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Arroyo & Want Ad Wedding

Ring a Ding Ding

     Turner Classic Movies last week disbursed a number of Screen Directors Playhouse half-hour TV movies throughout its schedule, giving us another host of fun quickies featuring great actors and directors. For Arroyo, Director George Waggner wrote a story that frankly could have been drawn out into a full-length movie. A fat Jack Carson is a self-appointed judge for a western town who metes out justice as two troublemakers enter town.

    A wagon train had been attacked by American Indians and one woman survivor shows up in Arroyo. She is injured and put to bed. Meanwhile, “the Dude” (John Baer) has gotten into an argument with a stranger, Bart (Neville Brand). This Bart was hired by the wagon train to lead it through the Indian country but did not keep his promise. The injured woman (Lola Albright) says she saw her husband killed during the attack, but Bart says the man rode away the night before.

     Carson is his usual tough self as a possibly crooked arm of the law and does a great job playing it cool as we all know western men are apt to do. Baer gives an appropriately emotional performance as Brand provides the plot with its sinister aspect. I have mentioned before that Screen Directors Playhouse episodes never feel rushed but magically seem to squeeze an entire movie in a half hour spot. That rings true here with a story that has its mystery and twists and flash ending. The story is certainly of the quality that could make it a big-screen hit, but audiences in 1955 got to watch it from their own homes instead.

     Next up is Want Ad Wedding, a cute romantic comedy directed by William Seiter. Polly Parker (Sally Forrest) is a “floater” at a department store, a job that involves her moving from department to department doing whatever tasks are needed. When she ends up in advertising, she gets sucked into a scheme dreamt up by her father Col. Jennings Parker (Leon Ames). He has spotted an ad in the paper asking for guests to attend the wedding of two military officers who are strangers in the big city. The colonel proposes to the advertising boss Chet Buchanan (Fred Clark) that the department store sponsor the wedding and provide all aspects of the decoration and clothing.

     In Polly’s efforts to pull of this last-minute wedding with her co-workers, she makes jealous a man who has been after her for a date for some time: clothing salesman Hank Douglas (Richard Webb). Although we only have a half hour to establish this romance, throw some hurdles in front of it, and bring it to a happy ending, Want Ad Wedding does so successfully. I think the actors make it possible through their sympathetic performances that convey their emotions toward one another. Webb is particularly essential in this task as we watch him long for Polly.

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Room Service

Gasser

Room Service (1938)

     From what I have found in my encounters with the Marx Brothers so far is that the films using some material of their stage shows and/or focused more on their antics than the actual story line are the ones that most tickle my fancy. Room Service, unfortunately, does neither. Based on a stage show and adapted for the Marx Brothers, it relies heavily on the actual story to generate laughs and not enough on the random actions or dialogue of the boys.

     The story would also become a Sinatra musical, Step Lively, although the two films differ greatly as one relies on musical numbers and the other on the personalities of its stars. Leading the pack as always is Groucho Marx as play director Gordon Miller who has occupied for some time without paying his bill a room in a hotel managed by his brother-in-law Joseph Gribble (Cliff Dunstan). He also has 22 cast members staying at the residence while he prays for a financial backer to appear to support his show. Also on his team are “treasurer” Binelli, played by Chico Marx, and silent as ever friend Faker, embodied by Harpo Marx.

     The trouble the crew faces is that the hotel director Wagner (Donald MacBride) is quite angry about the unpaid $1,200 bill. As Groucho, Chico, and Harpo start layering on Groucho’s wardrobe so as to more profitably abscond from the property, they hear from cast member Christine (Lucille Ball) who has landed a backer for the show. The trouble is, the man is coming to the hotel to discuss the matter. Heturns out to be the go-between for a wealthier and anonymous gent, looking to minimize publicity because he wants his girlfriend included in the show. He agrees to fund the play but will come back at 10 a.m. the next day to deliver the check and sign the papers. Now the boys are stuck trying to stay in their room without being jettisoned to the curb. The solution: someone must play sick.

     By this point, the play’s writer Davis (Frank Albertson), an airheaded guy from a small town who burned all his figurative bridges on the way out, has come to collect on an advance for his script in order to pay his lodging. With money obviously not available, he is invited to room with the three Marx brothers’ characters. He is also selected as the one to play sick –first with measles then a tape worm– so that the hotel cannot throw him out. This works in the boys’ favor but they are unable to leave the room or order room service as they wait around for 10 a.m. and the lot begin to whine of starvation. They eventually finagle a stolen meal from one of the hotel workers and a scene of physical comedy ensues as all four stuff their faces.

     The crew does secure their check the next morning but in the process Wagner and Gribble argue enough with the men to freak out the money lender, and although he leaves the money, has payment stopped on the document later. Nevertheless, Wagner thinks the money is legit and holds the check, extending credit to the theater crew. Groucho et al seize the opportunity to rush their show into production during the five days it will take the check to clear before Wagner finds out they’ve duped him out of $15,000. All starts to fall apart at the last minute before the actors hit the stage, so some false acts of suicide are used to distract Wagner from destroying the effort.

     This was the first movie for which the fourth Marx Brother, Zeppo, acted as agent for his siblings, securing for them a $250,000 fee. The film allegedly lost $340,000 at the box office, which perhaps solidifies my previous remarks about it not being my favorite. It was the first film the brothers did that was not written for them, which truly emphasizes how unique of performers they were. You could not simply cast Chico, Harpo or Groucho into any generically written part; the roles had to be crafted with them in mind from the outset.

Source: Robert Osborne, TCM.com

Richest Girl in the World

Gasser

Richest Girl in the World (1934)

     Joel McCrea seems to have a special place in my heart, and the more I think about it, I realize my only rationale is his presence in Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent. He is a lot of fun in that movie with the dry delivery of humor and every-man look that makes him a nice romantic lead. I have not seen a great many of his films, however, so my judgement thus far is that McCrea probably does not have a great acting range, but who cares so long as he keeps within his comfort zone.

     The Richest Girl in the World is one of those films that fits McCrea well. He plays Tony, a modest man making a modest living. I should be clear, however, this film is not about him. Instead, Miriam Hopkins is Dorothy, the literal richest girl in the world. Her parents died when she was four and she inherited all their assets. A board of directors manages her affairs and starts the film by approving her marriage to a man partially selected by the young woman’s guardian, if you will, Connors (Henry Stephenson).

     No one in the media or public has ever seen Dorothy, and the lady often has her secretary Sylvia (Fay Wray) stand in for her in public settings. This continues to be the case at a party that was originally meant to announce the engagement. Unfortunately, the couple broke it off the day before because the man was not in love with Dorothy, who happens to not believe in that mush. Dorothy meets Tony at the party and the two hit it off with Tony thinking the woman is in fact Dorothy’s secretary. Our protagonist quite likes Tony, but when he promises her a canoe ride and instead takes the fake Dorothy on one, the question arises: Does Tony prefer love or money.

     The Sylvia-Dorothy flip-flop is upheld as Dorothy seeks to spend time with Tony while pushing him toward dating the fake Dorothy. Tony, although he is gradually falling in love with the genuine rich lady, has his emotions confused as Dorothy insists that the fake Dorothy really likes him.

     Naturally, we assume that Tony and Dorothy will end up together, but Tony’s behavior is not entirely predictable. The way the plot tumbles, it seems as though Dorothy will have no choice but to reject him, despite how much McCrea has won the audience over as a great suitor for her. There’s a charming scene where, alone in a cabin, Tony stretches out on the couch laying his head in Dorothy’s lap in the dim light of a fireplace as if it were the most common of gestures. Although the two have had a considerable amount to drink, neither gives hint of inebriation. Tony talks casually to the girl while she sits awkwardly with her arms up at her shoulders unsure how to ease into this intimate position. He confesses his love for her, but the mood is quickly dashed by his follow up line. This short sequence does a great job of conveying the sexual tension Dorothy feels and the utmost comfort with his friend/love Tony feels.

     Although The Richest Girl in the World is no gem, it offers a unique plot and some nice romance. It is entertaining but not an award winner (it was nominated for Best Screenplay).

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