Within minutes one evening, Dave, Alabam, and Mickey's girlfriends break up with them - Dave's girlfriend wants him to do something more serious than acrobatics, Alabam's girl tires of his poetry, and Mickey's gal thinks he may be getting too serious. Meanwhile, in the same apartment building, Thelma Todd, a leading actress of the stage, is rehearsing a death scene. One at a time, the lads overhear her calls for help, burst in, attempt a rescue, and then fall for her. She plays a bit with their affections, especially after hearing that each has lost at love. The ex-girlfriends overhear: is jealousy the mother of renewed interest?Written by
Hal Roach produced his comedy series "The Boy Friends" concurrently with his Laurel & Hardy and Our Gang shorts, yet the Boy Friends never achieved the success of those classics. The three girls in the series -- Dorothy Granger, Mary Kornman and dishwater-dull Gertrude Messinger -- have very little screen presence and are not especially attractive.
As for the Boy Friends themselves: Mickey Daniels (nominally the leading Boy Friend, having come up through the Our Gang series) is spectacularly ugly, and his trademark tic -- a high-pitched squeal -- is downright annoying. Grady Sutton, before and after this series, would prove his worth repeatedly as a supporting actor in literally hundreds of movies ... but as slow-witted Alabam in the Boy Friends series, Sutton's namby-pamby character is annoying and fails to hold interest. This leaves only one Boy Friend: Dave Sharpe. Handsome, with good screen presence, a superb acrobat and athlete, Sharpe probably failed to become a star for the same reason as the very different actor Claude Rains: both men were too short to be acceptable in romantic roles.
In 'Love Fever', Dave Sharpe is first seen performing mule kicks, then balancing in a handstand for an upside-down close-up. He's great! Unfortunately, the three Boy Friends have no chemistry together, nor do they have any real chemistry with their girls. If Hal Roach had tailored this series as a star vehicle for Sharpe, it might have worked.
'Love Fever' is no better than any other instalment in the Boy Friends series, but is interesting for two reasons: a guest appearance by Thelma Todd, and because the structure of this movie shows the weakness of the entire series. Rather than interact with each other or their girl friends, the three lads take it in turns to interact with Thelma. This short has a triptych structure, which would be fine if any one of its three segments were funny. At best, they're slightly amusing.
For some reason, the series characters at the Hal Roach Studio were usually named after the actors who played them. I find this deeply annoying and often confusing: Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were not idiots, so it's regrettable that the two bowler-hatted simpletons they portrayed in Roach's comedies were usually named "Stan Laurel" and "Oliver Hardy". In 'Love Fever', we have Thelma Todd playing a successful actress named Thelma Todd: is she portraying herself, or playing somebody else with the same name? The meta text becomes even weirder when Thelma starts rehearsing a play in which she gets murdered: just a few years later, Todd would actually die in bizarre circumstances which may have been homicidal.
Any old how, the girls have temporarily dumped the boys just before the arrival of glamorous actress Thelma. When Thelma rehearses her dialogue, each of the three Boy Friends (in series) overhears her fending off her nonexistent murderer, and each one in turn gallantly rushes in to defend her. (Sort of like a serial murder, only with the same woman getting killed three times.) The movie's script and direction cleverly establish that Thelma is flirting with the boys only so as to effect a reconciliation with their girlfriends. Alas, her flirtations with Alabam (wearing a bizarre blazer) and with Mickey are painfully unfunny.
Wisely, the script saves the best for last: Thelma's tryst with Dave Sharpe. He puts on a dazzling display of dives and rolls, battling Thelma's nonexistent assailant. Unfortunately, in order to show Sharpe's athletic form, the camera must pull back to a long shot ... thus preventing us from seeing Sharpe's face. For all we know, that's a stuntman doubling for Sharpe. In fact, Dave Sharpe spent most of his career in long shot, doubling for less talented actors. Due to his slight build and short stature, he was often called upon to don female disguise so as to stunt-double for actresses.
The best films in the Boy Friends series were directed by Gordon Douglas. 'Love Fever' finds him only in front of the camera, this instalment being helmed by the much less talented director Bob McGowan. However, I was intrigued by one brief camera set-up: when Dorothy Granger bangs on Thelma's door, the shot is set up from the door's point of view! I'll rate 'Love Fever' just barely 4 out of 8. Now, please pass me the Laurel & Hardy DVDs...
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