. . . Too Many Girls

. . .

Speaking of Turner Classic Movies.... College football may not seem tailor-made for the Rodgers-and-Hart treatment, but 1940's Too Many Girls is the best available record of the team's work. Unlike earlier translations (in which rights to the musicals were bought by moguls who then stripped out the songs because musicals are box-office poison) and later ones (which suffocated under tons of papier-mâché production values), "Too Many Girls" cakewalked directly from Broadway to Hollywood with score, arrangements, jitterbugging, newspaper headlines ("Pottawottomie U. Defeats Texas Gentiles"), and cast mostly intact. Desi Arnez is cute as a sweaty button singing "Spick-and-Span-ish," Ann Miller pounds her legs like Cassandra predicting Pearl Harbor, Lucille Ball is dubbed, Eddie Bracken enjoys being a sex object ("There are ten girls to every guy here. Go find your own ten girls."), and there's a formal experiment worthy of Hitchcock when, halfway through the big romantic duet, the film jumps forward to an eavesdropper's description of the duet: "And THEN he said, [crooning] 'I didn't know what year it was....' [shouting] HE DIDN'T EVEN KNOW WHAT YEAR IT WAS!" Essential viewing for the producers of America's Funniest Celluloid Closets.

. . .

The Trowbridge Retreat    
The Weeds of Crime: Three Men on a Horse

Synopses: A sissy in a mutally adoring marriage who's threatened by masculine hostility and a job crisis can solve all his problems by joining a bunch of gangsters.

Charlie, Frankie, Erwin, and Patsy
More mugs than you can shake an ugly stick at
  Three Men on a Horse trampled Broadway in 1935, and has been trotted out for summer stock, amateur theatricals, and sit-com rip-offs ever since. Handed such a slab of certified Grade-A merchandise, Hollywood took the rare and unadvisable step of adapting it closely -- that is, barely.

As with Too Many Girls, there's some documentary interest in getting an unadulterated look at 1930s theater, complete with original cast members, original bathroom and easy virtue gags, and even original sets. But Too Many Girls had Rogers & Hart & lunacy on its side, and it quickly becomes apparent that the art of the legitimate "well-constructed" comedy hasn't declined nearly as much as the art of the musical. The talkies were better than plays pretty much right away.

Stuck in our expensive seats, we pause for laugh lines, we pause even longer for forced laugh lines, we check our watch when it's time for intermission, and the cinematographer's snore goes almost entirely uninterrupted. (Or, as the IMDB reviewer puts it, "Throw a few special effects in and the movie would be a real winner.")

Well, actors enjoy plays even if cameras don't: Sam Levene is easier to take as a negligent criminal than as his usual negligent cop; worrying about her Erwin "lying in some hospital sick, or the back of some drug store," Carol Hughes ditzes with the best of them (where the best of them, as we'll see, is Una Merkel); Frank McHugh discards his usual cynical-idiot bray for unshakable dignity and becomes a surprisingly touching poet-hero. I didn't know he had it in him.

Nor did I know that Joan Blondell had that voice in her; nor did I want to. (Virtue is easy; accents are hard.) Blondell putting on a fake New York accent is as disturbing as me putting on a fake Groucho nose. It says something about the difference between acting and movie acting that she's the least professional aspect of the film and figures in its only moment of visual interest: a bizarrely interpolated upside-down glamor shot explaining why she's draped across the hero's legs. And -- "'Cause I'm just crazy about poetry. That's why." -- she also initiates the kind of exchange a guy wouldn't mind on his tombstone:
"You're kind of nice, do you know it, Erwin?"
"No. No. But I've always tried to be as decent as I know how."
  Joan Blondell as Mabel
"I'm dizzy, Patsy."


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All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.