A Gentlemaniac

MAD HOLIDAY (1936) is a quite pleasant THIN MAN knock-off (one of MANY) with wisecracking Edmund Lowe (a stoutish cover with a Grouchoesque delivery) and elegant, playful Elissa Landi sharing rather good chemistry. Also, the premise is very nice — Lowe plays a Hollywood star who’s sick of playing a sleuth in a popular movie series and runs off on an ocean cruise so he can “walk into a room without barking my shins on a corpse.” Landi is a glamorous lady who turns out to be the pseudonymous author of the books he’s been starring in adaptations of. If you’ll allow me a sentence ending in a preposition (I’ve checked, there isn’t actually a rule against it, but it does sometimes look funny.)

Also appearing is Edgar Kennedy as the baffled and irritated policeman, because it can’t ALWAYS be Sam Levene or Jame Gleason, you know. Plus Zasu Pitts, Edmund Gwenn, Gustaf Von Seyffertitz…

And also also starring is Ted Healy, the man who originally convened the Three Stooges, before perishing after a series of barroom brawls staged over a single night with such participants as Cubby Broccoli and Wallace Beery. Healy is accompanied by an unfamiliar stooge in this one — Healy plays a publicity man and Richard Hakins plays his photographer, and they engage in a lot of Stooges-type knockabout roughhouse stuff, Healy continually slapping Hakins’ forehead etc.

Who is this Hakins? He has the role of a Stooge but isn’t Moe, Larry, Curly, or one of their relatives. It turns out he’s a member of the Gentlemaniacs, a group Healy formed after the original trio left his act because he was a souse. He developed his new team, then summarily dismissed them after the Stooges expressed a willingness to return to the fold. The Gentlemaniacs trundled along without him for a while, developing trick musical instruments that could be used as weapons, to distinguish themselves from their rivals, and briefly engaging in a lawsuit with the Howard/Fine combo over who originated the name “Three Stooges.” The guys we remember as the Three Stooges won that one by producing a legal document establishing their use of the name. What a wondrous document that must be.

The Stooges really look as if there’s something wrong with them. Other comedians were funny-looking in ways they could drop when off-stage or off-screen. It must have been a joy for Groucho to wipe his moustache off and go unrecognized. But Moe must have had that bowl-cut all the time, unless it was a wig. And Hakins has an equally unfortunate barnett, a sweeping nest of hair coiled around a head that suggests arcane African skull-binding practices. He’s a bit like Robert Woolsey, who always looked like he’d suffered some debilitating childhood illness (he hasn’t).

Still, I developed some appreciation for Healy and Dakins. Healy is a loud, surly type, but he has a unique walk, a strangely fey stagger, combining a feeling of ungainly drunkenness with an odd, pansified daintiness, surprising in such a big, paunchy and loud man. He’s only occasionally funny, and almost always tiresome, but students of performance may get something from looking at him.

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6 Responses to “A Gentlemaniac”

  1. HEALY IS AMAZING IN SOME FILM I CANNOT REMEMBER THE TITLE OF — I GUESS HE”S IN LIMBO EVERYWHERE AND ALWAYS, A PERMANENT STATE OF LIMBO EVEN AMONG FANS

  2. He’s shouty in this (an all-caps performance) but I was just hearing from someone else how he could be terrifically naturalistic, maybe because the stooge act onstage would have required him to present an illusion of reality as the stooges interrupted him.

  3. Chuck V. Says:

    Supposedly, Moe had a barber who devised a special cut that allowed Moe to easily transform his stooge haircut into something more conventional.

    http://people.com/archive/chatter-vol-21-no-12/

  4. revelator60 Says:

    I’d never heard of “Mad Holiday” but sounds like good fun. Edgar Kennedy also appears as the baffled and irritated policeman in “True Confession” (1937), a screwball comedy notable for reteaming Carole Lombard and John Barrymore (though he’s in a supporting role this time). Not as great as “Twentieth Century” but a small gem nevertheless.

  5. bensondonald Says:

    I’ve seen photos of Moe and Larry mugging with ordinary dos. Recall reading that in the final years of the Columbia shorts, Moe lobbied for normal haircuts as they drifted to sitcom-type material. He was vetoed because the studio needed the boys to match the stock footage that made up more and more of each film.

    Near the end they reportedly could shoot all the new footage for a short in a single day. Something similar happened in the waning days of serials. Heroes and villains would be costumed to match earlier characters to allow recycling of fight scenes and cliffhangers, leaving little more than connecting dialogue bits to shoot.

    Away from the Stooges, Shemp strikes me as one of the hardest working men in the movies, up with tough pratfaller William Demarest. He comes across not so much an upstager but as a stage performer convinced it’s up to him to wake up the audience (and as a supporting comic in early non-Stooge shorts, he IS picking up the slack for less energized stars).

  6. I’ve owned a Lombard box set for years without getting round to True Confession, but reading about it in Romantic Comedy makes me determined to finally correct that.

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