That’s My Baby!
Moody of Moody Comics is moody, “melancholia moribundis” is the diagnosis, his dutiful daughter tries to lift the cloud of twenty years by engaging every comedy act and orchestra she can find.
They first appear in his bedroom like the ostrich in Bu˝uel’s Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie.
She and one of the cartoonists on his sometimes zany staff locate her long lost mother, a successful writer, who remembers the night it all happened.
Berke’s special style with a deadpan is not La Cava or Stone, it’s sufficient unto itself. Minor Watson, Leonid Kinskey (all on his own as Dr. Svatsky), Ellen Drew, Richard Arlen, the hired acts, and Madeline Grey dropping Billie Burke a note.
Drew and Arlen in Watson’s office trying to open his safe for clues are an amazement. His knife breaks, she recommends her purse, he suggests they blast, she agrees, he tries again. “Why didn’t you say so,” she smiles and presses a button at the back of the safe, springing open its drawer. And then the night watchman comes in. “I thought you knew him,” says Arlen. And then the snooty floorwalker who wants to marry her, Arlen hiding in the kneehole of a desk.
Berke in this shows a great gift for editing. He occasionally reels off a sparkling composition or suave camera movement (or both), but his montage is unique: it creates an uncanny sense of forward movement, and often every shot in a sequence looks like the beginning of a new film.
How it’s done is very mysterious. Sometimes it’s by visual association (Tracy descending a staircase toward the camera cuts to Tess and a pile of mugshot books on his desk—the horizontal steps and the pile of books coincide), sometimes by a sort of logic (Tracy and Tess go out his office door on the right, emerge from his car door on the left), but there are many other factors involved (timing, camera placement, lighting, whatnot). Possibly Berke is simply inspired by his subject (a mysterious slasher), and there is a certain intermittence in his style. Every so often he shifts gears, backs up, and goes in neutral awhile.
There is some play with politics, where Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome covers the press, as well as a gag from the big fight in Chisum.
Grandpa the rodeo rider goes out in harness, his favorite horse thought lame is nursed back to health by a small-town parson.
The church needs money, the elders want him to marry an heiress.
Her little girl and the grandson get the horse in a sulky race with Jimmy Conlin up. He drinks, the parson rides, sparing the horse at last from a crippling finish.
The heiress gives in with a pile of dough, the parson marries his organist.
Police detective found dead “like a pile of garbage in front of a boarded-up old movie palace.”
His partner subsequently, in a back alley. “He had no enemies.”
The first was a mistake, the second deliberately suggests a psycho.
Newspaper reporter thinks youth gangs, gets a rookie detective roughed up by mistake.
Third detective is the target, his wife wanted to be rid of him and persuaded a guy. The partner sniffs her out.
“Fruits! Manhunters!” On that note, she’s hauled away.
The notable cast (Robert Loggia, Gerald S. O’Loughlin, Vincent Gardenia and so on) is always noted, but not the unique late style of Berke expressed in the continuous movement of the opening shot, the contrasting New York apartments (Det. Carelli’s deaf-mute girlfriend has a bright split-level adorned with Matisse in a “cutout” print), Howard Thompson of the New York Times called the direction “inept” (Berke had at that time been in the business for forty years).