Archive for Top Hat

Whistle, Blore

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2017 by dcairns

James Harvey, in The Romantic Comedy, tries to make sense of the various studios’ outputs during the screwball comedy years (1934-maybe 1941?).

Warners, who had been kings of the hardboiled comedy, were not particularly distinguished in the field of screwball comedy, perhaps because their tight factory approach to production didn’t translate readily into daffiness.

MGM were even more regimented, but Harvey argues that their commitment to gloss and sheen and class gave them a valuable angle on screwball’s tendency to locate dizziness in high places, plus they had Powell & Loy, and he gives credit to Woody Van Dyke also.

Columbia shouldn’t have had a hope, but they had Capra, who helped inaugurate the whole movement before backing away from it as rapidly as he could.

Paramount felt the allure of high-gloss spectacle, and was a flakey kind of studio with Lubitsch and Leisen to hand.

RKO had Fred & Ginger, their only real entree into the world of light comedy.

Fox was hampered by the kind of stars they had under contract — we just watched CAFE METROPOLE, which has a pretty clever script, but lovely as Tyrone Power and Loretta Young are to look at, they don’t deliver the kind of attack and sharpness the comedy needs, and even as able a farceur as Adolph Menjou is left high & dry by the flabby pace. Harvey suggests that director Gregory Ratoff never really got off the ground because he was stuck at Fox.

Well, we liked IT’S LOVE I’M AFTER much more than we expected — it’s Warners and it’s screwball, with what you would think would be unsuitable stars — Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, Olivia DeHavilland and some pasteboard point-of-sale device as the fourth corner of the romantic rhombus — Patrick Knowles. Perfectly adequate, you know, and more handsome than most UK imports, but unmemorable even when he’s in front of you. The miracle is that the unsuitable stars prove to be just right, and director Archie Mayo keeps some of the pace that distinguished Warners’ pre-codes.

Bette and Leslie play feuding actors/lovers, finishing a run of Romeo and Juliet and constantly either breaking up or making up. He’s an incurable Romeo/Lothario and is worried that his moral bank balance is overdrawn. He feels the need for a good deed. Olivia is a starstruck teen smitten with him, and Knowles is her jealous beau, who approaches Howard and asks him to end Olivia’s mooning by turning up at her country seat and behaving like a boor.

The complications ensue when everything Howard does to make himself unappealing only deepens the girl’s affection. Knowles is beside himself, and then Bette turns up…

Of course, Bette as a fiery, tempestuous ham is perfect casting, and she did have comic flair as ALL ABOUT EVE shows. Howard proves to be a very nimble light comedian in the Rex Harrison mold. Olivia’s role is theoretically a lot less interesting, but she plays it like a maniac, making her character’s romanticism seem on the verge of lunacy. When Leslie tries being crude and rough, impersonating the villain from a play he’d triumphed in, she responds eagerly. “You don’t suppose I’ve aroused her ‘slap-me-again-I-love-it’ complex?” he worries.

Pleasingly, this screwball, though ritzy and upper-class in setting, nicely Wodehousian in some respects, does retain some of the best pre-code Warner style, notably a “whatever-works” approach to morality. It’s not specifically scandalous in any particular way, but it does require you to root for scoundrels and have genial contempt for “normal” people.

Oh, but best of all, as the film’s definitive portal into the heights of screwball, Eric Blore plays Howard’s dresser/valet, an ex-vaudevillian bird imitator, who still trills, hoots and squawks in moments of high emotion. Our guests for the evening were much taken with this thespian, and demanded second helpings, so we ran TOP HAT, which is Blore in full flow, and pretty definitive screwball even if it’s early and is also a musical.

Open Airing

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on June 9, 2014 by dcairns


TOP HAT, screened outdoors in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket as part of a day of dance-themed screenings, a preliminary to Edinburgh International Film Festival.

The vid-screen held up pretty well in the bright sunshine, and the audience held up pretty well in the rain — we had both. I don’t THINK I’ve watched a movie outside in the rain since a programme of Laurel & Hardy shorts at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens when I was probably nineteen. One thing about that experience that sticks in my mind was that L&H hadn’t been on TV for years at that point — a copyright dispute? — and so it had the effect of an astonishing rediscovery — not of the comedians, who were ingrained upon my memory, but of the sensation of laughing until one was in physical distress.


TOP HAT seemed well-suited to this rather unconventional environment. It wasn’t remotely like a cinema — people drifted in and out (it was free), chatted away, and kids danced in front of the screen. The last item I approve of — I have fond memories of kids doing this at CORALINE, jigging about with the flying terriers in the end credits sequence. (Fiona and I joined them and experienced what 3D is like when you’re inside it. Recommended.) Not every film would be improved by kids dancing about. LET US PREY, the horror film Fiona & I had a hand in, will screen later in the Fest and I don’t think cavorting bairns would really suit that one. But anything less explicit that DAWN OF THE DEAD would probably be OK.

TOP HAT is delightful, of course — it has precisely one clever plot twist (just like THE GAY DIVORCEE) and otherwise milks a single corny situation for its entire runtime (just like THE GAY DIVORCEE) and is none the worse for it. By some quirk of the video presentation, I was unable to see the loose feathers detaching from Ginger’s gown during the Cheek to Cheek routine, but that meant I became all the more aware of how beautifully the dress moves.