Stanley Lupino seems to be largely forgotten today, or, if remembered at all, more due for his daughter, Ida. Indeed, in February 2016 a commemorative blue plaque, dedicated to both of them, was placed at the house where Ida was born.
Finding information on Stanley is hard. He and his Happy co-star, Laddie Cliff (who went on to appear with him again in Sporting Love and Over She Goes) both died before their 50s, and both of them had film careers that finished before the end of the Second World War. Such a short time frame puts him several generations past being remembered, and it's only due to an afternoon screening of this movie on ITV around the late 1980s that, as a child of the 70s, I'd heard of him at all.
Of Lupino's 13 movies from 1931-1939, none of them have, to date, above 30 votes on the IMDb... five of them haven't even passed the minimum votes benchmark. While eight of his other films have a review on them, proving that he's not without his remaining fans (though the reviews are the work of only two people), a search on the internet reveals astonishingly little about him.
To date, Happy has just a dozen votes, and appears to have only been released on DVD as part of a collection, with the even more obscure "Invitation To The Waltz" on the same disc. 1933 was the year of King Kong and Duck Soup, of Laurel and Hardy and The Invisible Man. In among British output like The Private Life of Henry VIII, this lighthearted, lightweight musical about a down-on-his luck musician seems to be almost completely forgotten.
Discussion of both comedy and song is highly subjective, though the film, based on a play and starring a musical hall comedian, is of a rhythm that may irritate some. Jokes are often so tired it's easy to forget they may have been new once: "I've got a screw loose somewhere" says Frank Brown (Lupino), only to hear the predictable rejoinder of "I've known that for years." An introductory discussion with the director reminds us that light sexism was also very much in vogue: "Adam took a rib from his side, and invented the first talkie - and it's still in use."
Even the decent gags ("I can tell you how to sell twice as much lager [...] fill your glasses right up.") are accompanied by a long pause or reaction shot, there to give the audience time to get over the laughter. It does mean the movie initially drags along in fits and starts, any chucklesome moment then brought to a halt as pure silence fills the screen as a stop gap.
Yet once the romance plot kicks in, the film gets into gear, and there's a certain freshness elsewhere. Lupino and Cliff are two broke songwriters who live in an attic and have physical fights continually (which is where the title quote comes from) and living below them is their older friend, a man who collects geese. But, crucially, there's Lupino. Although the style of humour may be dated, there's a certain kind of charm about him, and with his enthused delivery and slightly effeminate appearance (including what appears to be heavy eye make- up) he's a delight. There's a nicely camp camaraderie between him and Cliff, where they're not afraid to dress each other, hold hands between fights, or Lupino can call him "sweetheart" without batting a mascara'd eye.
Then there are the songs. Despite being at least 25 years since I first saw the film, the title track is so instantly catchy that I had no problem remembering it. There are several idiosyncrasies that add to the charm: the film is set in France, though virtually none of the actors talk in a French accent; and although cast as a romantic singing lead, Lupino is perhaps neither what you'd call a traditional leading man, nor a classical singer. More Formby than Fred Astaire, there's something endearing about him, even several decades after his kind of humour was in fashion.
Although not high art, Frederic Zelnik clearly has ideas beyond "point and shoot" in his direction, and if there's nothing here that hadn't been done before, it's work put together with considerable effort, including dissolves, tracking shots and an animated sequence with the stars in the sky. Such a devotion to the craft of what is really just a throwaway entertainment make it easy to overlook the very occasional boom mike shadows that play over the actors.
For a film of the time, there's also a certain racy quality to some of the humour. The loose plot has Lupino attempting to sell a rich businessman his invention of a car alarm, with the businessman looking at glamour magazines before his arrival. Eventually Lupino hosts the businessman at a large party, pretending it's his own house for show, and some of the various goings on allude to jokes that were close to the line for 1933, even if they sound tame 83 years on. One lady explaining that she and her husband used to live in "Cincinnati" hiccups on alcohol after the first syllable, drawing a shocked response.
With his slightly cocky persona, only a man of Lupino's likable qualities could make it work, and highlights include his geese owner friend's drunken dance at a party, plus Lupino and Cliff having a fight while performing a tap dance routine. Eventually the plot ties together and Lupino marries the businessman's daughter, Cliff marries his own love, and their friend buys two female geese for his two ganders, who understandably hadn't laid any eggs. They all drive off into the sunset, and everyone is, as the song goes, happy.
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