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LawrenceA

Recently Watched Comedies

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Welcome Danger (1929) - Harold Lloyd's first talkie was this road trip/crime comedy from Paramount and director Clyde Bruckman. Harold plays Harold Bledsoe, the seemingly inept son of a famed law enforcement figure who travels to San Francisco to help on a case. On the way there he bumps into Billie (Barbara Kent) and her sick little brother who are also headed to Frisco to see a Chinese specialist to help the boy. When they arrive, Bledsoe quickly begins to irritate his co-workers at the SFPD in his overzealous efforts to unmask the Black Dragon, the mysterious figure running Chinatown's drug trade. Also featuring Charles Middleton, Noah Young, Will Walling, Douglas Haig, Blue Washington, and Edgar Kennedy.

 

This was filmed in both silent and sound versions, with much of the latter being done via dubbing, which can be a bit distracting. The film is a bit overlong at 115 minutes, and the two sections of the film seem like they're from different scripts. The first 1/3, which is the rom-com road trip with Kent and her brother, is sweet if a bit overly familiar. I thought Kent was a real knockout, though. The other 2/3, detailing Harold's attempts to solve the Chinatown crimes, is much better. Young plays a dim-witted beat cop that gets caught up in Harold's mission, and their scenes together are frequently very funny. I was also amused by Blue Washington as the bad guy's hulking butler, who takes time to take his shirt off before attacking Harold with a whip. It's a weird scene, but funny.   7/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

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Check and Double Check (1930) - Incredibly awful attempt to bring the radio sensations Amos & Andy to the big screen, from director Melville W. Brown and RKO. The overly-convoluted and sloppy plot concerns young Richard Williams (Charles Morton), just up from down south to visit some old family friends in New York, and to see about a possible inheritance that will help set him up in life. This becomes even more important when he falls for the daughter of the family friends, Jean Blair (Sue Carol). Meanwhile, two inept Harlem taxi cab proprietors, Amos (Freeman F. Gosden) and Andy (Charles J. Correll) are sent by their social lodge to a creepy abandoned house to fulfill an annual obligation concerning the memory of their order's founder. They run afoul of a shady character (Ralf Harolde) after Richard's inheritance. Also featuring Irene Rich, Edward Martindel, Rita La Roy, Roscoe Ates, and Russ Powell as the Kingfish.

 

This is of course the infamous, original incarnation of Amos and Andy, with white actors Gosden and Correll in blackface playing the stereotypical caricatures of ignorant and shiftless black men. They aren't as mean spirited as some of the other caricatures of the time, but it's a pathetic sight, nonetheless. The decision was also made to have all other black characters with a speaking part also be white people in blackface, although extras were cast with actual black performers. The nature of Amos and Andy is enough of a drawback, but what really killed this for me was that it is just not funny in the least. Actors like Willie Best, Stepin Fetchit and Mantan Moreland could often be hilarious despite the racially insensitive nature of their characters. But the comedy here is non-existent. The "old dark house" set-up seems tacked-on and unexploited for the inherent comedy, and none of the supporting players are very good at all, either. Gosden was said to have been unhappy with how the film turned out, and there were no other Amos and Andy features. This is surprising since the film was extremely profitable, and was the biggest hit in RKO's history until King Kong.    2/10

 

Source: Mill Creek Classic Musicals box set. This movie's inclusion is dubious, but it does feature one stand-out scene of Duke Ellington's band performing some songs (even using Bing Crosby's voice for one). This scene is the only reason I gave the film a 2/10 instead of a 1/10.

 

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Feet First (1930) - Harold Lloyd comedy from Paramount and director Clyde Bruckman. Harold stars as Harold, a lowly shoe store flunky in Honolulu, Hawaii. Harold sees the beautiful Barbara (Barbara Kent) and falls for her, but when he learns that she's the daughter of the shoe store's owner (Robert McWade), Harold pretends to be a leather-goods magnate in order to impress them. Things get complicated when Harold finds himself on a trans-Pacific cruise ship with Barbara and her family and he has to continue his charade despite being broke and a stowaway! Also featuring Lillian Leighton, Henry Hall, Noah Young, Alec Francis, and Willie Best (as Sleep 'n Eat).

 

This was Lloyd's most successful sound movie, and it has a lot of good gags. An extended sequence on the cruise ship as Harold tries to destroy every copy of a magazine he can find is a highlight, as is the high-rise finale. Lloyd and company were obviously trying to one-up the clock-dangling antics from his earlier Safety Last, and while repetition renders this not as noteworthy, it's still entertaining. Kent is adorable, and I always enjoy Willie Best, even in the most degrading of roles.   7/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

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Feet First (1930) - Harold Lloyd comedy from Paramount and director Clyde Bruckman. Harold stars as Harold, a lowly shoe store flunky in Honolulu, Hawaii. Harold sees the beautiful Barbara (Barbara Kent) and falls for her, but when he learns that she's the daughter of the shoe store's owner (Robert McWade), Harold pretends to be a leather-goods magnate in order to impress them. Things get complicated when Harold finds himself on a trans-Pacific cruise ship with Barbara and her family and he has to continue his charade despite being broke and a stowaway! Also featuring Lillian Leighton, Henry Hall, Noah Young, Alec Francis, and Willie Best (as Sleep 'n Eat).

 

This was Lloyd's most successful sound movie, and it has a lot of good gags. An extended sequence on the cruise ship as Harold tries to destroy every copy of a magazine he can find is a highlight, as is the high-rise finale. Lloyd and company were obviously trying to one-up the clock-dangling antics from his earlier Safety Last, and while repetition renders this not as noteworthy, it's still entertaining. Kent is adorable, and I always enjoy Willie Best, even in the most degrading of roles.   7/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

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Harold Lloyd is endlessly entertaining.

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Ambassador Bill (1931) - Passable comedy from Fox and director Sam Taylor. Will Rogers stars as Bill Harper, an Oklahoma rancher who becomes the unlikely choice as the new US ambassador to the volatile European nation of Sylvania. His folksie demeanor and no-nonsense wisdom causes an uproar in the stuffy court of child king Paul (Tad Alexander). Bill also throws a wrench in the machinations of nefarious Prince Polikoff (Gustav von Seyffertitz) and Countess Ilka (Greta Nissen), who want the throne for themselves. Bill also tries to facilitate the outlawed romance between Queen Vanya (Marguerite Churchill) and the exiled former king Lothar (Ray Milland). Also featuring Arnold Korff, Ferdinand Munier, Edwin Maxwell, Ernest Wood, Tom Ricketts, and Ben Turpin.

 

Like most comedies of the time, your enjoyment will be predicated on your opinion of the star's screen personality. I personally like Rogers's country witticisms and low-key charm. Despite the unlikely setting, he still finds time to do some lasso tricks, his original specialty. Churchill and Milland make for an attractive couple, and Nissen has a fun, pre-code sequence where she disrobes in order to befuddle Rogers. I haven't seen a lot of Rogers's films; I think this may be only my fifth. But among those, I wouldn't rank this near the top.   6/10

 

Source: Fox DVD, with a featurette on Rogers's life, his legacy on film and in California, and short anecdotes from his surviving family members.

 

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The Millionaire (1931) - Low-key but effective comedy from Warner Brothers and director John G. Adolfi. George Arliss stars as auto magnate James Alden, a wealthy and respected titan of the industry. However, years of overwork and stress have taken their toll, and he is forced to retire under doctor's orders. He moves out west with his wife (Florence Arliss) and grown daughter Barbara (Evalyn Knapp). James is growing tired of the sedentary life, and a chance meeting with a motormouth insurance salesman (James Cagney) spurs him to buy a half-interest in a run-down roadside garage and gas station. James and his new partner, the young and eager Bill (David Manners), set out to make a success against the odds, as James has kept his real identity a secret. Also featuring Bramwell Fletcher, Noah Beery Sr., J. Farrell MacDonald, Ivan F. Simpson, J.C. Nugent, Sam Hardy, Tully Marshall, and Charley Grapewin.

 

I enjoyed Arliss here much more than in his Oscar-winning turn in Disraeli. The humor is character and dialogue driven, with little-to-no slapstick or broad farce. Cagney is like a jolt of caffeine, and he definitely leaves an impression, despite his brief screen time. Arliss had already filmed this once back in 1922.   7/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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The Dark Horse (1932) - Political satire from Warner Brothers and director Alfred E. Green. Warren William stars as Hal Samson Blake, a silver-tongued devil who gets hired on to run the dark horse campaign of Zachary Hicks (Guy Kibbee) for governor. With the help of trusty girl Friday Kay Russell (Bette Davis), Blake tries to make the dim-witted goof Zachary into a viable candidate, while also staying one step away from Blake's ex-wife Maybelle (Vivienne Osborne) who's after back alimony. Also featuring Frank McHugh, Robert Warwick, Berton Churchill, Sam Hardy, Harry Holman, Charles Sellon, Robert Emmett O'Connor, Jim Thorpe, and Louise Beavers.

 

William does his fast-talking, unscrupulous best, even if it's a bit sad seeing that backroom politics haven't changed much in the ensuing 85 years. Davis doesn't have a lot to do, although she still exudes strength of character. McHugh has more than a few good laugh lines. An agreeable comedic diversion.   7/10

 

Source: TCM by way of YouTube.

 

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The Half Naked Truth (1932) - Frantic comedy from RKO and director Gregory La Cava. Lee Tracy stars as Jimmy Bates, a motor-mouth carnival barker and born huckster who is forced to flee to NY along with "naughty" dancer Teresita (Lupe Velez) and escape artist Achilles (Eugene Pallette). Jimmy concocts a plan to get Teresita in the latest stage production of impresario Merle Farrell (Frank Morgan), but when she becomes a hit, their relationship takes a turn for the worse. Also featuring Shirley Chambers, Franklin Pangborn, Robert McKenzie, Mary Mason, Theresa Harris, and Asta.

 

Tracy excels as a fast-talking con artist, and Velez is of course a natural playing a hot-headed sexpot. The plot isn't deep, and many of the jokes miss, but there are enough chuckles to warrant a viewing. Keep an eye out for Max Steiner in a non-speaking cameo as an orchestra conductor.   6/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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Hold 'Em Jail (1932) - Wheeler & Woolsey comedy from RKO and director Norman Taurog. The duo play novelty salesmen who get sent to prison just in time to participate in the big inter-prison football match. But before game day arrives, they cause all sorts of mayhem, especially for the harried warden (Edgar Kennedy). Also featuring Edna May Oliver, Betty Grable, Robert Armstrong, Paul Hurst, Roscoe Ates, Warren Hymer, G. Pat Collins, Jed Prouty, Spencer Charters, Jim Thorpe, and Ward Bond.

 

There are a few cute moments in this, but not enough. I enjoyed Hymer's role as a dim-witted convict always trying and failing to escape. Oliver is always good, but seeing Grable as a pseudo love interest for Wheeler was a tad uncomfortable, seeing as he was 37 and she was 15 at the time. The title was apparently a play on "Hold 'Em, Yale", a well-known college football chant. I guess I at least learned something new.   5/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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I'm No Angel (1933) - Huge hit comedy from Paramount Pictures and director Wesley Ruggles. Mae West (who also wrote the film) stars as Tira, a circus dancer who gains fame with a dangerous lion-tamer act. She moves from one rich sugar-daddy to another until meeting wealthy Jack Clayton (Cary Grant) who she falls in love with. But shady elements from her past may scuttle her chances at a happy future. Also featuring Gregory Ratoff, Ralf Harolde, Edward Arnold, Kent Taylor, Gertrude Michael, Gertrude Howard, Russell Hopton, Nat Pendleton, Irving Pichel, and Hattie McDaniel.

West's sexually aggressive and shamelessly materialistic screen persona was a massive success at the time, and some consider this her peak film. I enjoyed it, but I may have liked She Done Him Wrong a little more. She has dozens of good one-liners, and the highlight of the movie may be the courtroom scenes near the end.   (7/10)

Source: Universal DVD, part of the Mae West: The Essential Collection.

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International House (1933) - Bizarre, zany musical comedy from Paramount and director Edward Sutherland. A variety of oddball characters find themselves stuck in the International House, a large hotel in Shanghai. Many of them are there for the unveiling of a new electronic invention by Dr. Wong (Edmund Breese) which will result in a bidding war for the rights. This flimsy plot frames a series of comic bits, musical numbers, and light romantic shenanigans. Starring W.C. Fields as an inebriated American scientist, Stuart Erwin as a US company representative, Bela Lugosi as the Russian delegate, Peggy Joyce Hopkins as herself, George Burns and Gracie Allen as a doctor and his dimbulb nurse, Sari Maritza, Franklin Pangborn, Colonel Stoopnagle and Budd, Lumsden Hare, Cab Calloway, Sterling Holloway, Rudy Vallee, and Baby Rose Marie.

Wong's invention turns out to be a television-like device on which the characters watch performances by Colonel Stoopnagle and Budd (radio comedy stars of the day), Vallee, Rose Marie, and Calloway (singing "Reefer Man"). I had never heard of star Hopkins, a tabloid fixture and household name of the day known for her scandalous affairs and lavish lifestyle. Fields is funny, but Allen stole the film for me with her gleeful ignorance. Lugosi has one of his better non-horror roles. Another highlight is the musical number featuring a dancing Sterling Holloway being flirted with by girls dressed in cellophane tea-set costumes!  (7/10)

Source: Universal DVD, part of the W.C. Fields: Comedy Favorites Collection.

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Mr. Skitch (1933) - Meandering comedy from Fox and director James Cruze. Will Rogers stars as the title character, the husband to wife Maddie (Zasu Pitts), and father to 4 children. When a bank crash causes the Skitches to lose all of their money, they also lose their house and belongings except for their beat-up old car. They all pile in and head West, with Mr. Skitch hoping to find work in California. They make lengthy pit-stops at Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon, where the whole family gets into various predicaments. Also featuring Rochelle Hudson, Florence Desmond, Eugene Pallette, Charles Starrett, Harry Green, Charles Lane, and Charles Middleton.

This is simple and corny, but it has a pleasant enough tone, and a positive vibe. Desmond is good as a would-be movie actress that they meet along the way. The romantic sub-plot featuring Starrett as a vacationing West Point cadet wooing Hudson (who was all of 17 at the time) is undercooked, but understandable for appeal's sake. Veterans Rogers and Pitts are in fine form, and both have a handful of good moments.   (6/10)

Source: Fox DVD.

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I always like to see Rochelle Hudson in a film.   Not a great actress but I still found her cute and appealing.   She was in mostly B films but Get-TV shows some of the Fox films she was in from time to time like Mr. Moto Takes a Chance,   Meet Boston B-l-a-c-kie (the first in the serial),  Born Reckless,  and the Temple film Curly Top (the one with Animal Crackers in my Soup).

The best productions she was in were She Done Him Wrong (Mae West \ Cary Grant),  Imitation of Life (the Colbert version where she plays her daughter),   Les Miserabes (March version where she plays Cosette), and Rebel Without a Cause (where she plays Wood's mother).

She was in another Will Rogers film Judge Priest, which was a big hit for Fox,  released the year after Mr. Skitch.    

 

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5 minutes ago, jamesjazzguitar said:

I always like to see Rochelle Hudson in a film.   Not a great actress but I still found her cute and appealing.   She was in mostly B films but Get-TV shows some of the Fox films she was in from time to time like Mr. Moto Takes a Chance,   Meet Boston B-l-a-c-kie (the first in the serial),  Born Reckless,  and the Temple film Curly Top (the one with Animal Crackers in my Soup).

The best productions she was in were She Done Him Wrong (Mae West \ Cary Grant),  Imitation of Life (the Colbert version where she plays her daughter),   Les Miserabes (March version where she plays Cosette), and Rebel Without a Cause (where she plays Wood's mother).

She was in another Will Rogers film Judge Priest, which was a big hit for Fox,  released the year after Mr. Skitch.    

Yes, she was cute in Mr. Skitch, too. She's on the poster in her bathing suit. I'll be re-watching both Judge Priest and Les Miserables soon.

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