Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Brooklyn Orchid (Hal Roach/United Artists, 1942)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

When Charles finally got home I ran him a Hal Roach “streamliner” I’d recently recorded from TCM: Brooklyn Orchid, a 1942 entry in the intriguing series featuring William Bendix and Joe Sawyer as two Brooklyn cab drivers who worked their way up from one rather broken down cab (in 1928 — we know the date because in the photo of them with the cab you can see a “Hoover for President” sign in the background) to a fleet of 600 drivers. The company’s president, Tim McGuerin (Bendix), has outfitted his office as a playpen complete with pool table and slot machines — which makes one wonder how he and his equally immature sidekick, Eddie Corbett (Joe Sawyer), ever concentrated long enough on building the business to expand it the way they had.

Tim is married to Sadie (Grace Bradley), an ex-stripper with social pretensions; and Eddie is in the middle of one of those long movie engagements to Mabel Cooney (Florine McKinney), whose very lack of pretensions makes Sadie despise her. Sadie is throwing a party for the social set at her home and has lured a high-class attendance by offering them a piano recital by Ignatz Rachkowsky (Leonid Kinskey, who’s actually shown with his fingers on the piano keys — though the soundtrack was almost certainly recorded by someone else, he’s good enough that he looks like he’s genuinely playing), who proceeds to bore his audience by playing through his own arrangement of all 15 of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies. The expected complications arise when Tim and Eddie bail out of the party (which is supposed to be celebrating Tim’s and Sadie’s wedding anniversary) to play with their fishing rods in the river below — and they fish out of the water would-be suicide Lucy Gibbs (Marjorie Woodworth), whose life was just fine until a year before, when the Brooklyn orchid growers’ association made her Miss Brooklyn Orchid for that year — and from then on her life was miserable because she could no longer work as a secretary: all her bosses would hit on her and then, at the insistence of their wives, fire her. She insists that, now that they’ve saved her life, it belongs to her — which means she’s going to stick with them wherever they go.

They push her inside a Murphy bed and leave her there, then head out with their regular mates to a honeymoon lodge — and she follows him there and unknowingly tells Sadie and Mabel the story of the two men who rescued her and then treated her so shabbily. Meanwhile, ultra-rich playboy Tommy Lyman Goodweek (Skeets Gallagher) is also staying at the lodge, and she’s smitten with Lucy — and Our Heroes naturally try to palm her off on him to get rid of her. It’s not much of a plot (and it was done better in the 1931 Laurel and Hardy film Come Clean) but it’s a good excuse for writers Clarence Marks and Earle Snell, probably with the uncredited assistance of the usual wrecking crew of gag writers in the Roach green room, to get some laughs, notably in one sequence when six, count ’em, six would-be girlfriends of Tommy Lyman Goodweek come out of the same taxi, all expecting to have lunch with him. Like most of the Hal Roach “streamliners,” Brooklyn Orchid isn’t exactly laff-a-minute comedy but it’s pleasant and amusing.