Pretty-good movie with convoluted plot based on a Hungarian play with English dialogue rewritten by Preston Sturges. Wyler didn’t have a knack for this sort of thing. Comic timing is off from the start, and the Frank Morgan character crosses the line from annoying the protagonist to annoying the audience, but the second half seems to settle into a nice groove, thanks to the soothing influence of actor Herbert Marshall.

Margaret Sullavan (of The Shop Around The Corner, also set in Budapest) is quite good anyway. She’s an orphan recruited by Alan Hale (does he buy her? adopt her?) to work at his movie theater. Trying to avoid sexual harrassment in the street she latches onto sensitive, protective Detlaff (Reginald Owen, Scrooge a few years later), who works as a waiter at a restaurant where she meets wealthy, sexually aggressive annoyance Konrad (Frank Morgan, Sullavan’s costar again in Shop Around The Corner) who works for hilarious drunken gov’t minister Eric Blore.

Through a series of preposterous events, Margaret, who wants only to be a “good fairy” and help others, gets Konrad to enrichen randomly-selected destitute & honest (the movie isn’t necessarily saying he’s destitute because he’s honest) lawyer Max (Herbert Marshall, star of Trouble In Paradise). She then tries to carry on a relationship with Max while pretending to Konrad that they’re married, all under the watchful eyes of Detlaff.

Wikipedia: “In particular, Sturges added a movie-within-the-movie in which the actors communicate in one-syllable sentences.” Beulah Bondi of the Sturges-written Remember the Night plays the orphanarian, and the musical remake I’ll Be Yours a decade later featured Sturges regular Franklin Pangborn.

We also rewatched the Sturges-written Remember The Night for Christmas.

Cary Grant with too much lip liner (between I’m No Angel and Sylvia Scarlett) and Sylvia Sidney, who I can never remember who she is. Sidney plays a princess who comes to NYC on an important public relations mission but gets the mumps and can’t go on her intended tour. Some scam banker (Edward Arnold, Jimmy Stewart’s dad in You Can’t Take It With You) conducts a hurried search for a lookalike, turns up an actress (also played by Sidney) who goes to all the spots saying all the right things, drumming up princess fever in the U.S. press. So Sidney plays a New York actress, a princess with a fake accent, and the actress faking that fake accent, while the real princess’s betrothed Count Vince Barnett takes his own clownish approach to the accent. It’s a cute, forgettable flick which we watched because Preston Sturges cowrote the screenplay (based on someone else’s story, even though the whole out-of-work-actress-becomes-famous-princess plot sounds like one of his).

A perfect comedy. Unfortunately Sturges was double-nominated for writing this and Hail The Conquering Hero, splitting his own vote and some damned Woodrow Wilson bio-pic got the oscar. Been too long since I saw The Great McGinty so I didn’t realize Governor McGinty (in the framing-device phone-call) and the other guy in his office were from that movie, just thought the name was being reused.

Betty and Eddie had played together in musical The Fleet’s In two years earlier, and she’d play the title role in sharpshootin’ musical Annie Get Your Gun, which we should probably watch. Trudy’s 14-year-old little sister is wonderfully played by 18-year-old Diana Lynn, later in Track of the Cat.

I was gonna write up a plot summary, but… THE SPOTS!

Fun movie, but I made the mistake of reading the Guy Maddin article before watching. The movie itself could never live up to that article! French expatriate Clair directs Veronica Lake (the year after Sullivan’s Travels but looking five years sexier, err, older) as a witch who spends centuries imprisoned in a tree with warlock Daniel (Cecil Kellaway, entertainingly overdoing it), overseeing their curse upon the family line of mayoral candidate Fredric March (PTSD’d husband of Myrna Loy in The Best Years of Our Lives). Lightning strikes the tree, the tricksters escape, and she falls for March, deciding to ditch the warlock and break up his engagement to cold Susan Hayward, daughter of the newspaperman (Robert Warwick, studio boss in Sullivan’s Travels and a big star back in 1915) helping March get elected. Comedian Robert Benchley plays March’s buddy and professional auntie/grandma Elizabeth Patterson his housekeeper. Kind of a naughty movie. Not surprising that Preston Sturges was involved with this – he quit and had his credit removed.

A late Sturges flop, co-written with Earl Felton (The Narrow Margin) and starring Betty Grable (How to Marry a Millionaire) at the height of her fame, declared the highest-paid star in America just two years earlier. And it’s not a bad movie, about as enjoyable as Lady of Burlesque, the best of Capra, even Unfaithfully Yours. The trouble comes when you compare it to earlier Sturges features – it lacks their humor, energy and perfect screenwriting.

As a little girl, grandpa taught young Betty Grable to shoot straight, then at some point en route to becoming a saloon singer she acquired a violent temper. Attempting to shoot her philandering man Blackie (Cesar Romero) she plugs a judge in the ass (twice), so grabs her friend Conchita (Olga San Juan), skips town, lands in a new place pretending to be a schoolteacher (named Hilda Swandumper, ha). She attracts the fond attention of upright local Rudy Vallee, helps tame the wild Basserman boys, and all is going well until Blackie tracks her down and apparently shoots and kills the Bassermans (somehow they’re fine at the end), leading their dad Richard Hale into a town-wide shooting spree, at the end of which he tries to hang Blackie and poor Rudy. Things settle down, Betty returns home and, despite Katy’s protests, the movie ends with her shooting the judge in the ass a third time.

Betty Grable is no Betty Hutton when it comes to comedy, but she always looks good in a dress, and acquits herself nicely in the lead. A few of the ol’ Sturges players show up (besides Rudy Vallee, of course), including Esther Howard (mayor’s wife in Hail the Conquering Hero) and Porter Hall (The Great Moment) as the bullet-magnet judge. I wouldn’t have guessed that Margaret Hamilton (also of The Sin of Harold Diddlebock), the judge’s jealous wife, was the Wicked Witch of the West, but there you have it. I didn’t recognize Sheriff Al Bridge, though he’s been in more Sturges films than anybody. We especially liked Hugh Herbert (Hellzapoppin’) as a nearly blind doctor who attends to the judge, but best were the two brothers, bursting with energy and stupidity, played by Sterling Holloway (Remember the Night) and Dan Jackson, who looked so remarkably like his movie-brother, I’d figured they were actually related.

From the original Times review:

Apparently Mr. Sturges, devoted to the old-time slapstick school, tried to do as they did in the old days to the point of shooting his picture “off the cuff.” That is the kindest explanation for the feebleness of story in this film and the jerkiness of the continuity.

This was the Sturges movie I’d watched long ago and was starting to forget. Our latest screening was accompanied by squeals of delight whenever we noticed a Sturges regular, or someone from Sullivan’s Travels anyway. The butlers and Snowflake were disappointingly absent, but we got Jimmy Conlin (little guy, glasses) as a judge, the vaguely-familiar Harry Hayden (I thought for a minute that he was Charles Coburn) as an upright politician, TWO women from Remember the Night playing best friends, and the vertically-stretched Franklin Pangborn as a fussy master of ceremonies. But best of all, this movie features St. Paul’s own William Muggsy Bildocker Ale-and-Quail Kockenlocker Demarest in his largest role yet, as the Marine sergeant who helps our hapless hero concoct his big lie.

foreground L-R: Sarge, Woodrow, Woodrow’s mother, a mother-obsessed marine:

And oh, just thinking of Franklin Pangborn’s attempt to control four different brass bands for Eddie Bracken’s homecoming ceremony reminds me, this is certainly Sturges’s loudest-ever film, as talky and noisy and shouty as they come. All the excitement gets poor Eddie so nervous – and he’s so good at acting nervous – I kept wanting to comment that he’s seeing THE SPOTS, but Katy doesn’t remember The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek well enough to get the reference. Even if we didn’t see the spots, the movie makes a more direct reference by outright showing us the poster for Morgan’s Creek as the Marines’ train pulls away during the final scene.

L-R: Mayor Noble, his wife, Libby, and Forrest (Bill Edwards):

The Mayor is Raymond Walburn – see also his Christmas In July screenshot standing alongside Franklin Pangborn, whose character in this movie wouldn’t settle down long enough for me to snap a picture of him – with wife Esther Howard (also wife to the Weenie King). Lead girl Ella Raines (no relation to Claude) seemed like a big nobody – but she starred in Siodmak’s Phantom Lady and appeared in Dassin’s Brute Force, so I guess she’s somebody. Edwards was cast because he’s a stiff, uninteresting fellow, something that didn’t help his film career elsewhere.

Eddie Bracken’s Woodrow has a family history in the Marines but was personally discharged for having hay fever (a less funny premise than THE SPOTS), so he’s sulking in a bar, too ashamed to come home, when he buys Sgt. Muggsy’s group some drinks and they coerce him into returning to his home town as a war hero. It all gets immediately out of hand, and a few days later Woodrow is about to be elected mayor – and about to be exposed as a fraud by his opponent – when he confesses all to the townsfolk… and… gets elected mayor anyway! I would elect Eddie Bracken mayor, no question. Also Woodrow’s girl before the war is now the fiancee of the new mayor’s son Forrest, but she delays telling Woodrow for so long that she finally just leaves Forrest.

The heroine’s aunt, Elizabeth Patterson below at right, appeared in Remember The Night, also as a kindly aunt. The hero’s mother, Georgia Caine below at left, also appeared in Remember the Night – but as Stanwyck’s bitter, terrible mother.

Rex “Henry Higgins” Harrison is a famed conductor. His brother-in-law (radio star and megaphone crooner Rudy Vallee, naive rich dude in The Palm Beach Story) hires a private detective to spy on Harrison’s wife (Linda Darnell, recently starred in My Darling Clementine), so Rex, against his own hatred of spying and his belief in trust, accidentally finds out that his wife may be cheating on him. While conducting that night’s three symphony movements, he has three fantasies in which he murders his wife (aided by a sound recorder gismo) and frames her illicit lover (Rex’s secretary) Tony, then he forgives her and writes her a giant check while making her feel small and unworthy, then he confronts the couple and kills himself in russian roulette. After the symphony Rex rushes home and bungles about in a painfully protracted slapstick sequence – he can’t make the recording gismo work, can’t find bullets for his gun, and spills ink all over his checkbook. Finally she casually explains away the circumstances that led detectives to suspect her of cheating, and we have our happy ending.

Recommended listening: Mad at a Girl by Robbie Fulks.


In the shot below, on right is secretary Kurt Kreuger (this must’ve been a relieving change of pace for him, after playing nazi flunkies all during the war), middle is brother-in-law Rudy Vallee, and left is Lionel Stander (Katy was appalled at his accent).


Caught some Sullivan’s Travels actors: valet Robert Grieg (here a butler, doing a different voice I think) and bus driver Frank Moran (here a fireman). There were more whom I didn’t recognize, but the standout scene was with a relative Sturges newcomer Edgar Kennedy (former Keystone Kop who starred in his own long-running shorts series) as the private detective who spied on the wife, confronted in his office by Rex. It’s one of my favorite scenes in any Sturges movie – beautifully written and acted, sharp dialogue becoming softer as the men bond over their love of music and hard truths they wish they hadn’t learned. William Demarest was around in ’48, acting in four films and voicing a cartoon character for Walter Lantz, so I don’t know why he couldn’t make it onto Sturges’s set.

Don’t think I ever realized that Sturges’s cinematographer is Victor Milner, who worked with Lubitsch in the 30’s and shot Trouble In Paradise. Both Paradise and this one have far more interesting camera work than your average comedy. This one is notable for the looooong zooms into Rex’s eye before each of the fantasy sequences.

Full of wordy dialogue like “August, what happy updraft wafts you hither?” and “You handle Handel like nobody handles Handel,” which enriches the movie to no end, but makes it wearying over its almost two hour runtime (and that’s after having a half hour cut by the producer).

Linda Darnell, unaware that Rex is behind her with a razor in his hand:

Nice DVD extras – Terry Jones says it’s a satire of the masculine self-image and Sandy Sturges tells of a romantic scandal involving a girl killing herself over Rex Harrison which made this movie impossible to promote. Commentary points out that this came out the year after Monsieur Verdoux, obviously similar in a few ways.

Meaning of Harrison’s line “my family’s product has kept England on time since Waterloo” is that the real conductor on whom the character was based inherited a family fortune from laxative pills.

This was a script from the early 30’s that Sturges considered as his directorial debut, but the studio didn’t want it at the time. It’s the subject of Sturges’s only remake to date, a flop 1984 version with Dudley Moore, Nastassja Kinski and Albert Brooks, scripted by the writers of And Justice For All.

Only written by Preston Sturges, but I have no problem calling this a Sturges movie, full of his witty dialogue and manic energy. Sturges, who I’d just accused of ignoring women in Christmas In July, writes a fantasy chick-flick here. Girl works hard at menial job, then out of nowhere she gets fanciness thrown at her and a hot rich guy falls for her.

God’s own Jean Arthur is the girl, cuter here than in You Can’t Take It With You (in which this movie’s stuffy rich guy Edward Arnold played an even stuffier rich guy). He tosses a mink coat out the window and it lands on her, setting into motion a rags-to-the-appearance-of-riches story a la The Million Pound Note. A young Ray Milland (minus his X-Ray Eyes, some years before The Major and the Minor), earnest son of the Edward Arnold, falls for her and Louie, a chef turned hotel owner (played by Luis Alberni, who would go back to being a chef in The Lady Eve), thinking she’s having an affair with Edward Arnold, gives her a free suite to attract other trendy, wealthy socialites. Pretty sure she ends up with Ray Milland.

Katy liked it, too.

Briskly plotted and barely over an hour long, seems like a good first movie… but it was his second, after The Great McGinty, which I enjoyed a bit more.

If you can’t sleep at night, it isn’t the coffee – it’s the bunk!

A very blustery, fast-talky movie with maybe one too many blustery fast-talking characters. We’ve got the president of our loving couple’s coffee company employer (Ernest Truex, a reporter in His Girl Friday the same year – the guy whose desk the killer hides inside), our guy’s direct boss the strict office manager (Capra veteran Harry Hayden), the president of their largest competitor, the company which is running the contest (Capra veteran Raymond Walburn), and department store head Alexander Carr (of Bela Lugosi movie The Death Kiss, which sounds good). Then there’s the most blustery man of all, the virtuoso, the blustermaster, Capra veteran William “Muggsy” Demarest, as the stubborn contest jury holdout who, in the most predictable twist ending of Sturges’s career, picks our man as the grand prize winner after his previous grand-prize-win had been exposed as a fraud.

Our heroes:

Dick Powell was already a star, having appeared in all three of Busby Berkeley’s big 1933 musicals. No singing or dancing here. Katy called him a poor man’s Jimmy Stewart. Ellen Drew was saddled with the worst Sturges-penned female role, just grabbing her man’s arm and breathlessly saying “Oh, Jimmy” with a variety of inflections. She was just getting started in the pictures, would spend the next decade acting in movies I will probably never see, ending up in Stars In My Crown, which I probably will.

Other familiar faces: Capra veteran Frank Moran as an Irish cop (the bus driver in Sullivan’s Travels), below with Alex Carr.

Capra veteran Franklin Pangborn as the radio announcer (played a realtor in Palm Beach Story), below with Ray Walburn.

And Capra veteran Snowflake as the janitor (terrified bartender in the Ale & Quail club car in Palm Beach Story). Lots of Capra actors here… maybe Katy’s right, and Sturges tried to get Jimmy Stewart and throw a total Capra-party.