Is This How Frank Fay Played Elwood P. Dowd On Broadway?
Frank Fay, a nice guy who spends his life solving everyone else's problems by providing A FOOL'S ADVICE, saves his indifferent cozy community from corrupt politicians, and earns said community's somewhat unfocused gratitude. Will Fay at least get the girl, or make some money, or have something nice happen to him?
This is an oddly melancholy picture, where Frank Fay, the author of the story and producer of the picture, rather badly serves Frank Fay, the actor, who is just not funny in something that is supposed to be gentle comedy (in the manner of a Will Rogers picture). Fay is playing a nice guy who, it is implied, really is too nice for his own good, even though he has the smarts to rise to any occasion, and mechanical skills that let him "help" in the invention of a new, superduper recording device. Problem is, that the intended comedy highlight, where Fay falls victim to stage fright while delivering a campaign speech, completely undercuts his character, while pointedly making it obvious that Fay is a lesser comedian than Robert Benchley.
Nonetheless, there is something curious and somewhat haunting in Fay's performance that sticks with one -- indicating that this genial, good-tempered character will never really succeed, even on his own terms -- and that he knows it, even if he is not about to change. It's an odd star persona, and one can see why this movie is not well-known.
But this character does seem to be a cousin to Elwood P. Dowd, the genial drinking man who sees a giant rabbit named Harvey, and dropped out of the rat race. And Fay's performance of that role on Broadway was famous, even if it was Jimmy Stewart who did the part in the movies. So maybe this film was the prototype for a legendary performance that is now gone.
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