The classical aurea mediocritas, a man whose happiness consists in not knowing he is happy.
The temptations are two, he might give everything up for the life of a fiddling grasshopper like the college pal who shoots his pestering wife, or he might pillage the town of Zenith like the city planning commissioner and “the biggest banker in this county” he looks up to, who have no wives at all.
Mrs. B. is “just about the smartest woman in nine counties”.
Keighley is the finest director in the whole state, and takes this to town like the seminal work it is. The domain of George F. Babbitt, realtor and lodge brother, is that of Laurel and Hardy (cf. Fred M. Guiol’s Love ‘em and Weep, James W. Horne’s Chickens Come Home— and Come Clean). The proposed fishing trip is undertaken by Ken Annakin’s Three Men in a Boat. The swindle is a venerable one and perhaps may be said to figure in Billy Wilder’s Buddy Buddy. Mr. B.’s secretary, who translates his guff into English, figures as well in Zeffirelli’s Tea with Mussolini.
Or again, consider the structure as a man’s life, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, say. The key film for any understanding of it is almost exactly contemporary, Dieterle’s Fashions of 1934. Woman is a strange annoyance like his daughter’s gardenia at the breakfast table, or a great ungraspable mystery like Rosalie the maid dishing up, “if I was to hit the numbers, the fust thing I’d buy me would be a rope o’ them gardenias, and I’d put ‘em around me two or three times...” The developer of Floral Acres (“The Home Development Beautiful”) is literally blindfolded before the enigma as a jest by his lodge and deaf to the harangue endured by “the kindest-hearted, sweetest fella a man ever had for a friend.” Finally it’s a criminal action conveyed to a bit on the side he badly misconstrues, and then the matter is brought to a settled conclusion.
Andre Sennwald of the New York Times, “regards the immortal George F. with a human and sympathetic eye... an enjoyable entertainment... an amusing entertainment.” Leonard Maltin, “dumbed down”. TV Guide, “sluggish... lackadaisical direction...” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “quite tolerable”, citing Variety, “trite.”
Virtue is praised and starves in a dusty New York law office practicing speeches and flinging a sharp pen at a pesky fly on the opposite wall. An unarmed agent is shot down in the street with a rifle from an upstairs window (the gangster asks for a “reacher”). The FBI gets a new recruit, and so begins his training (boxing, jujitsu, Rifles and Ammunitions, fingerprints, ballistics, marksmanship, etc.).
The rackets boss who raised him from the slums is going legit, the leftovers of the gang embark on a crime spree. The recruit falls for his supervisor’s sister. The girl he left behind him marries the new mob boss.
A terrifically brutal picture of the Thirties gangsters, so much so that Variety lamented a want of psychology and complained of “a weak scenario along hackneyed lines,” while noting, “this is red-hot off the front page.”
The technique is a little ahead of its time, perhaps twenty or thirty years, in some respects.
The Prince And The Pauper
The Great Seal of England, to crack nuts with. A work so well known, nobody knows it.
And it’s good for that too, the King acknowledges.
Such a perfect understanding of Twain’s technique belies Halliwell’s complaint that “it never seems to hit the right style or pace,” whereas Variety’s distinctly odd review wants Flynn on sooner, with a girl, therefore “it is not enough” (but there is a girl, at The Running Fox).
A massive, complex structure (visibly from Oliver Twist, for example) to encompass all the points and make the main one.
George Washington Slept Here
“This is 1942,” says Mr. Kimber, and this is the state of the union, delivered by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman.
“Farcical nonsense,” said Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “purely machine-made comedy.”
“A sock comedy” (Variety).
Halliwell’s Film Guide couldn’t see the humor in it, “disappointingly stiff and ill-timed version of a play that should have been a natural.”
Target for Today
A restricted training film describing the massive efforts in every detail of a single bombing mission over targets in Germany, 1944.
Every aspect is touched upon before, during and after the mission, from the initial directive to the final crew interrogations.
Keighley is attributed as director, films active personnel in their roles, swiftly edits the fighter attacks, elucidates the entire proceeding as far as possible, and certainly provides the narration.
The Master of Ballantrae
The house is divided on the return of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Kimmins’ film provides a précis of events. The master is proscribed and betrayed but comes up trumps in the West Indies.
The point of it all is to reveal not deadly hatred but a lovers’ quarrel at the heart of it all.
The somewhat glib technique precisely takes the mickey out of this, so that reviewers have scarcely taken notice. H.H.T. of the New York Times praised everything, the cast and Jack Cardiff’s cinematography, The Sea Hawk is mentioned in his review, he let it pass.
“Half-hearted”, says Halliwell’s Film Guide, citing Gavin Lambert, “rather unforgivable”.