Looking Back at Oscar, #8

For the next LBaO feature, we’re looking back at the Picture + acting Oscar nominees of the year 1935:

Alice Adams
Becky Sharp
Black Fury
Broadway Melody of 1936
Captain Blood
Dangerous
Dark Angel
David Copperfield
Escape Me Never
The Informer
Les Miserables
Lives of a Bengal Lancer
Midsummer Night’s Dream
Mutiny on the Bounty
Naughty Marietta
Private Worlds
Ruggles of Red Gap
Top Hat

For my full length reviews of the following films, click here to see my Top 10 of the year post:
Alice Adams
Captain Blood
The Informer
Top Hat

Now for the rest! I did give a few of the following films some positive attention in my 1935 Year in Review post.

Becky Sharp
When the opening credits of Becky Sharp began, I did a double take since the very first title card looked awfully…blue for an obscure film from 1935. Was it a filter issue? No, for this is the very first three strip Technicolor movie ever made at feature length, and I would expect nothing less from Rouben Mamoulian, who was always fairly experimental for a Hollywood director, than to break the champagne bottle christening a new era of cinema. I do miss Technicolor, but I will not be missing this particular movie. What cannot be helped is the appalling audio quality from a director who was fond of sound and how to use it correctly, which was apparently a problem even at the time of the picture’s coming out despite RKO ordering a fresh one, and the limitations of the new camera that resulted in the usually fluid camerawork getting tossed to the wayside in favor of the static shots that dominated early talkies. What could be helped is the bizarre “prestige madcap” tone of the material, featuring delivery from Miriam Hopkins’ award nominated performance that goes into I Am So Bitchy territory within her opening lines. A valid approach to take to the character, who by all reports is basically a sociopath in the original source novel of Vanity Fair and could probably be tickled pink by her own nastiness and shallowness, but it reads as undisciplined and hammy when she maintains this mode constantly over an hour and a half, taking the temperature of her audience all the way before launching into the big, Oscar clip scenes like throwing a book at the headmistress on the way out or writing in her diary by calling a non-proposer a “fat fool” before underlining it twice (which, don’t get me wrong, is pretty funny). Mamoulian’s direction allows himself to be dragged around by Hopkins’ insistence on mugging for the camera at the end of an eavesdropping scene-she winks, she grins, she chomps down on something with smug self-relish. The technical limitations may have been the reason for making Becky Sharp into a silly piece of nonsense in its approach, but it does not age the work well as a result of everything else being so uncensored and cartoonish. This is a work that stands out for being bizarre and unusual in many respects, but unfortunately in the most blandly palatable ways.

Black Fury
When Bette Davis launched a write in campaign for Of Human Bondage at the 7th Academy Awards, where she played one of the year’s most memorably acid mouthed and vicious caricatures to the hilt but got shoved aside thanks to anger over her politicking, it was her (unintentionally?) taking aim at a system that could not look past the politics just to scrape up some recognition over a bad take on a shrieking opera singer that got attention instead. It was a brilliant and warranted way to get a quick spot in history among the many women who have nominations, and it would pay back in spades next year when she won for Dangerous and forever remained at the top of the ladder with the favorite women of the Academy. However, there is only one other write-in in the years that have gone by since then, and there is no evidence that Paul Muni (who had long since abandoned the authenticity of a genuine character from I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang from the looks of this picture) was the originator of his campaign even though he wound up coming in second behind Victor McLagen in The Informer after the post-nomination votes were tallied up. It seems to me that the voters were basing this vote off the memorable character he played rather than looking harder at his hammy, annoying performance. Focused on the coal miner’s strikes of 1929 that resulted in a death via police brutality (some things never change), Muni’s portrayal is all happy go lucky mannerisms and a silly, memorable accent. It is a rendering of a cartoon in three dimensions, but animation would go on to have many a figure with more complexity than this yammering Slavic simpleton. Even more bizarre is the strength of the Best Actor field that year otherwise, with the men of Mutiny on the Bounty and McLagen on their own making for a field that ranks among the most solid lineups ever. Good taste was abandoned and it came to what stuck in people’s memories, though, and a modern viewer with taste has to wonder what impressed. Michael Curtiz does a decent job of making everything look grim and rural, but everyone in the cast feels like they are trying to get on the same wavelength as the worst performance in the cast-which just so happens to be the lead.

Broadway Melody of 1936
My reaction to seeing that the sequel to first sound winner The Broadway Melody was also a Best Picture nominee six ceremonies down the line from the original winning in the lousiest lineup ever resulted in me making a truly unflattering noise of disgust with the events, especially when I saw the lie of a tagline “You have waited seven years for this!” I am no longer certain if I can call that the worst Best Picture winner in a world where three of the first six winners consisted of that, Cimarron, and Cavalcade, but it still stands out as a fairly dreadful piece of work outside of Bessie Page trying her very hardest to inject a little emotion into the soulless proceedings that enjoy making fun of gay men and stutterers. But I have good news: the new version manages to restrain itself from doing just that! Such a rarity for a sequel to be better than the original, good for the directors (I’ll give the credit to W.S. Van Dyke, who was clearly on quite a hot streak thanks to The Thin Man even if he gave us the flaming garbage pile of Trader Horn earlier in his career). It also has a few songs that would show up in Singin’ in the Rain a few decades later, to much greater effect and with better singers doing the vocals, such as Lucky Star. It even has an amusing joke or two, like when a radio announcer proposes the idea of couples getting taxed for divorce to balance the national budget (why oh why can’t we actually have this system in place just to piss off the Republicans). Unfortunately, all this is weighed down like with a horrendous gag involving a snoring man that I genuinely cannot believe anyone found funny at the time. Nominating this movie for the Oscars strikes me as an acknowledgement of the institution’s past rather than a genuine appreciation for this movie, particularly with the subsequent sequels (yes, there were more of these) getting no real attention. To that, I say “well overdue.” There are some decent dancing sequences, and the soundtrack has improved its track record over the days from Wedding of the Painted Doll being the closest thing to a great musical number, but otherwise this is very much something to skip. I watched both Broadway Melodies so you don’t have to. (I made it through this without dropping a “character impersonates Hepburn in Morning Glory” reference, which…is hard to resist.)

Dangerous
Franchot Tone bears a pretty strong resemblance to Leslie Howard if you squint a little, complete with the two giving fairly dull performances in almost everything, so it was only natural that some particularly cunning studio head would make sure that he would be partnered up with Bette Davis for a movie that pretty heavily cashes in on its similarities to Of Human Bondage, with the exception being that the female lead character of Joyce Heath is actually a somewhat decent person despite the inevitable drama related to her husband and cheating on him to get a measure of success back in the center of yet another dud of an Alfred E. Green picture (some people have a lot of fondness for Baby Face, and I can see it, but it’s down to Barbara Stanwyck and not the direction). The story is more of the same old romances that dominated the Best Actress field this year, this time focusing on Heath’s floundering stage career and her reputation as something akin to the box office poison reputation that would later hit Katherine Hepburn, driving her into drunken behaviors and a whole lot of emotional instability. Tone’s character, if he can be called that for playing such a generic man, predictably falls for her even if she is so clearly the sort of self destructive person that could not sustain such a relationship. Much more interesting than the picture itself are two outside factors. The first is Davis deciding she liked Tone off the screen as well, and stealing him away from Joan Crawford, rendering their rivalry real and bringing it across several years until the glorious camp reunion of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? that seized upon their mutual hatred. The second is Bette herself famously decrying her win as compensation for having to launch a write-in campaign last year, with the unspoken acknowledgement that Hepburn should have won a second Oscar (we will pretend her first came from Little Women). The opening fifty minutes or so of Dangerous is not all that bad despite the heavy melodrama of it all, but once the romance takes over the whole arc of things, it gets into the sort of nonsense that the Production Code censors would have swooned over for being so safe and clean, with everyone’s performances corresponding accordingly. I wonder if this was shot chronologically and depreciated as it went along?

Dark Angel
The Dark Angel won the Academy Award for Interior Decoration, and what a richly deserved award that was (ignoring the typical dismissal of genre work that may have had stronger stuff surrounding the inside parts of the story), for the film’s very first shot opens up on a bedroom that is gorgeously composed, a vision in stark white that is filled with pretty little details. Unfortunately, this does not lead to an atmosphere of lovely pictures of gorgeously decorated rooms for very long, for we are told that the premise is focused a girl (who looks to be about six) wanting to get married to one of the two boys who live near her (who look to be about thirteen and going through puberty despite the fact that girls typically mature first. Good old Hollywood). She eventually grows up into Best Actress nominee Merle Oberon, Gerald becomes Herbert Marshall, Alan becomes Fredric March, and the war pops up so the boys go off before a marriage can occur between anybody. She chooses Alan, but Gerald sends him back onto the front where he is supposedly killed, and he takes over. Cue the violins, constantly, playing even during the early childhood picnic scenes. Top it off with the fact that the supposedly dead man is actually alive and blinded in a German prison, and you have an extreme melodrama. This is actually a scenario that could be truly great in the hands of someone like Douglas Sirk, or any other half competent director of melodramas from the era, but this is more concerned with the DRAMA, and Oberon’s performance is as banal as anything I can think of. She had to have been a nominee for looking pretty and sad sometimes, right? She is not even the best in show thanks to March, who is phoning it in anyway and gets one of many paper thin characters littered in the script. Much like many bad nominees from the early days, this is a scenario with potential, but there needs to be more depth pumped into the world these people inhabit. Perhaps an epic running time to flesh people out combined with a solid script could have salvaged this despite the Oberon performance being the weakest in her already bad lineup? She looks wonderful compared to Herbert Marshall, however, who gives the most generic work possible with by far the meatiest role.

David Copperfield
By the time 1935 rolled around on the calendar, George Cukor was in a position of great control at the studios and was highly sought after even with his occasional antics, assigned the most prestigious and popular projects of the day and age after the critical and box office smash that was Little Women, no matter what the various obstacles in the way of his reputation were. David Copperfield was the natural project for him to direct and pick up Oscar nominations for (although he failed at getting a Best Director nod), and he made it among the longest films of that year with a two hour running time, with the closest thing to a production difficulty being Charles Laughton coming across like a pedophile and having to include W.C. Fields instead, along with a having to put up with Freddie Bartholomew’s alcoholic and resentful father. (No joke, Wikipedia that first part. Certainly adds some layers to Night of the Hunter.) The film wound up being a box office success and had a major impact in the vein of encouraging literary adaptations to come to the forefront of cinema, but it feels like a road trip movie thanks to the barrage of characters that appear, give us their emotional baggage, and then disappear forever thanks to dying in Victorian times. Cukor was unable to get the movie to be as stylized as he would have liked, resulting in a bit of underwhelming work in the production design department, but there is still some shine to it, even with the problem of the second half of the novel containing far more boring and stuffy material than the first part. Bartholomew’s performance is tedious and plays too much into what is not a remotely realistic child character despite the story taking place in Victorian England, but Fields’ improvisation skills and devotion to the role that he clearly was having a lot of fun with serve him well, though he could have afforded to play the role more in the vein of his character in It’s a Gift. He would have been a far better choice for a write in campaign than Paul Muni in Black Fury. The picture is just too thin to support such a heaving, heavy length, particularly with the opening scenes focusing on two of the hammiest women ever directed, fitting right in with Best Actress nominee Miriam Hopkins from the same year.

Escape Me Never
Elisabeth Bergner’s nomination for Escape Me Never (which surely ranks among the most obscure titles ever nominated for an acting award thanks to its issues in terms of print quality and the career of its leads and director going pretty much nowhere of interest) is a little unfairly forgotten, standing out as a little better than Davis’ moments of acting a few shades too hard, Colbert’s bland competency, Oberon’s outright blandness, and Hopkins’ mugging for the camera. The leading lady comes across as more than a bit stagey, but that is hardly a criticism for a film that is going for the play aesthetic, no matter the advances in technology. Far more hard to reconcile is the fact that her character is supposed to be a young schoolgirl-aged type that happens to be living with an artist, and she forces her childlike mannerisms in a way that is pretty difficult to overlook. Beyond this, she does not seem to be cultivating a screen persona beyond the Dietrich-type accent that automatically makes her stand out in Hollywood pictures, but any naturalness comes and goes in spurts thanks to the plot contrivances and nonsensical behaviors she is required to sell at times. Interestingly, she seems to do the best when playing with complicated emotions, making it look simpler than when she drops all restraint in moments like pure rage and unadulterated happiness. Her finest hour, and almost certainly her Oscar clip if they’d had such a thing back then, would have to be a scene where she sticks the knife in the back of a woman named Fenella who has been nasty to her all picture long, yet is nowhere near as reassured in her beliefs that things will work out as she plays it, and the abundance of different emotions she puts out there are suitably mixed around into a complicated cocktail of having to put up with the idea that her husband’s narcissism and love for his art are not things to build a marriage on. It leads to her next inspired piece of work, the very last scene, where she lets the mask of her happiness crack at the exact right moment. The script and direction are too banal to keep her truly afloat, but I would have liked to see her develop, and her brief career leaves one wondering what could have been if she had continued for longer.

Les Miserables
My Brief Year in Review piece for Les Miserables: Not a good Hugo adaptation, but a lot of fun as a two hander between Valjean/Javert thanks to March and Laughton.

We lack a definitive adaptation of Les Miserables on both the side of the musical (which is mostly because we just have the one that becomes the most iconic by default, which I like, but certainly has a lot of problems in the shape of Russell Crowe and some other odds and ends), and the side of the epic and iconic novel, with the 1935 adaptation that would go on to be the Academy’s favorite version for quite a while turning the story into essentially a two-handed chase thriller of sorts between Fredric March and Charles Laughton as, respectively and obviously, Jean Valjean and Javert (with the former also playing his lookalike, Champmathieu, and thankfully does not ham it up to differentiate the two). Both are pretty great at transcending the rough patches in the screenplay, even with the occasional need to really pull out the stops with such a lot of ground to cover in what is a fairly compressed time for this kind of prestige picture. The rest of the cast is not as strong, Marius and Cosette are awful, Fantine basically gets a cameo for the people who had read the book at the time, and Eponine is turned into Marius’ secretary for some kind of reason. The conservatism is also pretty grim, with Enjolras getting turned into a cartoon villain (one of the worst shifts in a character ever, no doubt) and the movie’s tone trying to kill off any possibility of making people support popular uprisings totally defying anything Victor Hugo would have encouraged in the picture. However, back to the good stuff: Gregg Toland, who would later go on to shoot Citizen Kane, turns in work that can stand alongside that with pride, going from gorgeous and happy locations like a park to a German Expressionist vision of hell that is Paris under siege from violence. The sewer scene is happily given due respect, with the most impressive look of the thing coming across as a predecessor to The Third Man’s inky black tunnels of hell that extend in all directions thanks to the use of deep focus. The direction is otherwise uninspired from Richard Boleslawski, who may spend too much energy on double underlining everything, but it works for such a story, particularly with March and Laughton being the sort of actors who were just naturally good at keeping their performances simple yet making them interesting to watch.

Lives of a Bengal Lancer
The Lives of a Bengal Lancer is not my brand of war film for the very simple reason that it is practically propaganda (complete with the common habit of making the British characters sport the American accents that Hollywood glossed over so often back then), focused on a trio of men played by Gary Cooper, Franchot Tone, and Guy Standing that fight their enemy in the current war (in this case, India, complete with the villain being played by a white man in brownface) and manage to do so without much conflict outside of Cooper’s character being a total asshole to everyone he meets for about half the movie before the event that neatly cleaves the picture into two halves, done while relentlessly kicking the asses of their foreign enemies for some conflict or another. Merica! Said event is one that inspired the frequently referred to line “We have ways of making them talk” because yep, the villain Mohammed Khan is going to torture them. How do these men react to the combination of having slivers of bamboo stuck under their fingernails before it is set on fire? Well…two of them do not, and the third one is the soldier who has the normal human reaction of screaming and fessing up the information that Khan wants. Fine. Where does his arc go from here? Into a place of trying to cope with how he may have doomed all his friends? Not exactly. He apparently needs to redeem himself the whole way through for acting like a coward and not following the manly code of behavior. My thoughts on that bullshit can best be summed up with “fuck off,” even if the Standing character is also the most annoying of the trio as a result of his behavior post grilling. Much more redeemable is the quality of the action sequences, with some stuff that cannot match the furiously grim atmospheres of All Quiet on the Western Front or Wooden Crosses from a few years earlier, but do a good job holding their own. Standing’s character’s relationship to his son, who he struggles to get close with emotionally on numerous occasions, is more interesting than the other strand of masculinity nonsense that comes up. Still, on the whole, your safest bet is to skip ahead over a decade and then watch The Best Years of Our Lives instead for better material in the same vein.

Midsummer Night’s Dream
My Brief Year in Review piece for Midsummer Night’s Dream: Looks gorgeous but can only carry itself for so long, particularly with a rather blah cast.

The first of the Shakespeare film adaptations to make some headway at the Academy Awards (complete with a winner who got write-in votes), Midsummer’s Night Dream feels like an appropriate start, with production design that is still fairly impressive for the time and a light tone that made devouring it appealing. It is also a whole lot of movie, running close to two and a half hours, complete with an overture that takes up several minutes on its own before we finally get into a title card that gives us some background as to the upcoming wedding between the Duke and Hippolyta, cutting to a rather epic looking ceremony that only befits the royal parties. The ensemble is impressive, but not in the way you would think upon seeing a list of players, with Olivia de Havilland as Hermia not getting much to do, James Cagney taking a rather loud tack to the admittedly hammy persona of Bottom, and Mickey Rooney’s Puck being a shrieking, twitching nightmare with a voice that sounded exactly like he did many years down the line, the sort of thing you would expect a casual film viewer to imagine as a performance from this era. Other aspects of this particular and peculiar piece of work, however, recall the films of Guy Maddin in their deranged take on the silent age, except with the richness of Shakespeare’s dialogue getting put out there for all to hear. While the production design never ceases in being appropriately dreamlike no matter what realm the events are occurring in, with the scenes revolving around the traveling company and their exploits with the fairies managing to look spooky despite the masks looking obvious and the fog’s essential phoniness coming across to anyone with eyes, and the score possesses all the sparkling pixie dust you would want, it feels oddly assembled in the editing room and in the choices of how to lens the company. Why not flaunt your paintings and props? Granted, the picture takes an awfully long time, and thus it eventually gets around to giving the landscapes their due, but I would have preferred a tighter picture that comprised entirely of this one’s best bits. It would have been even more strangely edited, but ellipses are an underrated feature, especially when this has such long passages of nothing that it can come across as a Tsai several decades too early.

Mutiny on the Bounty
My Brief Year in Review piece for Mutiny on the Bounty: Has true greatness buried underneath all the issues associated with Frank Lloyd. Gable and Laughton impress, and so do the Tahiti sequences.

Frank Lloyd’s reputation has deservedly fallen from the heights of his heyday in the early 1930s as a result of him directing numerous Academy Award nominees, such as Cavalcade, that felt like filmed plays and were shot in an unattractive manner, complete with dreadful scripts that put history on a pedestal. Mutiny on the Bounty, his best regarded picture (and one that is a complete lie as far as history goes, with all the real life mutineers killing each other and Bligh being the real savior of the ship), falls less into this trap than the rest by a huge margin, but still feels very rough thanks to his direction (the split between Best Picture and Director that year, with John Ford winning the latter award, was an incredibly warranted one). Several scenes start off by featuring actors looking like they are about to step into the frame from off camera as a result of weak editing, but what ultimately keeps this high seas story from going into the same awful realms as his last Oscar winner is the acting. Three men got attention, with Franchot Tone deservedly losing his reputation nowadays even though he is fine enough at playing a bland, vanilla character. Much more interesting, as per usual, are Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian and Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh. The former goes from Gable’s typically cheery self to a desperate man who has found his paradise and does not want to let it go, while the latter is clearly just doing his job even if it is a nasty, sulky, ruinous position to take. The quick establishment of their fairly two dimensional characters is a boon as well, with neither going for the subtle approach (not that Laughton ever really did). Still, the devotion to being a workaholic never gets questioned as much as it should, and the script veers from interesting ideas to awful heavy handed nonsense that makes quite clear what we have already seen. Safest to enjoy the Mutiny on the Bounty as a piece of the purest spectacle possible for the era, particularly glossing over the racism of the time when the men arrive in Tahiti. The contemplative moments about life on the high seas, particularly the ending that chooses to focus on the Tone character, are the most satisfying part of the whole rather overlong affair. As someone who last saw this in my teens, I wish it had aged better from my memory, but it’s on the whole fairly satisfying.

Naughty Marietta
A movie with a title like “Naughty Marietta” from the 1930s that gets a Best Picture nomination makes you certainly notice it in all its weird glory, especially once you gain even more familiarity with the careers of Jeanette MacDonald and one of the directors who worked on it, W.S. Van Dyke, hot off The Thin Man. Marie (the title is from her taking her servant girls’ name after plot developments that cause her to run away from home) shows up in the very first scene looking significantly less than naughty, talking about some birds in a pet store and wearing an incredibly glamorous and not very revealing outfit, as this story takes place during the time when France had princesses that were forced into arranged marriages, which happens here. How does she escape? By going on a boat to New Orleans along with a bunch of other girls who have the same idea (why would anyone want to marry a colonist when they could live in luxury? Such ridiculous privilege, I kind of worship it even if it never gets called out) and getting herself nearly kidnapped by pirates, only being saved by a man named Eddy who of course drives her crazy but…well, where did you get the crazy ass idea that they would wind up married by the end of things, complete with the family conflicts over the arrangement being forgiven entirely? This is all an excuse for the music of the time, which is not to my liking. The music on the whole feels like the godawful operatic material from One Night of Love, rather than a simply high pitched voice singing the much more fun songs of something along the lines of Lubitsch or Love Me Tonight. Not a single innuendo is to be found here, and by that point there just is no reason to continue watching. Most of the stuff not related to the songs is pleasant enough if you really turn your brain off, with the scenes on the boat as a highlight, but there is not much style to be found in the realm of the production design. It looks as if the directors just lugged out any old statue or ship to make a stage, while putting a shrieking choir of the damned in the background of the audio as MacDonald really tests out how high she can go with her vibrato.

Private Worlds
Claudette Colbert was hot off her Oscar win last year for a for the ages great work of screen acting in It Happened One Night, but she unfortunately did not feel the need to continue playing parts in delightful and fun movies like that or Honor Among Lovers, choosing instead something Capital I Important about the issue of being a woman in the male dominated field of 1930s psychiatry and mental care, taking place almost entirely inside of a mental hospital, which is mostly run by nice people outside of a matron who would fit right in on Orange is the New Black with her desire to toss everyone she can into solitary confinement. Joel McCrea’s character of Dr. MacGregor is running the hospital with Colbert’s Dr. Everest (a brilliantly silly name choice), and has an incredibly devoted wife played by Joan Bennett (sadly not injecting the same level of life she gave Night Nurse), but he is unable to get a well deserved superintendent position where he works and the place is instead run by a man who cannot abide women in positions of power played by Charles Boyer, who has a sister that hates being trapped inside such a grim locale. Why does Everest stick it out even with the misogyny on display? She has a crush on Boyer’s character. Feminism had a long ways to go at the time. Even worse is Bennett as the doctor’s sister getting institutionalized herself when the other sibling spends far too much time with her husband. Where the movie gets really exhausting is, predictably, when the romance takes center stage. While it comes to the forefront in a way that is unusual (Boyer’s role prays with an Arabic patient in the native language and prevents another from freaking out over a curtain drawing), the conversion of such a misogynist into some saint via The Power of Love is never a trope that will charm me unless it pokes holes in itself constantly. The cast is fine all around, although I generally do not understand the Best Actress lineup from that year outside of Hepburn’s nod for Alice Adams, but no one really excels and the quality of the print I watched was too blurry to get a good read on how things looked. From a distance, it appeared to be a combination of a nursing home and a laboratory, which feels appropriate.

Ruggles of Red Gap
My Brief Year in Review piece for Ruggles of Red Gap: Fun, but not hysterical. Laughton had better work this year, too.

Ruggles of Red Gap is a rather fitting, stuffy name for a comedy that feels delightfully mean-spirited in its attitude of “good heavens, Americans!”, focusing on an English butler who is put up for a bet in a poker game and is won by (shock and horrors) an American cattle rancher. Cue the comedy of manners. We can safely assume that this movie, which only received a Best Picture nomination despite plenty of critical attention in the parade of end of year hosannahs, got into the race off the back of the Academy’s love affair with Charles Laughton that resulted in three of his films getting attention and a nomination for Mutiny on the Bounty that he mainly did not win off the back of already having an Oscar for The Private Life of Henry VIII. Despite Leo McCarey doing the direction, and some surprising casting (Zasu Pitts from Greed gets a part), the story is nothing particularly special, a simple little fable of overcoming prejudices. It executes this well, however, with the new American master being the sort of man who is totally nasty when abroad but a nice man at home (and a walking yodeling stereotype in both countries), while the titular Ruggles is gently taken to task for viewing the United States as like something out of a film that focuses on the Wild West. Still, as far as slightly prescient political satires from McCarey’s filmography go, I’d rather go for some Duck Soup, with the laughs feeling too gentle and restrained and Laughton’s performance, while always a bit of a ham, falling on the wrong side of the divide much more often than usual. The oddball wit may have inspired the Coen Brothers, who dropped a mention of it into Barton Fink, and you can see how the structure can pop into a few of their other works, but the jokes have been redeemed and made a bit more consistent in their hit/miss ratio. The camerawork is also a peeve, with too many static shots of people making their way through bland looking stages. On the whole, the picture is a fun time and refreshingly short in its duration, but ultimately comes across as too much of a curio that inspires a curious amount of affection from a number of parties, when there are plenty of other options available in the realm of worthwhile Hollywood comedies.

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