Made for Each Other, 1939, b&w. John Cromwell (dir.), James Stewart, Carole Lombard, Charles Coburn, Lucile Watson, Eddie Quillan. 1:32.
At times, this movie seems like a comedy in the classical sense—a play in which some people survive until the end. There’s more drama than light-hearted humor, although there are a few funny scenes. James Stewart’s a young New York lawyer (who apparently makes almost no money) who goes to Boston to take a deposition and, while he’s there, meets and weds a beautiful young woman (Carole Lombard). His mother lives with them and treats her badly; his boss (and a nefarious associate) prevents him from going on a honeymoon cruise; he has no money but almost always has at least one servant (and there’s that cruise thing). Then there’s a baby; they desperately need more money and he should be named a partner, but instead he meekly accepts a 15% pay cut…and soon, it’s New Year’s Eve and the baby contracts a rare pneumonia. Along the way, one standing joke is that the head of the lawfirm (Charles Coburn, who does a fine job) can only hear you if he opens his jacket and you yell into his pie-plate-size hearing aid microphone.
Laughing yet? It gets funnier. The only way to save the baby is with a new serum—but there’s none in New York, Johns Hopkins sent all of theirs (apparently the only supply anywhere) to Salt Lake City; the latter can spare a little, but there’s a terrible storm—and a pilot wants $5,000 to fly it back. We get several minutes of a (different) pilot in an open-air plane flying through storms and even bouncing off a mountainside at one point, then the plane catching fire and the pilot parachuting with serum package in hand. Of course, everything works out—the baby’s saved, the father gets his partnership, the mother comes around, and all of the happy ending is in the last two minutes.
The print’s pretty good, the sound’s fine, the acting is also fine. Not exactly a laughathon, but well made and enjoyable. $1.25.
That Uncertain Feeling, 1941, b&w. Ernst Lubitsch (dir.), Merle Oberon, Melvyn Douglas, Burgess Meredith, Alan Mowbray, Eve Arden. 1:24
Jill Baker (Merle Oberon) keeps getting the hiccups and is persuaded to see a psychoanalyst (Alan Mobray). She becomes disillusioned about her husband (Melvyn Douglas) and meets a strange but interesting pianist (Burgess Meredith), who she becomes involved with.
The husband plans to use psychology to get her back. After all sorts of incidents, it works—but it’s a very lightweight movie. Still, Burgess Meredith does a fine job, as do Oberon and Douglas—and the young Eve Arden (with her instantly-recognizable voice) has a small but significant role. Here’s the problem: For one reason or another, I didn’t review this right after seeing it—and after four days, I’d almost completely forgotten the plot and the performances. “Lightweight” may overstate it. Still, and despite some soundtrack damage, I’ll give it $1.25.
The Great Rupert (aka A Christmas Wish), 1950, b&w. Irving Pichel (dir.), Jimmy Durante, Terry Moore, Tom Drake, Frank Orth, Sara Haden, Queenie Smith, Chick Chandler. 1:28 [1:25].
A movie about vaudeville, the virtues of local investing, passing along good fortune—and a dancing squirrel. The squirrel’s trainer has to depart a basement apartment for lack of funds, sets the squirrel (The Great Rupert) free to roam, and runs into another vaudevillian family, the Amendolas, father played by Jimmy Durante, who’s fled their last residence for similar reasons and wangles their way into the apartment without paying in advance. Meanwhile, the landlord finds out that a worthless gold mine he’d been conned into investing in is paying off, to the tune of $1,500 a week for his share. He won’t deal with banks and doesn’t trust his wife or musician son, so he stuffs the bills into a hole in the wall near the floor.
But the space behind the hole is now occupied by The Great Rupert, who finds these bills distracting, so he sweeps them away—right into the hole in the roof of the basement apartment, where they come fluttering down just after Mrs. Amendola prays for a little money. And the next week—after they’ve spent the money, between paying off debts, buying shoes for their beautiful daughter, and lending the rest to people in similar circumstances—she prays again, and another $1,500 comes fluttering down.
So there’s one plot. Others involve Amendola’s daughter (who’s a harpist), the son upstairs (who likes her—and it’s mutual—and plays tuba: he composes a piece for “two forgotten instruments” to play with her), a show-biz type who also likes her (and keeps taking her out for meals, but gets nowhere), the son getting conned into a worthless oil investment, and eventually simultaneous visits from the local police, IRS and FBI, all wanting to know where the family’s getting all the money. Meanwhile, as the landlord notices, “and Amendola” keeps showing up on various small businesses (because Mr. Amendola keeps lending or investing in them), all of which seem to be doing very well.
There’s more—but I shouldn’t give it all away. The ending is, well, as it should be but also more than a little peculiar. All in all, a fun movie, but the print’s severely damaged, with missing chunks of dialogue and visual damage. Given the damage, I can’t give this one more than $1.00.
Something to Sing About, 1937, b&w. Victor Schertzinger (dir.), James Cagney, Evelyn Daw, William Frawley, Mona Barrie, Gene Lockhart, Philip Ahn, Kathleen Lockhart. 1:33 [1:27].
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. It’s easy to think of James Cagney as a tough guy, but he was also a first-rate hoofer and pretty good singer, and those talents shine in this romantic comedy. He’s Terry Rooney (or, rather, that’s the character’s bandleader name—his real name’s Thaddeus McGillicuddy), and bandleader/singer who’s been invited to Hollywood for a movie. He leaves, getting engaged to his singer/girlfriend just before getting on the train.
In Hollywood, the studio head makes sure that Rooney never realizes the extent of his screen chemistry and talent, trying to keep him from wanting a good contract. Rooney assumes he’s a disaster (and gets in a fistfight on set, which turns out to be staged to get a better film sequence) and has his fiancé fly out to Hollywood, where they get married and, with the picture wrapped, take off on a tramp steamer to the South Pacific. (This seems to be an era in which the train is the preferred way to go coast-to-coast, but you can fly if you’re in a hurry.)
Well, sir. The movie’s a big hit, Rooney’s a Big Star. When he returns, the studio exec wants to sign him up for seven movies (years?), but the contract says he has to be single. They come up with a gimmick: His wife will use her real married name (Mrs. McGillicuddy), live next door, and act as his personal assistant. Which is fine, but a female star makes a play for him, which an agent pushes on the press as a hot new romance—and his wife gets tired of it all.
That’s more of the plot than you really need. Let’s just say it all ends up as a romantic comedy should, with a few great song-and-dance numbers along the way (including on the tramp steamer, where they’re the only passengers and most of the show is crew entertaining one another, flawed a bit by the clearly visible accordion, guitar and harmonica sounding a lot like a string-and-brass ensemble). The print’s pretty good with a little damage. (One oddity is revealed in the IMDB trivia area. I noted that the studio was Grand National, which I knew only for B westerns—and it turns out this movie broke the studio financially.) I’ll give it $1.50—not great, but a winner.