Comedy Kings Disc 9

The Nut Farm, 1935, b&w. Melville W. Brown (dir.), Wallace Ford, Betty Alden, Florence Roberts, Spencer Charters, Oscar Apfel, Bradley Page. 1:05 [1:07]

A small businessman’s wife gets a postcard from her mother and brother, living in sunny California—and he’s just been offered $40,000 for his store (from a chain), a lot of money in 1935. Maybe they should move to California and buy a nut farm…

Next thing we know, they’ve arrived, first meeting the mother and brother’s half-deaf landlord (whose daughter is the brother’s girlfriend). The brother’s a wisecracking “producer”—or, rather, assistant director who hasn’t actually had a call in six weeks. And the wife has been reading an ad about Hollywood’s need for new faces and a great acting studio.

So we get the plot. She falls into the hands of a slick “producer”/drama coach, while her husband’s out looking for nut farms. He finds one—but she says she can star in a movie for an investment of $40,000, guaranteed to triple the money. And the smooth operator manages to con the husband as well—and even the brother, who he chooses on the spot to direct.

Caution: Spoilers ahead, but not the final round. Since the “producer” has already, um, spent all the money, filming will shut down early—but the kid’s going to shoot those final scenes somehow. When it all comes together and gets its premiere showing, it gets laughed off the screen. As a drama, it’s a pretty good comed…oh, wait… Anyway, after a few more twists, all winds up happily. And it’s funny: fast, well played, funny. Not a major motion picture, but a nice little flick. I’ll give it $1.25.

Palooka, 1934, b&w, Previously reviewed in C&I 7.5.

The Perils of Pauline, 1947, color. George Marshall (dir.), Betty Hutton, John Lund, Billy De Wolfe, William Demarest, Constance Collier, Frank Faylen, William Parnum, Chester Conklin, Snub Pollard, Bert Roach. 1:36.

The good news here is that the film is in Technicolor—a little faded but still wholly enjoyable—and the print is about as good as these ever get: Still VHS quality but very good VHS quality. The better news is that this is a thoroughly enjoyable comedy about movie-making, with Betty Hutton showing herself to be a great physical comedienne as well as a fine singer and accomplished deliberate scenery-chewer.

Hutton plays Pearl White—who did star in the actual serial The Perils of Pauline, but whose life had only certain points in common with this combined romance, musical comedy and satire of early silent churn-em-out movie-making. The first introduction to the movie factory, in which Hutton winds up raging through a series of doors and, in the process, through four or five entirely different movies being made, is nothing short of classic. The supporting cast is also first-rate.

I could go on, but the plot itself is somewhat secondary. If you’re looking for a pure biography of Pearl White, this ain’t it—but I don’t think it was ever intended to be. (Reading the negative reviews on IMDB, I can practically smell the grinding compound on the axes.) This movie is delightful, and I couldn’t possibly give it less than $2.

The Rage of Paris, 1938,b&w. Henry Koster (dir.), Danielle Darrieux, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Mischa Auer, Louis Hayward, Helen Broderick. 1:18.

The plot, such as it is: French girl in New York, trying to find work, bluffs her way into a modeling job but takes the wrong address slip—and soon finds herself half-stripped when a businessman walks in to his office. After she flees following an odd conversation, her friend in the apartment house convinces her she needs to marry a rich man, and engages a maître d’ who’s just about saved up enough to open his own restaurant to underwrite the girl so she looks uptown and can snare a millionaire.

Which she does—except that the millionaire’s a good friend of the businessman, who knows she’s up to no good. This leads to him kidnapping her, a variety of stuff happening, her realization that she loves him, his saying “and just when did you find out I’m wealthier than my friend?”—and, of course, it all works out in the end.

It’s an early romantic comedy with some screwball elements, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. plays the businessman with flair. (Darrieux and Auer—the maître d’—are also first-rate, and the rest of the cast is more than adequate.)It’s charming and in the best romcom tradition, years before the genre was really solidified. The print’s pretty good, and I think it’s easily worth $1.50.

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