50 Movie Comedy Classics, Disc 8

My Man Godfrey, 1936, b&w. Gregory La Cava (dir.), William Powell, Carole Lombard, Alice Brady, Gail Patrick, Eugene Pallette, Jean Dixon, Alan Mowbray, Mischa Auer. 1:34.

Set in the depression, this movie involves a wealthy (for the moment) family of eccentrics and a man (William Powell) living in the city dump, “found” as part of a scavenger hunt and turned into a butler for a family notoriously unable to keep butlers—a role he serves exceedingly well. The younger daughter who found him (Lombard) (well, the mean-spirited older daughter found him first, but she was so offensive he pushed her into an ashpile) falls for him and tends to over-emote about everything. He treats her Properly, as a butler should. Oh, and the family’s wealth is less secure than it might seem to be—and the father, the only sensible one of the bunch, is getting fed up with the rest of the family.

That’s the setup. It’s all done very well, a comedy of manners and a screwball comedy, with a somewhat remarkable closing sequence. It’s William Powell’s movie, but the rest of the cast offers strong (if sometimes overplayed) support—Lombard is hysterical in her apparent hysteria. Oh, and there’s one other thing: It’s funny. Four actors (and the director) received Academy Award nominations—I’d guess they were all well deserved. Good print, thoroughly enjoyable, a classic, an easy $2.00.

One Rainy Afternoon, 1936, b&w. Rowland V. Lee (dir.), Francis Lederer, Ida Lupino, Hugh Herbert, Roland Young, Erik Rhodes, Joseph Cawthron, Live De Maigret, Mischa Auer. 1:34 [1:19].

Here’s the plot, pretty much in its entirety: A French actor/singer is having an “affair” (kisses only, apparently) with a married woman, where they go to a movie after it’s started, entering separately, smooch, then leave before the movie’s over. (He finds this incredibly frustrating because he never sees how the movie ends.) One rainy afternoon, after she’s gone in, he hands his ticket to the usher—and we get the key plot point, which is that “66″ upside down is “99.”

That’s right: He winds up in the wrong seat and kisses the wrong woman (Ida Lupino), who not incidentally is prettier and nicer than the married one. There’s an instant problem, mostly because she’s a little startled and the theater seems populated by a group of harridans who insist on high moral standards, and see to it that he’s arrested. He gets put in jail because he can’t afford a hefty fine; she bails him out; he pays her back a little at a time at an ice-skating rink (allowing for loads of physical comedy); her annoying fiancé is not thrilled…and lots of publicity about this “monster” makes him a hot box office draw. That’s about it, plus of course a happy ending of sorts.

Ah, but this one’s a charming farce and romantic comedy, just a pleasure to watch. What can I say? This film is strong evidence that, for comedy even more than most film genres, it’s the performances, not the plot. The print’s OK (not great, not terrible) but the sound’s scratchy, which is the only thing reducing this charmer to $1.50.

The Great Mike, 1944, b&w. Wallace Fox (dir.), Stuart Erwin, Robert ‘Buzz’ Henry, Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer, Edythe Elliott, Pierre Watkin, Gwen Kenyon. 1:12 [1:03]

Two kids deliver newspapers using a wagon pulled by…a thoroughbred? Which one of them is trying to buy on the installment plan from his uncle. They start delivering to a new resident, who turns out to be a stable owner; he lets the “delivery wagon horse” run against one of his horses, which barely beats the nag—and his horse turns out to be a champion.

That’s the setup. Then the uncle says he has to sell the horse ’cause he needs the money, the new owner finds that the horse won’t eat or train because he misses his pal (the kid’s dog), the stable owner’s trainer goes in with the kid to buy the horse, and it goes from there, including race-fixers—all, basically, aimed toward buying good gym equipment for the kid’s pals.

Not bad although very hokey, with lots of racing scenes, but the print’s really poor and the sound’s sometimes worse, and one key scene is missing entirely. Given those problems, I can’t come up with more than $0.75.

Three Guys Named Mike, 1951, b&w. Charles Walters (dir.), Jane Wyman, Van Johnson, Howard Keel, Barry Sullivan. 1:30.

I don’t know whether American Airlines paid for product placement or just cooperated, but their logo and distinctive “paint job” are there throughout this tale of a brand-new opinionated stewardess and her three beaus. There’s a pilot named Mike, an adman named Mike and a grad student scientist named Mike. From her job interview through amusing incidents on board the (pre-jet) plane (a DC-3) through finding a place to live with three other stewardesses to her Big Decision—it’s sprightly, well-played by a first-rate cast, frequently funny and a real charmer. It’s on the slight side, but still an easy $1.50.

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