Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Not So Dumb (1930)

Not So Dumb, filmed in 1929 and released in 1930, is a lot of fun. Based on the 1921 play, Dulcy, written by George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly, the film lost $39,000 for MGM. That's a shame because Not So Dumb was a perfect vehicle for Marion Davies' comedic talents.

Davies plays the ditzy fiancee of Elliot Nugent, who's trying to strike an important business deal with a big shot staying with them for the weekend. Will Davies inadvertently mess up Nugent's plans, or will everything turn out right in the end? Hmmm....

It's all light as air, flighty, inconsequential and entertaining, with some very witty lines. Davies looks like she was having a lot of fun here. The eccentric characters portrayed by a fine ensemble cast point the way to future plays and films also written or co-written by George S. Kaufman like You Can't Take It With You and The Marx Brothers' The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers. George Davis plays an ex-convict butler. Franklin Pangborn plays a screenwriter named Vincent Leach (great name!), who regales his trapped hosts with a scenario ripped from Cecil B. DeMille's Intolerance. DeMille's often used actress Julia Faye is hilarious as the easily-led-astray big shot's wife. Only Donald Ogden Stewart falls flat as the requisite "crazy" of the bunch, but that's due to the screenplay; crazy doesn't automatically equal funny.

Those unaccustomed to early sound films may be bothered by the bad (sometimes bordering on the bizarre) editing; the sound is also bad in the first scene. Life's short - you can get over it.

Dulcy was filmed earlier in 1923 with Constance Talmadge (it's easy to picture her playing the part; is there a print of this film still in existence?), and in 1940 with Ann Southern. Zazu Pitts and Gracie Allen also played the role in radio versions.

Not So Dumb is not available on VHS or DVD, but has been broadcast on Turner Classic Movies.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Divorce in the Family (1932)

I like this movie. It covers territory most '30s films stayed away from (the effects of a divorce and remarriage on two young brothers) and it holds your interest to the end.

Jackie Cooper is the attention-needing younger brother who dislikes his new, emotionally detached step-father (who can blame him?) and feels betrayed by his emotionally weak mother (again...). They don't even tell Cooper they're getting married until the deed is done, the weasels! His older brother, played just adequately by Maurice Murphy, is gone for half the picture and sidetracked by the girl next door in the other half, so he's not much help, either.

The lone parental figure Cooper can rely on (to the extent that the law will allow it) is his biological father, played by Lewis Stone. He's cool. In his very first scene he finds a skull in the ground - it doesn't get any cooler than that! Their scenes together are wonderful, two consummate professionals of very different age, playing off each other with a casual ease.

Alas, this story is determined to have Cooper embrace his new lot in life, so a melodramatic climax is contrived wherein the step-father (Conrad Nagel), a family doctor, saves the life of Cooper's brother and proves himself worthy of Cooper's acceptance.

That ending's wack. I'd rather see a movie where Lewis Stone and Jackie Cooper rage against the social order! There needed to be a high-octane sequel, directed by Quentin Tarantino or Jean-Luc Godard. I'd pay to watch that.

Divorce in the Family is not available on DVD or VHS, but has been broadcast on Turner Classic Movies.