Tag Archives: Jack Carson

Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys! (1958, Leo McCarey)

It’s hard to describe what’s wrong with Rally ’Round the Flag, Boys!; not because its ailments are mysterious but because the sentence is just a little problematic. Rally is a light handling of what should be a mature comedy. It deals with big issues–fifties suburban malaise and boredom, not to mention a strange post-war animosity towards the military–but director McCarey tries to do it all Cinemascope slapstick.

He does not succeed.

He’s lucky to have such a strong cast, because they really get the film to its finish. Its finish involves a Fourth of July pageant. The script lays the groundwork for that pageant real early, before taking a detour into a comedy of errors where Paul Newman can’t get away from Joan Collins’s roaming housewife, much to his chagrin and wife Joanne Woodward’s anger. The first twenty or so minutes setting up this part of the film are boring but gently amusing. Woodward and Newman are great together and Collins has a lot of fun.

Until her goofy dance sequences. There are maybe three of them. They all stop the film for a moment because they’re so awkward. Maybe if the editing were better. Louis R. Loeffler does a real bad job editing Rally.

But there’s also a tangent with teenager Tuesday Weld, who’s appealing but pointless if the film’s about Newman and Woodward. McCarey seems to be aiming high with the film’s ambitions, but he fails on all of them so maybe he wasn’t.

Rally’s fine, just unsuccessful.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Leo McCarey; screenplay by Claude Binyon and McCarey, based on the novel by Max Shulman; director of photography, Leon Shamroy; edited by Louis R. Loeffler; music by Cyril J. Mockridge; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Paul Newman (Harry Bannerman), Joanne Woodward (Grace Oglethorpe Bannerman), Joan Collins (Angela Hoffa), Jack Carson (Capt. Hoxie), Dwayne Hickman (Grady Metcalf, Comfort’s suitor), Tuesday Weld (Comfort Goodpasture), Gale Gordon (Brig. Gen. W.A. Thorwald), Tom Gilson (Corporal Opie) and O.Z. Whitehead (Isaac Goodpasture, Comfort’s Father).


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Love Crazy (1941, Jack Conway)

Love Crazy has to be the worst film William Powell and Myrna Loy ever made together. Powell started his career in silents, so it’s possible it’s not his worst film, but I’m pretty sure it’s Loy’s. Love Crazy starts incredibly lazy. It doesn’t bother defining either character–they’re just Powell and Loy playing a couple, Powell’s charming, Loy’s enchanting. They’re playing caricatures, not people–Love Crazy would have been much more amusing if it’d been different actors impersonating Powell and Loy, David Niven and Maggie Smith really should have remade it.

But the script’s weakness doesn’t have much to do with the shallow characters. Like I said, Powell’s charming, Loy’s enchanting, they’re certainly actors one can spend ninety minutes with, even if there’s not much of a story. Love Crazy, unfortunately, has a story–and it’s a bad one. The film’s construction is incompetent. The first forty minutes or so take place over one evening, Powell and Loy’s four-year wedding anniversary. The four-year anniversary, according to Wikipedia, is linen or silk. Neither of these play a part in the film, I just got curious. The tradition–according to the expository dialogue–is for Powell and Loy to walk four miles into the country, get on a boat, then have a late dinner. Powell suggests they do it backwards, which sounds like a diverting enough premise for a picture. But they don’t do any of these backwards activities. Instead, Loy’s mother shows up and the evening goes to pot. While Loy’s off running an errand for her now injured mother–at this point, Love Crazy seems like it could be a mix of The Man Who Came to Dinner and A Midsummer’s Night Dream, told over one evening–Powell all of a sudden decides to skip off with ex-girlfriend Gail Patrick.

Here’s where Love Crazy flushes itself out to sea. Loy thinks Powell’s running around with Patrick, Powell protests his innocence, Loy doesn’t believe him and sets out to divorce him, viewer is supposed to believe Powell–even though the evidence is against him–because he’s William Powell; there must be a reasonable explanation. He and Myrna Loy are movie married after all. What Love Crazy never acknowledges is Powell’s character running out on his ailing mother-in-law (she’s annoying) to hang out with ex-girlfriend Patrick after Loy’s made it clear she doesn’t want him seeing her. It’s such a strange scene where Powell decides to scurry out with Patrick, it’s a ludicrous move just to get something going in the plot. Regardless of Powell’s innocence in terms of fidelity, he’s still a heel who ran out because he was inconvenienced by his mother-in-law. It’s lame.

There’s a lot of slapstick and it’s lame too. A scene where Powell gets his neck stuck in an elevator door implies he might get some brain damage, but it’s never explored. It’d be a far better way for the film to have gone. All of Love Crazy suffers similarly–it always could make a better narrative choice and never does.

Conway’s direction is fine. It’s not his fault. Powell and Loy are both fine. Florence Bates is okay as Loy’s mother. She occasionally overplays the annoying mother-in-law, but not often. She’s usually the good guy compared to Powell. Jack Carson’s good as Loy’s new suitor (a terribly underwritten part, in a film of underwritten parts). Patrick’s bad. Vladimir Sokoloff is awesome in a small role.

It’s a terrible film. I’d never seen it before–Evelyn Prentice instead being the worst Loy and Powell pairing I’d seen–and I wish I never did.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Conway; screenplay by William Ludwig, Charles Lederer and David Hertz, based on a story by Hertz and Ludwig; director of photography, Ray June; edited by Ben Lewis; music by David Snell; produced by Pandro S. Berman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Steve Ireland), Myrna Loy (Susan Ireland), Gail Patrick (Isobel Kimble Grayson), Jack Carson (Ward Willoughby), Florence Bates (Mrs. Cooper), Sidney Blackmer (Lawyer George Renny), Sig Ruman (Doctor Wuthering), Vladimir Sokoloff (Dr. David Klugle), Donald MacBride (‘Pinky’ Grayson), Sara Haden (Miss Cecilia Landis), Kathleen Lockhart (Mrs. Bristol), Fern Emmett (Martha), Joseph Crehan (Judge), George Meeker (Lawyer DeWest), Clarence Muse (Robert) and Elisha Cook Jr. (Joe).


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Arsenic and Old Lace (1944, Frank Capra)

Arsenic and Old Lace has to be one of the finest–if not the finest–film adaptations of a stage production. Nothing about the film, save the knowledge it’s from a play, suggests its theatrical origins… not the one night present action, not the one set. It’s an ideal motion picture comedy, down to what has to be Frank Capra’s most inventive direction. Capra’s confined to that one set for the majority of the film and he keeps things very interesting. He reveals the house gradually, not even exploring the full size of the main room–where around seventy percent of the story takes place–until well into the third act of the film.

The film’s full of fantastic performances, but the story’s split between Cary Grant and Raymond Massey. Grant disappears for a while and Massey takes over, but filling a completely different role than Grant. The film sort of goes without a protagonist for a while in Grant’s absence (Massey isn’t really an antagonist at this point) and the story accelerates into a different area without him. When he returns, he doesn’t inhabit the film in the same way. For the first half, watching Arsenic and Old Lace is watching Grant. Sure, lots of good stuff is going on around him, but his performance is captivating. It’s unlike anything else (Grant hated the performance) and it’s wonderful. Maybe because it so perfectly matches the viewer’s expectation of a reasonable person’s response to the film’s fantastic situation. The romance between Grant and Priscilla Lane–which has a lot of texture independent of the main action’s two plots (the aunts and their gentlemen and Massey’s return)–is wonderful too. Lane and Grant play great off each other; it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the roles.

Massey has the film’s most difficult role, since it’s so incredible. I wonder how much Arsenic and Old Lace did for Boris Karloff’s name recognition, as Massey has to personify the idea of Karloff (and the unmentioned Frankenstein) from his first moment on film. But Massey has to go further–he has to be both menacing, dangerous and silly. The viewer has to be scared of Massey and what he might do, but also has to be able to laugh at him. By the time he’s ready to go after Grant, the viewer’s already had a chance to laugh at him a little, but Massey brings it all around to present real danger.

Peter Lorre has a similar position. He has to be funny–Lorre’s performance is one of film’s great comedic performances–but also endearing and a little disturbing. He’s still Massey’s partner in crime, even if he’s incredibly likable. There isn’t a weak performance in the film or even one less than stellar, but Lorre still stands out.

The rest of the supporting cast–Josephine Hull and Jean Adair as the two aunts are great–is all exceptional. Arsenic and Old Lace is one of those flawlessly casted films.

My wife had never seen the film before, which made the viewing even more entertaining. It’s least like the rest of Capra’s films of the period, but that dissimilarity somehow makes it more exciting to see from him. It’s as close to experimental as Capra ever got with his style. It might even be his most impressive work as a director; he’s essential to the film, which has such a strong script, it’s easy to think he could have gotten lost somewhere.

I’m hard pressed to identify my favorite part of the film. I love the sequences with Lane and Grant in the graveyard, but Grant’s long stretch of discovering what’s going on–where he’s the whole show–is fantastic too. But then there’s Lorre….

There’s just too many great things about Arsenic and Old Lace to narrow it down.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Frank Capra; screenplay by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein, based on the play by Joseph Kesselring; director of photography, Sol Polito; edited by Daniel Mandell; music by Max Steiner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Cary Grant (Mortimer Brewster), Josephine Hull (Aunt Abby Brewster), Jean Adair (Aunt Martha Brewster), Raymond Massey (Jonathan Brewster), Peter Lorre (Dr. Herman Einstein), Priscilla Lane (Elaine Harper), John Alexander (Theodore Brewster), Jack Carson (Officer Patrick O’Hara), John Ridgely (Officer Saunders), Edward McNamara (Police Sgt. Brophy), James Gleason (Lt. Rooney), Grant Mitchell (Reverend Harper), Edward Everett Horton (Mr. Witherspoon), Vaughan Glaser (Judge Cullman), Chester Clute (Dr. Gilchrist), Edward McWade (Mr. Gibbs), Charles Lane (Reporter at Marriage License Office) and Garry Owen (Taxi Cab Driver).


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Lucky Partners (1940, Lewis Milestone)

Any movie with a Somerset Maugham reference like this one (to The Moon and Sixpence) is going to get me to go a little soft on it, but given how late the reference fully realizes, Lucky Partners was already reasonably safe. When I saw Lewis Milestone directed it, I knew there’d at least be some nice camerawork and Ginger Rogers RKO comedies are also generally decent. I just realized, thinking about it, Lucky Partners is only the second film I’ve seen starring Ronald Colman, which is a mistake. Colman glides through the film. Most of it is his scenes and he carries the whole thing with geniality. From the fourth shot–the film has a nice Milestone opening, so I can remember the shots–Colman’s the whole thing… which is amusing, but also problematic, because Ginger Rogers and Jack Carson’s characters suffer so Colman can remain the protagonist.

The film makes a number of assertions and changes them to keep the film moving. First, Rogers is likable. Then, she isn’t. Then, she is. Then, she isn’t. First, Carson is a jerk. Then, he’s not. Then, he’s an even bigger jerk. First, the film’s set up as a wonderful neighborhood piece with a great supporting cast. Then it becomes a road picture. Then it becomes a slightly mystical romance. Then it becomes a courtroom comedy. The first act of the film moves fast–twenty-five minutes went by in a snap–but the end of the second act drags, as the film desperately tries to tie itself up. The opening is strong and I kept hoping the film would regain some of that quality as it moved through its ninety-degree squiggles–and the film kept showing potential for said recovery–but it never did. The film’s lowest point was just before it declared itself a charming and mediocre comedy. Harry Davenport as the judge, who’s enamored with Rogers, clangs that change.

Given the excellent quality of Ginger Rogers’s other RKO features, Lucky Partners should be a bigger disappointment, but it’s such a pleasant viewing experience, it’s hard to get particularly upset. In fact, I think the film’s a major achievement. Though he’s a wonderful director, Milestone rarely made good films. And Lucky Partners is so close to good, it counts.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Lewis Milestone; screenplay by Allan Scott and John Van Druten, based on a story by Sacha Guitry; director of photography, Robert De Grasse; edited by Henry Berman; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; produced by George Haight; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Ronald Colman (David Grant), Ginger Rogers (Jean Newton), Jack Carson (Frederick Harper), Spring Byington (Aunt Lucy), Cecilia Loftus (Mrs. Alice Sylvester) and Harry Davenport (Judge).


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