Astoria Wall Street

I watched and appreciated LAUGHTER, the 1930 precursor to the great screwball comedies that started in ’34, despite Fiona constantly protesting “This isn’t a screwball comedy at all.” She’s right, it isn’t. But it does touch on a number of the attitudes and conceits that would come into play in that genre eventually. Particularly the contempt for rich people who work. Frank Morgan is the cuckolded Wall Street bull (complete with horns) — NOT playing it with the full-on dither you’d expect of him. He’s just diffident and melancholy, as is the film, despite its title.

This was shot at the Astoria studios in New York, with some of the same inertia, camera-wise, as you’ll find in the early Marx Bros films, which show a much more robust attack on high society. They hadn’t got the microphone boom yet, so the actors tend to be pinned in place like butterflies… but there’s definitely an effort afoot here to set people in motion. And there’s some ambitious location shooting, and a few striking dolly shots where sound recording was evidently suspended to allow greater mobility. But the energizing effect of this is partially undone by the camera being so consistently far from the actors, causing it to feel perversely theatrical. This is as close as we get to the attractive leads ~

No rear projection!

James Harvey does such a good job dissecting this film in his magisterial Romantic Comedy in Hollywood, I find I have little else to say. Basically, he points out the film’s prevalent gloominess — a happy ending is finally procured by way of the suicide of a minor character. It’s a screwball comedy with only ten minutes of screwiness, and less comedy.

But I do want mention the presence of Glenn Anders, immortal for his oleaginous twitching in LADY FROM SHANGHAI. He does a similar act in Losey’s M. But here, the younger, slimmer, less sweaty Anders sometimes looks conventionally handsome, except when he doesn’t, when he looks just as hideous as he did for Welles, and it’s that impression that haunts his performance. He found his niche later.

Nancy Carroll is the leading lady, but the film only comes to life when Fredric March barges into it. This wasn’t always the case for Fred — sometimes, in his later, patrician roles, he’s very far from being the life and soul of the party, but here he shakes things up whenever he appears, acting faster, lighter and more natural than everyone else put together, if you could put them together, and why would you want to? Director Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast evidently thought it was a good idea, since he did it, in this film.

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