Thursday, October 17, 2013

Showed Under (Warner Bros./First National, 1936)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was Snowed Under, fourth and last in the recordings I made from TCM of films featuring Glenda Farrell (they actually did a whole day of her movies as part of the “Summer Under the Stars” series last August, but most of the others they showed — including acknowledged classics like Little Caesar, Mystery of the Wax Museum and the Gold Diggers movies in which she appeared, as well as some of the Torchy Blane series films — were items I already had) and an engaging little 1936 comedy that’s a pretty obvious ripoff of Seven Keys to Baldpate. Broadway producer Arthur Layton (Porter Hall) is exasperated because the continued existence of his company is dependent on the success of a new play by his star writer, Alan Tanner (George Brent, top-billed). Only Tanner’s writing has fallen off drastically in the two years since he broke up with his first wife, Alice Merritt (Genevieve Tobin, who was probably relieved for once to be playing the “good girl” instead of the femme fatale who broke up the hero’s relationship with the “good girl”!), who set up an interior-design salon after the divorce but isn’t doing too well financially. On the rebound — the term is actually used in the script by Laurence Saunders, F. Hugh Herbert and Brown Holmes — Tanner married Daisy Lowell (Glenda Farrell), only that marriage also soured and left Tanner single again with an outstanding alimony bill of $1,200 — which he has no way of paying unless he can come up with a workable third act to the play he’s working on for Layton. Tanner decides to repair to his country house in Bridgeport, Connecticut for the weekend and crank out a new third act to replace the three he’s already written and Layton has rejected as unproducably terrible — only his sanctum sanctorum is invaded by Alice (sent there by Layton to see if she can inspire him to a great third act the way she used to when they were married), local sheriff’s deputy Orlando Rowe (Frank McHugh, even whinier than usual if such a thing is possible), attorney McBride (John Eldredge) who’s representing Rosie in her suit for back alimony, Rosie herself and Tanner’s current girlfriend, Pat Quinn (Patricia Ellis), a nice and naïve young girl who hasn’t the foggiest notion what she’s getting herself into.

With all three women in Tanner’s life — past, present (or more recently past) and (presumably) future — on the scene with him in a remote locale, Snowed Under begins to seem like a straight version of a Jane Chambers play (Chambers was a pioneering Lesbian playwright who died of cancer in 1983; her plays generally centered around a Lesbian who invited her past, present and hopefully future girlfriends to an isolated spot for the weekend), and though the conflicts aren’t all that interesting it’s still a very entertaining and reasonably amusing film. George Brent is playing a light enough role that his deficiencies as an actor — his stiffness and woodenness (judging from Bette Davis’s comments about him over the years, he probably got a lot of parts mainly because his female co-stars wanted to bed him; she describes him in person as devastatingly attractive but he comes off on screen as just rather ordinarily good-looking, the reverse of legends like Valentino and Monroe whose friends described them as no more than decently attractive in person but who radiated irresistible sensuality on screen) — aren’t much of a problem this time around. Genevieve Tobin is actually surprisingly credible as the voice of reason — the payoff is that she and Brent are going to reconcile and Layton ends up with two third acts for his play, one written by Tanner at his maid’s home and one by Alice — and Patricia Ellis is good as the nice girl we don’t want to see drawn into Tanner’s crazy life. Eventually the writers and director Ray Enright (a hack as usual, but at least an energetic cog in the Warners machine — though this is one of those movies that’s a Warner Bros. production in the opening credits and a First National picture in the closing ones) pair off Tanner and Alice, Pat and lawyer McBride, and Rosie with Orlando (as in Mystery of the Wax Museum, they stick Glenda Farrell with Frank McHugh at the end and once again waste this very talented actress in a “stick” gold-digger role) — and they don’t make as much as they could have of the irony that the play Tanner is working on mirrors his own life: it’s about a man who leaves one woman, falls for another but doesn’t stay with her either. Instead he decides he hates women and goes off on his own — and that’s where his third-act troubles begin; I joked that in a modern play with this premise he’d probably realize that he’s Gay, but they didn’t do that sort of thing in a 1936 movie!