Knowing my penchant for minor films from the 30s, Michael asked if I had a copy of the above 1938 film which was being screened at some ungodly hour over the weekend. The answer was that I had seen it, but was sufficiently unimpressed previously to want a copy. However, I thought, why not have another go, since as the first of three co-starrers with Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, it was bound to be something of a charmer.
Well, not quite. It is less of a screwball comedy than a madcap murder mystery, possibly inspired by the success of the Thin Man series. The ever likeable and appealing Stanwyck stars as a wealthy debutante, surrounded by her gaggle of gal-pals. One night she stumbles into an empty mansion and discovers a very dead corpse, but by the time she summons the police, the body has disappeared. Poor go-getter reporter Fonda writes yet another article criticising the childish pranks of Miss Manton and her gang -- prompting a million dollar law suit for libel. Naturally he falls madly in love with her despite himself, while she is more interested in proving to Sam Levene and his comic cops that she is the better detective, finding more bodies in the process. The implausible plot verges on the draggy with a host of interchangeable hangers-on and possible villains popping up; only brief cameos from a host of 'I know that face' character actors like John Qualen, Grady Sutton, Penny Singleton, and Charles Halton alleviate the leisurely pace. However, special praise is reserved for Hattie McDaniel in the standard 1930's black maid role, one year before her historic Oscar win for "Gone with the Wind". As Miss Manton's sassy servant, she dominates the screen on each appearance and even gets to throw a vase of water over poor schmo Fonda. He was never that successful as a comic rather than dramatic actor, although this film serves as something of a dress rehearsal for the wildly entertaining "The Lady Eve" (1941) where the stars are re-teamed.
I still have the film on my hard disc and am contemplating whether or not to keep a copy; the real question being do I want to see it a third time. Despite some zingy dialogue, especially from Levene, much of the movie verges on the silly without being all that entertaining. However I am delighted that the BBC scheduled it, since most channels seem to think that anything pre-Star Wars is only of antediluvian interest. I therefore have very high hopes that the three RKO obscurities from 1934 and the early 40s which they are showing this weekend before most people get out of bed -- all of them new to television -- will continue this trend. One of these days I might actually get to see everything on my ever-growing 'must see' list, although I know how unlikely this is.
On that subject I have made a startling discover, although it will not come as news to those more net-savvy than PPP. I recently bought a new computer which seems to behave itself rather better than the chug-along machine I was using, making watching films on it a more attractive proposition than before. A surprising number of my listed films, including those never available on tape or DVD, have been posted in full on You-Tube and other sites. I was therefore able a few days ago to watch the l936 Russian film "Circus", which was recommended to me by a clever video store clerk in St. Petersburg several years ago; (I'm not really name-dropping here!). It was super fun, even if there were no helpful subtitles. I am now looking forward to viewing the ever-elusive "Dybbuk" (1937), even if I will need make do with one spoken language and a non-English set of subtitles. Fortunately there are some early English-language movies also saved and awaiting my delectation. As I said in the header above, I am potty about movies and I'll continue to seek out every rarity that crosses my wayward path, even if some of them turn out to be disappointments. The pursuit itself is the pleasure.