For Reel


Hold ‘Em Jail (1932)
May 9, 2016, 6:56 pm
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Director: Norman Taurog
3.5 Stars
Hold 'Em JailThat Wheeler and Woolsey’s Hold ‘Em Jail was the next film screenwriter S.J. Perelman wrote after the Marx Brothers’ Horse Feathers has encouraged comparisons to that college football picture. In fact, they both end with a climactic football scene that sees zany comedic antics on the field! And yet, if the Marx Brothers are historically the more accomplished duo and were frequently biting satirists, Hold ‘Em Jail goes further with its premise in lampooning and perverting institutions. It bridges the genres of college and prison films, suggesting that there’s not much of a difference ideologically in university students and prisoners from the point-of-view of the higher ups. Like the Marx Brothers, Wheeler and Woolsey utilize the surreal as the basis for many of their gags, and they both play as variants on Harpo in the way that they recklessly endanger those around them (in one scene, they put a fellow inmate’s leg in a vice grip and prepare to smash it with a sledgehammer). If the duo is more of an acquired taste than many of the comedy teams of their day, Hold ‘Em Jail is a good entry-level Wheeler and Woolsey picture—it riffs on familiar comedic tropes but, with small alterations in the way the comedy is presented, doesn’t seem so much derivative as a furthering of existing ideas.



The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1935)
July 29, 2015, 12:44 pm
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Director: Norman Taurog
3 Stars
The Big Broadcast of 1936The Big Broadcast of 1936 includes a plot device that is indispensable for a variety picture: the so-called Radio Eye. As described, the portable contraption allows one to see and hear anything that is broadcast on the airwaves. The appearance of such a device shows that television was already on the public’s conscious in 1935, and the film lampoons the premise that one could have such a wide variety of entertainment at their fingertips. In a baffling sequence that first demonstrates the Radio Eye, a sketch involving a slapstick comedy team building a house transitions into a weeper about a dying child in a hospital and finally bookends that with a blackface routine from Amos ’n’ Andy. As with the medium the picture is modeled after, the lesser moments of The Big Broadcast of 1936 don’t last long before they make way for more enjoyable acts. And, if each vignette leaves something to be desired on its own (save for a beautiful tap dancing number involving Bill Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers), the film is a surreal potpourri of entertainment, bolstered by a remarkable imagination and the boldness of its juxtapositions.



We’re Not Dressing (1934)
June 2, 2015, 3:40 pm
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Director: Norman Taurog
3.5 Stars
We're Not DressingImmediately preceding the release of Twentieth Century (which would make her a bonafide screwball icon), Carole Lombard starred in this hugely entertaining comedy that has the feel of a vaudeville show. We’re Not Dressing is loosely sketched together by a plot that sees a singing sailor (Bing Crosby) become a capable leader after he and five others get stranded on an island. Crosby, as he was wont to do, brings a detached, cool demeanor, but he’s elevated into the world of the living by having Lombard to play off of. The two have a love/hate relationship that teems with sexual frustration–in the climax, he ties her to a tree and threatens to her rape after his masculinity is compromised. Modern viewers will find the moment shocking, as they will the treatment of a supporting bear who becomes involved in a slew of visual gags. Between Lombard’s sexually aggressive performance (including the memorable line, “Am I gonna get to see your chest, sailor?”) and humorous supporting antics involving George Burns and Gracie Allen, We’re Not Dressing is an absolute delight.



Room for One More (1952)
December 25, 2014, 4:37 pm
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Director: Norman Taurog
3 Stars
Room for One MoreBetsy Drake’s career hadn’t quite taken off four years after her on-screen debut alongside future husband Cary Grant in Every Girl Should Be Married, and as a result the Hollywood couple selected this project with the intention of providing material worthy of her considerable talent. It’s a much different role than she played in their first collaboration–here, she’s the radiant image of maternal love, demonstrating a considerable patience and selflessness. She’s so strong-willed that she just about eats Grant up, who plays the skeptical husband who nonetheless never fails to reveal his soft side. Their best scene in the previous collaboration involved Drake confronting Grant at a lecture about how women shape their men in the early stages of a relationship, and similarly in this film Grant confronts Drake at a public forum about being a neglected husband before being put in his place by a room full of women. It’s appealing to see Grant show that vulnerability on screen–there’s a generosity in his willingness to be wrong and to be shamed. Room for One More is otherwise almost entirely forgettable, save for a particularly raunchy running joke about Grant’s sexual frustrations. There’s a terrific visual gag involving a champagne bottle exploding at the point where his libido is at its most unfulfilled.