Flick Clique: April 15-21
Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952). This week, we saw three fluffy comedies. The colorful Rock Hudson musical Has Anybody Seen My Gal? was the most enjoyable of them, by a hair-thin margin. This nostalgic piece of corn has Charles Coburn as a dying self-made millionaire who bequeaths his estate to the descendants of the woman who spurned him several decades earlier, prompting him to acquire his fortune. Before that can happen, however, Coburn disguises himself as a humble painter and rooms with the family who will benefit from the smaller but still substantial check he anonymously sends them – to see how the money changes their lives. The household includes the now-deceased woman’s son (Larry Gates), his stuck-up wife (Lynn Bari), their hunky co-ed son (William Reynolds), precocious younger daughter (Gigi Perreau), and worldly older daughter (Piper Laurie). The Piper Laurie character is dating the earnest soda jerk (Hudson) at the drug store her father runs, a relationship that runs afoul once the family becomes part of the town’s jet-set. Pure hokum with awkwardly placed musical sequences and an odd sense of 1920s small-town life, but I was entertained by it all the same. Douglas Sirk directed this one – although it lacks the caustic commentary of his later melodramas, he does a good job keeping things light and lively. I also dug the little bit with James Dean as a soda fountain customer!
Peck’s Bad Boy with the Circus (1938). Fluffy yuk-yuk #2 was this kiddie circus flick from my Comedy Kings: 50 Movie Pack DVD set. Bill Peck was a literary boy-scamp, similar to Tom Sawyer, who was popular early in the 20th century. The character was played by young actors Jackie Coogan and Jackie Cooper; At the Circus was a revival with freckled Tommy Kelly in the role. In this film, Bill Peck gets involved in a traveling circus where jealousy involving a lady lion tamer (Benita Hume) causes the popular young bareback rider (Ann Gillis) to lose the top spot in the ring. In scheming to get her back in the troupe, Peck winds up taking the girl’s place. All this is happening while Peck furiously gets back to the nearby boys’ camp to win the relay race trophy! Silly nonsense, but I actually enjoyed watching it. The capable supporting cast includes Edgar Kennedy (slow-burning policeman in all those Hal Roach comedy shorts), William Demarest, and one of my fave movie maids, Louise Beavers.
The Rage of Paris (1938). Fluffy yuk-yuk #3 also came from the Comedy Kings, and with it I am finished with all of the 1930s films on that set (thus far, I’ve seen probably two-thirds of its fifty features). The breezy Rage of Paris attempted to do for French actress Danielle Darrieux what Three Smart Girls did for Deanna Durbin. Both are glossy, lightweight Universal productions, although this particular film isn’t nearly as memorable. The story concerns Darrieux’s Nicole, a poor but pretty young French girl struggling in New York. One of her neighbors, played by a wonderful Helen Broderick, sees an opportunity to mold Nicole into a fetching beauty who could nab a rich husband. She and budding restauranteur Mischa Auer decide to invest in the girl, and sure enough she attracts the attention of millionaire Louis Hayward. Their plan may fall apart, however, since Hayward’s best friend, wealthy businessman Douglas Fairbanks Jr., knows that Darrieux isn’t the Parisian socialite she’s pretending to be. Kind of a fun frolic, highlighted with Darrieux’s scene where she performs a coin trick. I enjoyed her (despite a performance that verges onto the cutesy), and she has a nice interplay with Broderick and Auer. Hayward is merely okay, however, and I always thought the debonair Fairbanks seemed too refined to be a truly believable leading man (okay, he seems a bit gay to me). It’s interesting to see Darrieux, a lady who is still active in films, in an American production.
Shockproof (1949). Overlooked film noir, directed by Douglas Sirk (again), takes place in several actual Los Angeles locales during its best period (yes, there’s a reason why an entire videogame has been made around it). This sordid tale follows a cynical woman named Jenny (Patricia Knight), recently released from prison for killing a man in defense of her shady boyfriend Harry (John Baragey). Her parole officer, Griff (Cornel Wilde), arranges a job and room and board for her, but circumstances prompt her to wind up living in Griff’s home with his blind mother and prissy little brother. In his efforts to keep Jenny away from Harry and his bad influence, Griff and the lady con form a bond and end up falling for each other. When Harry finds out about the affair, his jealousy gets him on the wrong side of a fatal bullet. Intriguing, well-crafted film that turns somewhat ludicrous when the lovers take it on the lam. Loved the location shooting (of course), and the previously-unknown-to-me Knight makes for an alluring femme fatale. She and Wilde were married at the time, which might account for Wilde being more layered and not nearly as bland as he usually is. The other characters were somewhat cut-and-dried, but it’s a fun film. Douglas Sirk was quite a versatile director, doing this and the escapist Has Anybody Seen My Gal? within the span of a few short years.
Smash His Camera (2009). Absorbing, lively, not entirely convincing documentary on celeb photographer Ron Galella and his notorious run-ins with Jacqueline Onassis and the like in the ’70s. I vaguely remember hearing about the Jackie case in the ’80s (when she re-sued him!), so it was interesting to see how this film treated those events through the eye of the older, mellower but still feisty Galella. The film also delves into the current life of the photographer as he gamely tramps out to celeb speaking engagements and premieres, observing how the scene has changed since the man’s ’70s peak. I can’t help but compare this with Bill Cunningham New York. That film was much more inspiring and watchable than this one, but both have their charms driven from the colorfulness of their main subjects. Although a pleasant fellow, Galella mostly comes across in the film as a classless hack with an inflated sense of self-worth. He also apparently had a dangerous, stalker-like attachment to Onassis. The re-hashing of the celebrated trial he had against Jackie O. made the actual circumstances of their conflict seem quite tame, actually.