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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Hollywood Gets A Ribbing


Stand-In (1937) Spoofs The Studio System


Odd duck of a romantic comedy where Leslie Howard is a buttoned-up efficiency expert sent by Eastern bankers to straighten finances of “Colossal Pictures,” a studio run by nitwits making movies for other nitwits. This then was concept most seemed to have of Hollywood and those who kept it ticking. No wonder so many moved out there in belief they could run things better. Maybe the town mocked itself so good naturedly to keep tax collectors and government snoopers away. Trust violation concerns were also no cause for levity. Ones who seemed most like idiots were no doubt getting the fattest. Howard’s “Atterbury Dodd” finds massive waste, plus props being stolen from Colossal by even their chief director, a Euro poseur cut from Stroheim, Sternberg mold. Stand-In was independently produced by Walter Wanger, so satire has a serrated edge, Wanger himself enough of an outsider to have felt snubs deeply where they were inflicted on him. There is even labor vs. capital to juice a third act, too late to be an overriding theme, and far afield of zany comedy so far the emphasis.


Director Tay Garnett Sets Up A Next Shot For Joan Blondell


Bogie The Top-Billed Man In What Looks Like Borrowed Art From Dead Reckoning, But Where Is Leslie Howard?


There’s a movie within the movie called Sex and Satan, jungle-set with a girl and gorilla. Made me wish there had actually been a feature called Sex and Satan in 1937, perhaps instead of Stand-In. What compensations there are come with the cast, besides Howard there is Joan Blondell, her character a one-time kid star now a secretary, which I’d guess was circumstance visited upon talent dismissed from bright lights. Did I read of Baby Peggy Montgomery reduced to civilian work around this time? It’s made clear that Colossal is a pawn in the hands of investors 3000 miles off, Atterbury with juice to close the lot down, this a touch of reality studios faced from parent companies that owned them, plus theatres in which their product was shown. There was a late-40’s reissue as humorous as content of the film, in-support Humphrey Bogart elevated to first billing for ads which had, among other things, a gun pointed by an unidentified hand. Leslie Howard’s name was altogether dropped from promotion, a consequence of the actor having died several years before, and distributors not wanting to date their product by mentioning him. Stand-In is mostly forgot thanks to obscure ownership and failure to surface at TCM, although there is a Blu-Ray lately announced.

7 Comments:

Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I saw STAND-IN decades ago and I remember it being very much like a Warner picture in look, tone, and cast. I wonder if Warner passed on it because its own Hollywood satire BOY MEETS GIRL was in preparation.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

Herman Mankiewicz, in a telegram enticing Ben Hecht to come to Hollywood; "MILLIONS ARE TO BE GRABBED OUT HERE AND YOUR ONLY COMPETITION IS IDIOTS. DON’T LET THIS GET AROUND."

2:26 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I've seen it on TCM at least once (and almost surely when Howard was SOTM). It was one of the first videotapes I ever rented, and it's always struck me as feeling both cheap and like a major release, sort of a B+ picture.

3:09 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Always great to hear from Griff. Here he shares a deeper appreciation for aspects of STAND-IN that I might better have examined closer:


Dear John:

I am a big fan of STAND-IN, and I must respectfully differ with one of your observations.

"There is even labor vs. capital to juice a third act, too late to be an overriding theme..."

I disagree. The troubled relationship of capital and labor is at the heart of the whole movie. This is, after all, a screwball comedy in which an egghead bean-counter comes out to Hollywood to somehow fix the ailing fortunes of Colossal Pictures. Atterbury Dodd regards studio workers as "numbers" or "units," necessary evils to be trimmed or even eliminated to cut expenses to the bone. In the course of the story, we see Dodd educated, humbled and humanized... and watch him ultimately gain considerable respect for the company's rank-and-file and strongly defend its employees. [Yes, there's corruption, waste and swindling going on at Colossal, but its loyal technicians and artisans aren't the perpetrators.] It takes a little while for the workers to understand that Dodd has come to his senses -- at one point someone tags him real good with a thrown tomato -- but eventually all come around and work together (in a daring and unconventional labor action) to save the studio. I don't think J.L. Warner would have approved of this climactic scene! If I remember correctly, the Gene Towne and Graham Baker script is much stronger on Dodd's defense of the workers and their plight than its Clarence Budington Kelland Post story source.

I like many of the '30s Wanger indies, and this is one of the best, slickly directed by Tay Garnett from the breezy, witty Towne/Baker screenplay. Howard is swell as the self-absorbed financial genius who eventually becomes a mensch; Blondell is fine and funny as the former child-star turned "stand-in" for Colossal's biggest star, and Bogart is excellent as Sex and Satan's hard-drinking producer. There are nice character bits, with one particularly memorable little turn by Charles Middleton. Middleton, it will be remembered, was known for playing Abraham Lincoln in several films of the '30s; here he plays a bit actor... who specializes in playing Lincoln.

Regards,
-- Griff

5:44 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

My mom was a major Leslie Howard fan in the '30s, but didn't care for "Stand-In" when it was released. Not dashing enough?

4:31 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I actually prefer him in his non-heroic roles. Too often I find his romantic characters a little soppy. (The only interest for me in GWTW -- other than Gable -- is watching Howard obviously disliking playing Ashley.)

I'm a big fan of "It's Love I'm After," and how good he is in "Pygmalion" goes almost without saying. Maybe the perfect combination is "The Scarlet Pimpernel" (which I cannot type without thinking of the Scarlet Pumpernickel), where he's both effete and effective.

8:10 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I always thought it was interesting that Wanger made a comedy about a pompous, arrogant German director... at almost exactly the same time as he was making You Only Live Once with Fritz Lang.

Stand-In is a mixed bag but there's one comic moment that pays off with Middleton as Lincoln appearing when you least expect him that made me laugh my head off.

8:54 PM  

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