For Reel


The Cocoanuts (1929)
July 21, 2015, 4:11 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , ,

Director(s): Robert Florey & Joseph Santley
3 Stars
The CocoanutsThe first feature film to star the Marx Brothers, The Cocoanuts is a stagy, ponderous effort that is a few swings below the team’s usual par. Of directors Robert Florey and Joseph Santley, Groucho famously remarked, “One of them didn’t understand English, the other didn’t understand comedy.” It is clear that some things were lost from stage to screen–in a few clumsy long shots, characters walk on and off the screen and break the comedic flow of the material, and in other instances actors are awkwardly cut off by the frame. In a particularly egregious sequence, Florey frames Harpo’s leg routine with Kay Francis above the waist, meaning that audiences barely get a sense of what the great physical comedian is doing with the entirety of his body. Regardless, one doesn’t always come to a Marx Brothers film for inspired direction or an engaging narrative, and The Cocoanuts does contain a handful pleasures amongst its assemblage of vignettes. Harpo, in particular, is a stand out in that he is even more chaotic than in his later films. While he would eventually gain a tinge of sweetness in later productions, here he plays a devilish frustration that uses anything and anyone as a prop. Santley’s dance numbers are of some interest in that they predict Busby Berkeley’s numbers, rife with overhead kaleidoscopic shots and a number of low angles that fetishize the dancer’s legs.



Smartest Girl in Town (1936)
March 10, 2015, 7:48 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Joseph Santley
3.5 Stars
Smartest Girl in TownThis B-picture from RKO plays like one of the popular Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers pictures of the day. It concerns a pair of eventual lovers who have met under false pretenses–she (Ann Sothern) has mistaken him (Gene Raymond) for a model, when in actuality he is a man of incredible wealth. In a romantic comedy driven by misunderstanding, who better to give support than a trifecta of Astaire-Rogers supporting players in Eric Blore, Erik Rhodes, and Helen Broderick! Although Raymond’s appeal is limited–he’s rather bland, even if Sothern’s treatment of him occasionally elevates his comparatively mannered performance (there’s a scene involving the washing of his hair that Sothern makes the most of)–Sothern makes a good stand-in for Rogers with her quick-wit and inexorable will. The final set piece is a morbid but enormously satisfying one in which Raymond fakes his suicide in order to see if Sothern really cares for him. What transpires is as morally despicable as movie marriages get, but the antics of Sothern, Raymond, and especially the terrific Blore are highly amusing.



She’s Got Everything (1937)
May 26, 2014, 2:28 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Joseph Santley
3 Stars
She's Got EverythingThe last of five films that paired Ann Sothern and Gene Raymond, She’s Got Everything sees Sothern star as a broke heiress who seeks secretarial work in order to pay off her father’s debts. As content as she is to work for her money, her creditors are much more eager for her to marry her employer (Raymond) in order to assure the quick delivery of their owed funds. For the time, the film is fairly progressive in its treatment of the working woman–although much of the supporting cast tells Sothern that having a job is worthless when she can marry into wealth, their conservative antagonism creates the conflict of the film. Sothern’s character is a clear predecessor to one of her most beloved, Maisie Ravier of the series of ten Maisie films. She’s sexy, quick-witted, and seeks romance only once her independence has been established. Gene Raymond is not the most versatile of leading men (and he’s all but swallowed whole when he shares the screen with the incomparably charismatic Sothern), but he does show a nice comic timing early on as the coffee magnate with a laundry list of allergies. Co-stars Helen Broderick and Victor Moore are once again a highly memorable duo (after their pairing earlier that year in Meet the Missus), with their developing romance defined by Broderick’s sexual aggressiveness and Moore’s barbed rebuttals.



Meet the Missus (1937)
May 26, 2014, 2:04 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Joseph Santley
4 Stars
Meet the MissusThe sweepstakes craze that swept the country during the 1930s is the focus of Meet the Missus, a slyly intelligent satire about the media’s misrepresentation of domesticity. Here, the contest that Emma Foster (Helen Broderick) is selected to compete in is to find the country’s perfect housewife–a title ill-fit for her, as she lets her husband Otis (Victor Moore) do most of the cooking and cleaning. That Emma performs a traditionally masculine role in the household whereas Otis dons womanly aprons as he prepares meals creates a grand irony in relation to the contest’s ideas of the male and female roles, suggesting the fraudulence of the portrayals of what really goes on in an American home. The film builds to a terrific climax in which, frustrated by a series of emasculating tasks throughout the film, Otis rallies his fellow husbands together to parade around in swimsuits in a parody of Miss America. It is those inspired set pieces in addition to the gender politics that elevates the picture above many other screwball comedies of the era, even if it lacks the star power or quite the level of wit as its more famous contemporaries. Moore is terrific as the pushover but Broderick steals the show with her authoritative, sharp-edged deliveries.