27 September 2002 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Gelett Burgess is now remembered only for writing the four-line poem that begins "I never saw a purple cow", but in the early 20th century he was a popular author of nonsense verses and humour. His hit play "The Cave Man" was previously filmed in 1915; this remake (with a script by Darryl Zanuck) takes out most of Burgess's treacly whimsy (and changes the annoying names of several characters in Burgess's original play) but remains fairly funny, and is well-directed by Lewis Milestone.
"The Cave Man" is "Pygmalion" in reverse, or a comedy version of Eugene O'Neill's "The Hairy Ape". Myra Gaylord (Marie Prevost) is a wealthy dilettante. For a whim, she cuts a $100 bill in half and writes her address on one half. (There's an unfortunate close-up shot of a blatantly phony stage-money banknote, only vaguely resembling actual currency.) She drops this half-hundred out the window of her posh Park Avenue high-rise. The half-note is found by rough unshaven coalman Mike Smagg (well-played by brawny Matt Moore), who drives a horse-drawn coal wagon. Hoping to receive the other half of the $100 bill, he takes it back to its owner.
Intrigued by this raw material, Miss Gaylord decides to mould Smagg to her whims. She has him shaved and groomed, cleaned up and put into tailored clothes. Then she brings him to society functions, where of course he fails to impress her snooty friends. And Smagg hasn't been able to abandon his working-class past. There's one funny scene in which Matt Moore, faultlessly attired in evening dress, walks up Park Avenue past his former coal wagon. His horses recognise him and immediately start following him, pulling the wagon behind them.
Myrna Loy (whom I've always found annoying) is prettier than usual as the minx-like parlourmaid, and Hedda Hopper (the future gossip columnist) gives a good performance as a society beldame. This sort of humour dates rather badly. I'll rate "The Cave Man" 3 out of 10.