The Watch List For 2/14/13
THE DOUGHGIRLS (1944) --- To know an upcoming watch is "zany" is oft-occasion to avoid it, since how often does zany truly work? I grooved with The Doughgirls for knowing none could surpass this wartime comedy for sheer dated-ness and ham-fisting for laughs. Like so many locked in time, The Doughgirls had Broadway "roaring" for two years stage-enacted there, its author (Joseph A. Fields) responsible also for better-remembered My Sister Eileen. Warners' screen treatment affords glimpse to an era when even misfired mirth could bring down a crowded house with sheer, insistent noise, which The Doughgirls has plenty of, what with doors slamming, phones ringing, buzzers buzzing. The play kept everyone locked in a hotel suite, to which WB's cast is similarly trapped, inexperienced director James V. Kern without resource to open things up. Given right spirit, The Doughgirls can satisfy as sampling of what delighted viewership just off swing shifts. Titular girls are Ann Sheridan, Alexis Smith, and Jane Wyman, clad in shrouds that stood for 40's fashion, shoulder-padded to frightful affect. De-glammed Eve Arden in Russian uniform actually comes off a most attractive of the lot. Among male consorts, Jack Carson is loudest, with Charlie Ruggles most accomplished. The Doughgirls did well ($2.2 million in worldwide rentals), returned a profit, but disappeared after, except on television. Like Warner's same-year Janie, it spoke clearest to a then-audience, and tells us much of what ideal escapist entertainment amounted to in 1944.
DANCING SWEETIES (1930) --- This 1930 Warners not-quite musical (but much dance) struck me as a forty-seven year jump on Saturday Night Fever and a disco craze with couples similarly competing for "tin cups." Dance was evidently taken as seriously by youth in the late 20's/early 30's as it would be again in the mid-to-late 70's, the only difference being music they swung to. For these Dancing Sweeties, club contests are a way of life and retreat from dullish work week. Grant Withers is a whiz on polished floors, not as much so elsewhere, while Sue Carol's an ebbing flapper who knows it's time to face realities off the jazz stand. Their marriage on impulse puts the two square in bulls-eye of domestic drags that make both regret loss of nightlife's freedom. Bigger worries laid in wait for couples as a Great Depression firmed grips, a topic movies, especially Warner ones, would confront more head-on within months of Dancing Sweeties (released 7-30). What's most engaging here, in the fun sense we look for in such oldies, is spins, taps, and turns by varied pairs doing long-gone dances like the "Hullabaloo," plus under-titles footwork you'd need three years with Arthur Murray to duplicate. That's the value of Dancing Sweeties, and reason plenty to check out Warner Archive's very nice DVD.
BLITZ WOLF (1942) --- An almost oppressively wartime cartoon by Tex Avery, his first at MGM. You'd have to assume the newcomer had total creative license for wilder-than-Metro-attempted-before gags, these an advance by Avery on shorts he'd done for Warner Bros. Blitz Wolf hectors our having waited so long to get in the war, its Hitler-based lupine tempting peaceful pigs with treaties and promise to abstain. Someone (everyone!) really turned up volume in cartoons once WWII was declared. More shells blast here than in all of combat features combined. It's exhausting now, but imagine how spoiling-for-fight patronage responded then. Servicemen were said to be particularly responsive; a lot of them probably knew Avery by name for cartoons tailored to their taste. What with war on, you could turn up bawdy meters, if slightly. One spot has pigs singing You're In The Army Now, Tex freezing the action for a meaningful second after the line, "You're digging a ditch ...," giving us time to insert a following, "You son of a b---h," so censor-wary Avery won't have to. It's a cheeky jab that must have sent attendance into peals of cheer, another instance where Hollywood put one over on the Code.
SWEET AND LOWDOWN (1944) --- Another that was made for the moment, which in this case was 1944 and a peak of interest in swing and big bands. How's this to complement a significant other: You look like a book of red points (a sweet nothing whispered by Jack Oakie). Sweet and Lowdown also put me to Google search for the meaning of Tell It To Sweeny ("an expression of disbelief or skepticism"). Should I begin using it and risk looking even more like someone misplaced in time? Sweet and Lowdown got through that narrow window of war years when a swing troupe could alone sustain a feature's length and make us care re attempted mutiny within Benny Goodman ranks. His was an affable presence, abetted by Fox folk Linda Darnell (approaching an end to her ingénue period), Lynn Bari, and reliable, if over-aging Oakie, as a hanger-on who longs to play trombone with the boys. For music mavens there's bounty, almost wall-to-wall, which helps. Disposable as Kleenex then, but valuable to us as record of fashion as to music, dress, and deportment circa '44 when Goodman and likes were all but gods off
THE LOTTERY BRIDE (1930) --- Wacky in that treasured way of musicals at starting gate of sound, a period to which I tend giving benefit of every doubt. What they do right, I'll seize upon, as what goes wrong (much) is easier excused. Here's how Bride wins my lottery: It has a dirigible, and better still, it crashes. Any primitive talker with a dirigible that crashes secures my vote. This one looks like a George Mêliés creation, so cue further applause. There's also Arctic-set gingerbread houses designed by William Cameron Menzies, another big plus. Should I mention Joe E. Brown and ZaSu Pitts staging a dance marathon in what is otherwise an operetta? Characters burst into song from left field and then some. Never have I seen more noble sacrifice toted up in a single feature. Denial of true love is rampant, misunderstandings rife. Isn't that the way of operetta? (and maybe part reason why contempo crowds won't sit for it) Jeanette MacDonald is at a singing start here and fits easiest into The Lottery Bride's milieu. I'm aggrieved that my Kino DVD lacks footage and a Technicolor finale that adorn Eastman House's rescue, but maybe my 67 minutes is gracious plenty, and best not to tempt tedium with an added reel.