philadelphia (where I initially viewed this rare find), the now former home of the Warner Brothers classic film library. Distributed to video cassette in the 1990s, and DVD a decade later, this 75 minute programmer is never dull through its actions and performances. Remade by Warners as THE MISSING WITNESS (1937) with John Litel and Joan Dale, this original is much better, "I bet you dollar six bids." (***)
The Girl Who Stayed at Home (1919)
Soldiers of War
THE GIRL WHO STAYED AT HOME (Paramount/Artcraft, 1919), directed by D.W. Griffith, is only a movie title. It doesn't reflect upon a widowed housewife caring for her children but mostly about two brothers off to war, with the girls they love left behind. Following the current Great War trend of Griffith's earlier two hour production of HEARTS OF THE WORLD (1918) starring Lillian and Dorothy Gish, the great director attempts to do another, but on a lesser scale minus the Gish Sisters but honorable support of Griffith stock players. While the movie might have or should have been titled "The Men Who Went to War," in all essence, the "girl who stayed home" in the story is basically on a secondary character with a promise to remain loyal to her soldier of war.
Before the individual character introduction begins, an opening passage to what is to be presented ensues: "On a June day, gold with spring and blossoms in an old château in the pleasant valley of the Marne, Monsieur France sits dreaming. It is his boast that he is the only citizen of the confederate states of America who has never surrendered. At the end of the Civil War he escaped to his father's home in France rather than submit to the Yankees." The man in question is Monsieur France (Adolphe Lestina), a veteran of the Civil War who has purchased a run-down home of his forefathers where hangs on the wall his flag of the Confederacy. With the passing of a generation, he is again alone, with the exception of his granddaughter, Atoline (Carol Dempster), "A young blossom from the old stock." Coming for a visit is Atoline's New York chum (Frances Parkes) at the Paris School who visits while touring Europe with her family, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Grey (George Fawcett and Kate Bruce), and their elder son, Ralph (Richard Barthelmess). While Ralph shows love and compassion towards Atoline, she happens to have a favored suitor, Count de Brissac (Syn De Conde). James (Robert Harron), Ralph's younger brother, better known as "The Oily Peril" (translation: "Heartbreaker"), is both college boy and a weakling. He shows his cowardice by refusing to defend himself towards a drunken German while entertaining Atoile in the park during her visit in America. James loves Cutsie Beautiful (Clarine Seymour), a Broadway café entertainer with a reputation for the men. As war breaks out in Europe, Ralph enlists while his father keeps James behind in his shipping business "juggling time-cards." Although drafted, Grey's influence with the draft board fails to influence them in keeping him home, thus, becoming a soldier of war. While Cutsie Beautiful becomes the girl who stayed at home, avoiding a past suitor (Tully Marshall), will she remain faithful to James?
Of a handful of silent features directed by D.W. Griffith, THE GIRL WHO STAYED AT HOME, which fortunately survives intact, ranks one of his lesser known works. Credited as part of his "short stories" collection, this is definitely a small movie (69 minutes) compared to his earlier two hour plus epics of THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915) and INTOLERANCE (1916). Yet, this little movie demonstrates how a good film doesn't have to be lengthy to become great. Though the film is far from great, it's quite satisfactory. The Griffith ingredients are all there: flashbacks extreme close-ups on the principles, last minute rescues, etc. Battle scenes are well staged and photographed, although by today's standards, heavy melodramatics appear primitive, but for film scholars, acceptable for what it is.
While Richard Barthelmess' career extended to talkies before retiring in 1942, Robert Harron's performance stands out in the early scenes through his physical resemblance to both comedian, Charlie Chase, and John Gilbert during his battle scenes which makes one think of Gilbert's scenes from the epic war movie, THE BIG PARADE (MGM, 1925).
Piano scored, with no known possibility of ever been televised, THE GIRL WHO STAYED AT HOME, from the Killiam collection, has been both distributed to home video (1990s) and DVD a decade later. For silent film enthusiasts, viewing the performances of both Robert Harron and Clarine Seymour would make one wonder had they both not died so young in 1920, would their movie careers have been successful and extended through decades ahead? This is a question that will never be answered. (***)
Mary of Scotland (1936)
The Scottish Queen
"Mary of Scotland" (RKO Radio, 1936), directed by John Ford, stars the queen of RKO, or at least one of the movie queens for that studio, Katharine Hepburn, in the role of Mary Stuart, "Queen of Scotland," or better known in latter-day terms as "Mary, Queen of Scots." With screenplay by Dudley Nichols, and taken from the 1933 stage play by Maxwell Anderson, as produced by The Theater Guild (starring Helen Hayes), the movie itself reportedly strayed from the play in favor for acting technique/style of Katharine Hepburn. For being a lavishly produced production with a cast of thousands, and under the direction of the recently Academy Award winning director John Ford (for "The Informer"), "Mary of Scotland" should have been an astounding success, but it wasn't. While earlier screen efforts of movie royalty as "The Private Life of Henry VIII" (United Artists, 1933), "Queen Christina" (MGM, 1933) and the outlandish life story of Catherine the Great in "The Scarlet Empress" (Paramount, 1934) being worthy considerations, the failure of "Mary of Scotland" might have been due to Hepburn's recent flop of "Sylvia Scarlett" (1935) or the fact the movie itself was simply, to many, a 123 minute bore.
FORWARD: "Like the fateful stars, Mary Stuart and Elizabeth Tudor appeared in the Sixteenth Century, to reign even two great nations in the making thus were doomed to a life-and-death struggle for supremacy, a lurid struggle that still shines across the pages of history but today, after more than three centuries, they sleep side by side at peace, in Westminster Abbey." The story, set in 1561, opens in England where the temperamental Queen Elizabeth Tudor (Florence Eldridge), daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, learns that her cousin, Mary Stuart (Katharine Hepburn), is returning to her native land of Scotland after 13 years in France where she is to re- establish herself as monarch. Elizabeth plots with Throckmorton (Alan Mowbray), the Scottish ambassador, to use her half brother, James Stuart Moray (Ian Keith) go against her. After a rousing reception for her return to Leith, Scotland, accompanied by David Rizzio (John Carradine), her personal secretary and only true friend, Mary is denounced as "wicked" by the bearded radical, John Knox (Moroni Olson). Although loved by The Earl of Bothwell (Fredric March), Mary decides to marry Lord Darnley (Douglas Walton), a young drunk who lacks courage. Giving birth to a baby boy, and following Darnley's murder, Mary marries Bothwell, but their marriage is cut short as Holyrod Castle is soon attacked by troops hired by Queen Elizabeth to prevent Mary's claim to the English throne.
Under the direction of another director as Rouben Mamoulien, for example, "Mary of Scotland" might have turned out rather differently, possibly better. John Ford, best known for his work in westerns or war dramas, seemed to be in foreign territory here. His visual style, ranging from shadowy images on walls and low-key lighting used for his previous success of "The Informer" (1935), repeats his visual style for "Mary of Scotland," but not so much with the same results. The acting, however, is superb, especially by John Carradine for his stand-out performance as Rizzio. Robert Barrat, Donald Crisp, Frieda Inescort and little Bobs Watson can be seen in smaller roles. While one might have wished for British born actress, Flora Robson, to have played Elizabeth Tudor, Florence Eldridge (Mrs. Fredric March) is given the honor as the spiteful queen. Although Fredric March, whose role is somewhat secondary, might seem miscast at first glance. Once he gets into character, one tends to forget that sort of initial reaction. Memorable highlights include the confrontation between Elizabeth and Mary; Mary's trial and her climatic closing segment. Also notable is the singing of "We Will Fight for the Queen" heard during the story and closing credits.
Not historically accurate by any means, "Mary of Scotland" is what it is. The story of Mary Stuart would be retold later as the British- made "Mary, Queen of Scots" (Universal, 1971) starring Vanessa Redgrave. Redgrave had one distinction over Hepburn, that being nominated as Best Actress for her performance. However, this original edition, formerly distributed to video cassette and later onto DVD, has enjoyed frequent broadcasts on cable television, notably American Movie Classics (prior to 2001) and Turner Classic Movies. (***1/2 crowns)
No Time for Comedy (1940)
Gaylord Writes Again
NO TIME FOR COMEDY (Warner Brothers, 1940), directed by William Keighley, stars James Stewart and Rosalind Russell, in what the title indicates, a comedy. This comedy, however, taken from a stage play by S.N. Behrman, as produced by Katherine Cornell and the Playwright's Company that starred Laurence Olivier, is very much a screen adaptation by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein that was very much rewritten to fit in with Stewart's screen persona. Somewhat reminiscing with director Frank Capra's MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (Columbia, 1936) where country yokel (Gary Cooper) takes Manhattan, NO TIME FOR COMEDY offers Stewart something similar as country boy taking on Broadway (with some doses of Stewart's own MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939)), especially when both Deeds and Estabrooke characters run off to fires after hearing sirens from fire engines at a distance.
Set in the Broadway district of New York City, Linda Paige (Rosalind Russell), actress, along with Richard Benson (Clarence Kolb), producer, and Morgan Carroll (Allyn Joslyn), director, are all set to work on an upcoming play, "Dilemma at Dinner," but are awaiting for the arrival of its author, Gaylord Esterbrook (James Stewart), from Redfield, Minnesota, who's to arrive and oversee production with rewrites. After nearly two weeks, Gaylord does appear, and once seen, is not believed to be taken seriously as the playwright until he shows his identification card being that from the Redfield Volunteer Fire Department. Even its lead actress, Linda, is stunned, after mistaking him for an usher by giving Gaylord a quarter to buy her a pack of cigarettes. Though Benson decides not to produce the play, Linda arranges to have Gaylord's first play go on as scheduled. The play, being a comedy about high society in three acts, much to everybody's surprise, becomes a smashing success. In due time, the shy country boy turned playwright marries his leading actress, Linda. For the next four years, Gaylord writes a succession on comedy hits, until coming up with a writer's block. During a dinner party, Gaylord meets Philo Swift (Charlie Ruggles), a middle-aged stock holder of Wall Street, and his attractive young wife, Amanda (Genevieve Tobin). It is Amanda who not only tells Gaylord he should be writing dramas, but soon finds no time for comedy and more time for Mrs. Swift, much to the dismay of Linda.
A pleasing comedy with some serious overtones features some notable character actors in support as J.M. Kerrigan (Jim, the Bartender); Robert Greig (Robert, the Butler); Frank Faylen (The Taxi Driver); and Herbert Anderson (better known for his 1960s TV role as the father of "Dennis the Menace") as one of the actors. Louise Beavers carries on her usual sassy performance as Linda's maid; while Charlie Ruggles (on loan from Paramount) having some of the best and funniest fine delivery one-liners ever heard to stir up laughter. Take note that spelling of Linda's last name is seen as "Paige" throughout the story, yet in the closing credits is spelled "Page." For film buffs or historians, it's interesting finding James Stewart and Rosalind Russell, both contract players for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, together for the only time in a Warner Brothers production. It's a wonder why Warners didn't use its very own stock players as George Brent and Olivia De Havilland, Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan, or Jeffrey Lynn and Priscilla Lane in the Stewart and Russell roles. Then again, stronger marque names is what lures audiences into the theaters. In this case, Stewart and Russell work out quite well, as does Genevieve Tobin, looking quite youthful here than she ever did thus far, in one of her final movie roles.
Of the handful of James Stewart or Rosalind Russell movies that have been distributed to home video, NO TIME FOR COMEDY was one that never was. Since its humble beginnings, broadcast on cable television as Turner Network Television (TNT) in the late 1980s, and Turner Classic Movies (TCM) dating back to 1994, presented this edition with a 1949 reissue and studio logo with asinine title, "Guy With a Grin." It wasn't until decades later when TCM finally broadcast NO TIME FOR COMEDY under its original title and studio logo when shown on June 4, 2017.
Though there have been other movies featuring similar themes where playwright tries to do something completely different from his usual style of writing, NO TIME FOR COMEDY is one for the time capsule where Broadway and playwrights are concerned. (***1/2)
The Petrified Studio
STAND-IN (United Artists, 1937), directed by Tay Garnett, is another behind-the-scenes Hollywood story produced during the 1937-38 cycle that consisted of other such novelties as A STAR IS BORN (1937), Hollywood HOTEL (1937), SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT (1937), BOY MEETS GIRL (1938), THE GOLDWYN FOLLIES (1938), just to name a few. Based on the novel by Clarence Budington Kellen, STAND-IN is interesting mainly for its casting of Warner Brothers stock players (Leslie Howard, Joan Blondell, Humphrey Bogart and later Jack Carson) working outside their studio base for Walter Wanger Productions. It also reunites Howard and Bogart following their initial triumph in both stage (1935) and screen (1936) adaptations to their most famous work of Robert Sherwood's THE PETRIFIED FOREST. One would have expected their reunion on screen to be another hard-hitting drama. Instead, it's a comedy/drama placing Howard as a nerdy bespectacled intellectual with Bogey breaking away from his tough guy image playing a dog carrying movie producer.
Opening at the Pennypacker and Sons Bank in the Wall Street district of New York City where the Pennypackers (Tully Marshall, J.C. Nugent and William V. Mong) are stockholders for Collossal Film Company, an independent movie studio. Because the studio is facing financial ruin, the Pennypackers employ its executive vice president, Atterbury Dodd (Leslie Howard), their efficiency expert of four years, to go to Hollywood to discover why the studio is failing and whether or not to sell it out as a bad investment. While at the movie capital of the world, Atterbury, ignorant of motion picture industry, up to the point of not even knowing who Shirley Temple is, encounters meets Miss Lester Plum (Joan Blondell), a former child star employed at Collossal as a stand-in for temperamental movie actress, Thelma Cheri (Marla Shelton), who is loved by her hard-drinking producer, Douglas Quintain (Humphrey Bogart). Thelma, however, shows more interest in her phony accented speaking director, Koslofski (Alan Mowbray). Ivor Nassau (C. Henry Gordon), is a rival movie producer for another studio, would want nothing more than to see Collossal Film Company fail, thus sending Tom Potts (Jack Carson), a loud-mouth publicity agent, to spy on Dodd. Rather than staying at a plush hotel where he's constantly disturbed, Atterbury moves into Mrs. Mack's (Esther Howard) Boarding House, living among other has-been/unemployed actors, including Lester Plum, whom he later hires as his personal secretary. Discovering that a gorilla gathers more attention than Thelma, leading lady of "Sex and Satan," Atterbury takes it upon himself to save both movie and studio, only to get fired for his troubles and to stand in front of a very angry mob of unemployed studio workers blaming Atterbury for their predicament.
As much as Humphrey Bogart gathered the most attention for his excellent portrayal as Duke Mantee in THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936), STAND-IN very much belongs to Howard and Blondell. As in her Warner Brothers films, Joan is sassy as usual, yet caring and sympathetic towards a man unlikely to become the one she wants. She teaches financial genius Atterbury the method of dancing, the art of self-defense through jujitsu, but fails in getting through to him the method of love making. STAND-IN even includes some brief vocalizing at the Café Trocader to an old standard, "That Old Feeling," initially introduced in another Walter Wanger production, VOGUES OF 1938 (1937), as well as an a little girl named Elvira (Florie Capino) doing a Shirley Temple imitation by singing (very badly) her signature song, "On the Good Ship Lollipop." For being credited as Leslie Howard's last American comedy, STAND-IN is as good as it gets. Character types come off best, leaving the funniest piece of business with staff members giving a birthday celebration to the oldest Pennypacker (Tully Marshall) by filling his cake with a huge assortment of forest fire type candles.
Being one of the earliest movies to be distributed onto video cassette dating back to the early 1980s, and currently out-of-print DVD format, STAND-IN did enjoy frequent late night broadcasts on commercial television (1950s to 1980s) before shifting over to cable television channels as American Movie Classics (1994-1999) and Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: September 30, 2003). For anyone who enjoys movies about the movies, especially those from Hollywood's heyday, should definitely enjoy viewing this now rare find. (***)
It Ain't Hay (1943)
The Story of Tea Biscuit
IT AIN'T HAY (Universal, 1943), directed by Erle C. Kenton, stars the popular comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in a horse racing story based on "Princess O'Hara" by Damon Runyon. Previously filmed as PRINCESS O'HARA by Universal (1935) starring Jean Parker and Chester Morris, this 1943 edition is a very loose adaptation to the Runyon tale, being more emphasis on Abbott and Costello than the title character of Princess O'Hara, here played by an appealing youngster by the name of Patsy O'Connor.
The plot development introduces Princess Peggy O'Hara (Patsy O'Connor) as a carriage driver of New York City giving a ride to Private Joe Collins (Leonard Noble) and his girl, Kitty McGloin (Grace MacDonald) as they go through Central Park. Peggy and her father, King O'Hara (Cecil Kellaway) are best friends with Wilbur Hoolihan (Lou Costello), a taxi driver, and his shiftless partner, Grover Mockridge (Bud Abbott). After Wilbur gives their horse, Finnigan, some of his peppermint candy, the horse becomes sick, with Wilbur being the only one who can cure him with a giant horse pill. Sadly, the horse dies, leaving Grover and Wilbur to make amends by earning enough money to buy the Princess a new horse. With one thing leading to another, such as unwittingly buying a police horse, three gamblers, Umbrella Sam (Shemp Howard), a "Damon Runyon" character, Harry the Horse (Eddie Quillan) and Chauncey the Eye (David Hacker) leading them to the upstate stables of Empire Track where they are to acquire a free horse. Instead, Grover and Wilbur end up getting Tea Buscuit, the world's famous racehorse belonging to Colonel Brainard (Samuel S. Hinds), who offers $10,000 reward for its return. Realizing what they have done, and learning that King O'Hara has taken both horse and carriage to Saratoga with the stolen horse, Wilbur, along with Kitty, Joe and Wilbur, drive his taxi to Saratoga, followed by the three gamblers out for the reward, and encounter a tough efficiency expert, Gregory Warner (Eugene Palette), now hotel manager, whom they have met earlier encountered earlier on several occasions, to add to their troubles.
As in many Abbott and Costello comedies up to this point, production numbers are added for entertainment value, including those scored by Harry Revel and Paul Francis Webster: "The Sunday Serenade" and "Old Timer" (both sung by Patsy O'Connor); "Glory Be" (introduced by Grace MacDonald, sung by others, including The Vagabonds, followed by specialty skating acts by The Hollywood Blondes and tap dancing routines by The Step Brothers); "Let's Smile With Music" and "Hang Your Troubles on a Rainbow" (both sung by Leonard Noble). While Noble's character, Joe, talks about doing an Army show throughout the story, it's obvious what was intended for a grand finale became nothing more than a brief montage of deleted song numbers with more attention focused on Abbott and Costello and Eugene Palette.
An exceptional comedy with assortment of old and new Abbott and Costello gags and chase sequences, for being a horse racing story, it would be natural for them to include their famous "fodder and mutter" routine into the story. With Abbott and Costello being the sols attractions, Eugene Palette, the heavy man with the froggy voice, comes close in stealing every scene he's in. In fact, he's practically a running gag throughout the story, being everywhere involving the boys, including the cafeteria (look fast for Mike Mazurki as one of the burly bouncers), Colonel Brainard's stable, the Oaks Hotel in Saratoga, the race track and finally their confrontation at the musical show. Palette is certainly one person in this story who makes IT AIN'T HAY viewing pleasure. The Sportsman's Club involving Big-Hearted Charlie (Andrew Toombes) and the double-dealing Slicker (Richard Lane) also ranks one of the funnier scenes in the story. There are a couple of sequences that come as a reminder of scenes lifted from earlier Marx Brothers comedies of both DUCK SOUP (Paramount, 1933) and A DAY AT THE RACES (MGM, 1937). Watch for it.
While Costello shows how he can excel in sentiment moments involving the death of the horse without making it hard to sit through, the only downside comes when a kid calls Wilbur a murderer. His acting is so bad and hard to sit through (though fortunately brief), it's a wonder how it passed through in the final print, unless this kid happened to be related to someone in the production staff. Getting past this uneasy moment, the rest of this 80 minute feature is smooth racing right down to the finish line.
Although IT AIN'T HAY enjoyed frequent television revivals throughout much of the 1970s and 80s, it was reportedly taken out of circulation due to legal complications involving the Damon Runyon estate, keeping the movie from ever being issued on video cassette or DVD. By 2008, the rights were resolved and IT AIN'T HAY has become available on DVD in all its glory. For Abbott and Costello, or even Eugene Palette fans, IT AIN'T HAY is well worth the gamble. (***)
Page Miss Glory (1935)
PAGE MISS GLORY (Warner Brothers, 1935), a Cosmopolitan production directed by Mervyn LeRoy, stars Marion Davies, formerly of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, making her Warner Brothers debut. PAGE MISS GLORY may not be the greatest comedy ever made, but much better than the four feature films that were to follow in general. What makes PAGE MISS GLORY succeed is its presence of the studio's own huge assortment of stock players, especially the third-billed crooner by the name of Dick Powel, having a very busy year for himself with six movie releases for 1935 alone.
Plot summary: Loretta (Marion Davies) is a country girl from Red Hook arriving in New York City's busy Grand Central train terminal where, after given some guidance from Mr. Kimball (Harry Beresford), a traveler's aide, and only $27 to her name, comes to the Park Regis Hotel where she interviews herself to Mr. Yates (Berton Churchill), the assistant hotel manager, for a job. Loretta becomes the hotel's chambermaid and teams with Betty (Patsy Kelly) cleaning rooms and assisting guests. Her first good deed goes to Chick Wiley (Pat O'Brien), a promoter, and Ed Olsen (Frank McHugh), his assistant, of Room 1762,down on their luck and four weeks behind their bill. Believing they are hungry, Loretta offers them a rejected meal from one of the other guests which turns out to be dog food. Gladys (Mary Astor), a hard-working secretary and Ed's love interest, tries her best to assist in their lack of creativity to get themselves back into business. Upon reading a full page ad in a magazine for the submission of a photograph for the most beautiful girl in the world, Ed schemes up a publicity stunt by sending a composite photo of a fictional girl he names "Dawn Glory" in hope of winning the $2500 grand prize. Much to everyone's surprise, Chick wins, but is unable to produce the girl he's promoting to Slattery Hawkshaw (Lyle Talbot), a reporter for the Express insisting on an interview with Chick's Wonder Girl. It is only when Loretta, after beautifying herself at the beauty parlor, puts on the Miss Glory Silhouette Dress does the homely chambermaid become the new American Beauty. As fate would have it, Loretta, known to all as Miss Glory, is proposed marriage by Bingo Nelson (Dick Powell) over the radio only after having seen her photograph but never met her personally, except earlier at the hotel as a chambermaid. Though Loretta is madly in love with Bingo, her life gets a turnaround when she's abducted by hired thugs, Petey (Allen Jenkins) and Blackie (Barton MacLane), out for some ransom money.
Also in the large assortment of Warners stock players are Joseph Cawthorn and Al Shean playing a couple of heavily accented rival businessmen; Lionel Stander (Nick, a Russian accented wrestler employed in the hotel baggage room); Hobart Cavanaugh (Kimball); and in smaller roles, Helen Lowell, E.E. Clive, Gavin Gordon, Irving Bacon and Jonathan Hale. Very much a straightforward comedy, the title song of "Page Miss Glory" (by Al Dubin and Harry Warren) is first heard briefly by an uncredited vocalist at a night club before Miss Glory has her daydreaming fantasy moment staring directly into the picture frame of Bingo (Powell) to come to life and sing the song directly to her.
Though PAGE MISS GLORY gets off to a great start, it starts to become a bit tiresome by the time it reaches its 93 minute conclusion. As usual, the cast does its best in what they do, namely Pat O'Brien as a scheming promoter; Dick Powell appearing in pilot's uniform throughout the story; the serious-minded Mary Astor, among the many others in this all-star cast. In conclusion, PAGE MISS GLORY very much belongs to Marion Davies alone. She's has some very fine moments, especially during the first half of the story during her amusingly fish-out-of-water hillbilly type in the big city to unexpectedly become an American Beauty.
Never distributed to home video, PAGE MISS GLORY had its moments of glory when first broadcast on Turner Network Television (1989) before becoming a more permanent fixture on Turner Classic Movies cable channel. (***)
Ever Since Eve (1937)
A Sight for Sore Eyes
EVER SINCE EVE (Warner Brothers, 1937), directed by Lloyd Bacon, stars comedienne Marion Davies in what proved to be her final screen appearance. With her career dating back to the silent era of the 1920s, ranging from drama, historical costume epics and later occasional musicals during the sound era, many agree that Davies was at her best when it came to comedy, especially the available silent Hollywood story titled SHOW PEOPLE (MGM, 1928). Even in sentimental drama as PEG O'MY HEART (MGM, 1933), Davies could be quite appealing. Leaving her home base of MGM by 1934, she settled for Warner Brothers where she starred in four productions before EVER SINCE EVE made it her last before retirement. Whether this was intentional or not is uncertain, for that approaching the age of 40, it would be a matter of time before Davies might turn to character parts or mother roles. Though EVER SINCE EVE is not a Biblical tale of Adam and Eve, it's only a movie title with a song number bearing that title, but no character in the story named Eve. It's a story about a pretty secretary named Marge posing as a homely girl so not to have her male bosses doing more than dictating on company time.
Set in San Francisco, California, the story opens by the building of the Peace and Purity League where five pound boo volumes of "The History of Peace" are thrown out the window landing on the sidewalk to a crowd of pedestrians below. The camera soon captures Marge Winton (Marion Davies) quitting the firm after Mr. Mason (Harry Hayden) "was giving dictations but was a little too fast." Her next place of employment for Henderson, Barton and Lowell Imports finds her going through the same routine with the company presidents, Henderson (William B. Davidson), Barton (Pierre Watkin) and Mr. Lowell (John T. Murray), all wanting her to work overtime and in private. At the Johnson Employment Agency, Marge learns of a publishing company hiring only homely women to keep the male workers on their jobs and not on their pretty secretaries. Turning herself into an ugly ducking, Marge takes the position under the male figure of a woman president, Abbie Belldon (Louise Fazenda), who assigns Marge as stenographer under Freddy Matthews (Robert Montgomery), an author whose book is due for completion by May 1st. Matthews delay in meeting the deadline is caused his jealous girlfriend, Camille Lancing (Marcia Ralston), who takes up much of his time playing around. After Marge quits, he soon realizes she's the most efficient stenographer he ever had. Wanting her back in his employ, he comes to her place of residence where he meets the pretty Marge, posing as her roommate, Sadie Day (Patsy Kelly), which stirs up confusion with Sadie's plumbing boyfriend, Jake Edgall (Allen Jenkins). Afraid of losing her job, Marge becomes Sadie, followed by a relationship of love. In order to get his book finished or else face a $30,000 lawsuit, "Sadie" leaves Freddy and heads for Monterey. Unable to forget "Sadie," though ignoring his deadline, Freddy leaves for the Monterey Tavern to find Marge, who stirs up further confusion trying to be two people at the same time without arousing suspicion.
Among those in the cast featured are: Barton MacLane (Al McCoy, Jake's boss); Frank McHugh (Mike McGillicuddy, employee under Miss Bellkon using the name of "Mabel DeFlaven); Frederick Clark (Alonzo, Freddy's Butler); Charley Foy (The Bellboy); and Mary Treen (The Employment Clerk), among other. Brief song interludes include: "Shine On, Harvest Moon," "The Wreaths of Flowers," "Ever Since Eve" (by Jack Schroll and M.K. Jerome); and Spanish dance performed by uncredited couple. The pleasing title song is also underscored during title credits and story
Overlooking the fact that there was an earlier film bearing the EVER SINCE EVE title for Fox Films (1934) starring George O'Brien and Mary Brian, the one thing about this EVER SINCE EVE should have been was being an exceptional comedy, but somehow became a misfire upon release. Though the casting and comedy lines are well cast and constructed, when released at the time here screwball comedies were on the rage, EVER SINCE EVE didn't seem to warm up to either movie going public or critics possibly because of Davies' unattractive presence of either looking like a comic strip character, or a pale comparison to silent screen actress Colleen Moore in horn-rim glasses and long bangs. Comedienne like Lucille Ball in later years could and would get away with becoming unglamorous types such on television, as this and accepted and adored with laughter by her viewers. It's a wonder how the public might have accepted other leading ladies as Jean Arthur, Carole Lombard or Jean Harlow in the same situation? The plot is formula material, which is no surprise here. Robert Montgomery (on loan from MGM) is quite acceptable as the author with who'd rather have his eyes on attractive women than finishing his novel; while Patsy Kelly, as usual, adds amusement getting a quota of laughs with her one-liners. Barton MacLane, usually a serious actor, is briefly shown as one to date Marge, only to run the opposite direction after seeing her new image.
Never distributed to home video, EVER SINCE EVE does deserve a look, especially for it being Marion Davies' farewell performance, whenever it turns up on Turner Classic Movies cable channel. (**)
In Society (1944)
A Weekend at Briarwood
IN SOCIETY (Universal, 1944), directed by Jean Yarbrough, stars the popular comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in another one of their top comedies. Having been in movies since 1941, it would be a while before the team would tackle burlesque routines to certain background stories into such surefire comedy settings as in this case, high society. There's no Grace Kelly here to supply beauty and class but another blonde with the same mannerisms and singing style of Paramount's own, Betty Hutton, mainly because the down-to-earth style female co-star is played by Betty's real life sister, Marion, who's likable and pleasing personality as Betty enlightens the film. With Bud and Lou crashing society, and how they do it results to a very funny story.
The narrative opens at a costume ball function hosted by Mrs. Van Cleave (Nella Walker). Her husband, Henry Van Cleave (Thurston Hall)returns home exhausted and would want nothing more than get a good night's sleep. After heading to his bedroom to retire for the night, there's a leak in the faucet that would keep him from getting a good night's sleep. After going through the telephone directory, the butler (Charles Coleman) telephones for plumbers at the Ajax Plumbing Company, who, in turn happen to be non-other than Eddie Harrington (Bud Abbott) and his helper ("but no help") Albert Mansfield (Lou Costello). Accepting the job at $4 an hour, the plumbers are driven to the lavish Long Island estate by Albert's love interest, Elsie Hammerdingle (Marion Hutton), a lady taxi driver working for the Baker Cab Company. Because the Van Cleave function happens to be a costume party, Elsie is mistaken for one of the guests,especially by Peter Evans (Kirby Grant), the richest bachelor who happens to arrive dressed as a taxi driver. In the meantime, the plumbers typically do more harm than good with the leak, causing Mrs. Van Cleave, the following morning, to write them a letter of complaint to them. However, she unwittingly places a weekend invitation to a charity function at the Briarwood estate in the envelope instead, where the hapless plumbers received and accept the invitation as good business relations for their company. Also attending the Briarwood function are Peter and Elsie, much to the dismay of Gloria (Anne Gillis), Peter's jealous debutante girlfriend. With the weekend function hosted by Mrs. Roger Winthrop (Margaret Irving), she collects donations for the upcoming unveiling of "The Plunger," a valuable painting worth $150,000. Also attending the function is Drezel (Thomas Gomez), a loan shark who earlier loaned Eddie and Albert a $1,000 loan for their plumbing business, along with Marlowe (Murray Leonard), chauffeur for Mrs. Winthrop, a professional knife thrower, plotting to steal the valuable painting, and attempt attempt to convince the plumbing stooges to assist them with their theft.
A fast paced 75 minutes comedy loaded with worthwhile Abbott and Costello comedy material from start to finish. The most famous of their routines turns out to be "additional comedy material" credited to Sidney Fields (Landlord Mr. Fields from television's "The Abbott and Costello Show" (1952-1954)) for the one called "Bagle Street," where the plumbers try to deliver box full of hats for their friend at the Susquehanna Hat Company. There's also another routine borrowed from BUCK PRIVATES (1941), which changes Costello's situation from Army Sergeant to policeman (Edgar Dearing). Another classic routine involving Costello with Arthur Treacher (naturally playing the society butler named Biffs) is also priceless, as is Costello's take in the fox hunt. "Remarkable!" The scene involving Bud and Lou on a runaway sofa down the road is one that usually not included on broadcast television's WPIX, Channel 11, where IN SOCIETY and other Abbott and Costello comedies aired Sundays from 1971 to 1990. Others in the cast include George Dolenz (Baron Sergel) and Steven Geray (Count Alexis), a couple of Briarwood guests whose suits and clothing get mixed with Bud and Lou's. Don Barclay is also amusing in his bit as the drowning drunk who gives Lou a hard time for saving him. If the climatic fire engine chase looks familiar, some of it was lifted from an earlier comedy classic starring WC Fields in NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK (Universal, 1941).
A reflection or movie comedies of the time, there's musical numbers to such tuneful melodies to help balance the story, including "No Doubt About It, I'm in Love With You" (sung by Marion Hutton); "Rehearsing" (sung by Anne Gillis, and the Three Sisters, Bea, Margie and Gerri by poolside, conducted by Will Osborne and his Orchestra); "My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time" (sung by Marion Hutton); and "What a Change in the Weather" (sung by Kirby Grant to Marion Hutton on boat ride). With the exception of Kirby Grant's interlude, which is slow in tempo, all the other songs are lively, pleasant and somewhat memorable.
Last seen on cable television's American Movie Classics in 2001 (AMC premiere January 1, 2001, as part of Abbott and Costello's "Who's on the First" movie marathon), IN SOCIETY, distributed on video cassette in the 1990s and later DVD format, is no disappointment for many. The team is not only in fine form here, but supporting players handle their roles in the manner as they are played. Though Margaret Irving is quite good as the society hostess, it's a wonder had another Margaret that of Margaret Dumont, the famous dowager type of serve Marx Brothers comedies, might have made the movie even funnier. Be sure not to miss the finish! (**1/2 plungers)