Unexpected Pleasures --- Dressler and Moran
I’ve lately become one with the huge audience that went crazy for Marie Dressler back in the early thirties. Those patrons made her Number One boxoffice and knew from funny. I swear this woman is fast becoming my favorite actress; so step aside Norma and Deanna, Greenbriar has a new sweetheart. The discovery came courtesy of Warner Archives. They discounted a package of Dressler shows that included one I knew and wanted, Let Us Be Gay, along with several I’d never seen, including Politics and Reducing, a couple of team comedies with Marie and Polly Moran. Both were revelations for me. I laughed like a hyena at their antics. These two are in a way like a distaff Laurel and Hardy. Or maybe Dressler’s a Bill Fields in voluminous skirts. Anyway, the laughs come thick and fast. Veteran Charles Riesner directed Politics and Reducing. He’d been Chaplin’s right hand during the twenties and Keaton extended him reins for Steamboat Bill, Jr. The Dressler/Morans borrow from the best of silent clown routines. Reducing rollicks in a train sleeper recently vacated by Laurel and Hardy's 1929 Berth Marks, just preceded by Marie pulling verbal (and visual) gymnastics with stuttering Roscoe Ates. She later wrecks Polly’s art-deco beauty salon and does a telephone pantomime with Moran that had me rolling. Dressler’s unruly kids anticipate Harold Bissonette’s It’s A Gift offspring. They never pass by on bicycles without crushing her toes. Marie plays all of this wide open, mugging and sputtering like no other comedienne would before or again. This woman was comic inspiration itself. She’d plied big laughs on stage since the century began, was mentor to so many starting out in the biz (youthful beginner Mack Sennett sought her counsel). It must have wrecked a 1934 viewing public when she died at an absolute peak of their affections.
Metro conventions are observed. There’s always a place for appealing ingenues in the Dressler/Morans, their being family-set comedies. Anita Page is ravishing as Marie’s unlikely daughter in Reducing. She’s nearly seduced by seeming cad Buster Collier, Jr. until mother intervenes. Both Politics and Reducing are schizo unpredictable in ways I loved. You never know when comedy’s mask will drop for stark tragedy’s intrusion. Politics’ story is set in motion by the gangland murder of Polly’s daughter, a moment played utterly straight (and well) by Moran. Plots seem to generally turn on small town virtue versus big city artifice and corruption. Had I but been born during flapper days, I'd have lined up with hard-earned nickels for this team. The Lord only knows how many actually did. I looked at figures for the Dressler/Morans and they were all socko. TCM is soon running another on my not-seen list, Prosperity, and it’s for sure the DVR will stand at alert. It occurs to me that these modest features would play nicely to any audience. All are of a piece with comedies we’ve known and enjoyed so repeatedly through movie buffing lives. Why didn’t I notice Dressler/Moran before? Maybe because they were rarely shown. Strike that. Make it never shown prior to TCM, at least where I’d have had access. It wouldn’t do to dismiss these as mere dumb slapsticks. Dressler was too human and sensitive an actress for that. Hoary gags as interpreted by her taste of ambrosia. To think that were it not for Warner Archives, I might never have bothered, but here’s the kicker: Both Politics and Reducing are excellent transfers. They look as good to me as any pressed DVD to come out of WB. That Dressler sale package includes six features for $59.95, including Politics, Reducing, Emma, Let Us Be Gay, Tugboat Annie, and Min and Bill. All are worth seeing (and having).
Check this previous Greenbriar post for a nutty 1931 Reducing promotional.