Sunday, February 22, 2009

When a Fellow Needs a Friend (1932)

When a Fellow Needs a Friend is a fine little film starring child star Jackie Cooper; a movie more successful, in fact, than many of the ones MGM made by and for adults. Those films often resorted to jaw-dropping twists of plot in order to get the guy and the gal together in the last frame. There's nothing too far-fetched in this movie, though, and some of it is quite effective, and it's also a love story of sorts.

Cooper is teamed up this time with character actor Charles 'Chic' Sale. Though born in 1885, Sale made a career playing old men even though he was only in his '40s! In this film Sale's character, Uncle Jonas, helps Cooper learn courage despite a crippling physical handicap and over-protective parents. Andy Shuford is also excellent as Cooper's bullying cousin, "Froggie". Cooper crying in several scenes caused some viewers to think he cried too much. I don't mind his crying if the story warrants it, which it did here.

There's nothing too profound or Oscar-worthy here, just a good little story well-told. If this movie was released to theatres this week, and marketed to kids, it would be a money maker.

When a Fellow Needs a Friend is not available on DVD or VHS, but has been broadcast on Turner Classic Movies.

Monday, February 16, 2009

But the Flesh is Weak (1932)

What bizarre catalyst propelled Irving Thalberg and company to churn out one MGM romantic "comedy" after another starring leads whose defining characteristics were boorish, brutish, insufferable infantilism? I would argue that in the hands of William Haines, this sort of material could border on comic genius, in a surreal Jonathon Winters-ish way. Usually, though, it just thuds and offends, and But the Flesh Is Weak is a prime example.

In this film, written by Ivor Novello, deadbeat Robert Montgomery and his philandering father, C. Aubrey Smith, do their best to mooch from, seduce, and wed (or not) rich women. That's practically the entire story. Montgomery at first latches onto the interesting Heather Thatcher, but then quickly dumps her for a widow, Nora Gregor (better known for her role in Renoir 's Rules of the Game).

There may be a fine line between romantic persistence and cloddish, creepy annoyance, but this screenplay asks Robert Montgomery to dash over it and never look back. Gregor 's ending line "I knew I loved you when you hit me" was the straw that broke the camel's back for Mary. Bleahhh.

Thatcher's role is sympathetically written, for all the good that does the film; Edward Everett Horton plays Gregor's rival suitor in a part that doesn't play to his strengths.

There might have been an amusing line scattered here or there; if so, I can't remember them.

Remade by MGM in 1941 as Free and Easy.

But the Flesh Is Weak is available on Warner Archives DVD-R and has been broadcast on Turner Classic Movies.