For Reel

Grand Slam (1933)
July 3, 2015, 2:30 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: William Dieterle
3.5 Stars
Grand SlamIt might be hard to believe now, but in late 1931 a highly publicized contract-bridge event was dubbed the “Battle of the Century.” It was waged between Ely Culbertson and Sidney Lenz, each bringing their own dubbed play style, and throughout the next six weeks daily results would be posted in newspapers, with the New York Times going as far as to cover it hand by hand with analyses. Not missing the opportunity, Warner Brothers capitalized on the topical material with a comedic satire entitled Grand Slam, which similarly culminates with a bridge game between partners employing different systems. Paul Lukas plays Peter Stanislavsky, a waiter and piano virtuoso who, by happenstance, bests the reigning bridge expert and becomes one half of the “Bridge Sweethearts of America” with his new bride, Marcia (Loretta Young). The Stanislavsky method is notable because it is designed to minimize the conflicts between married couples during the game, and as such there are a handful of humorous scenes in which bitter partners fight each other as they play. As a satire of publicity, it is mildly successful and might have made an even greater impression had it not devolved into sub-standard slapstick chaos by the end. Case in point: Frank McHugh, the classic drunk archetype in early-1930s Warner Brothers films, gives a very good performance as a cynical ghost writer. By the end of the picture, however, he’s relegated back to hiccups and incessant giggling. Lukas and Young are charming together, and there are a handful of laughs–the film pokes fun at the game of bridge often by referring to it as a “game for sissies!”

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