4 April 2017 | kekseksa
A touch of magic but not quite enough wand
This is an odd film but not sympathetic. It is odd because, although it takes its title from a novel by humorist and poet Don Marquis, it really does (apart from a couple of the names of the characters, a woman on the run - a persecuted suffragette in the novel - and the existence of the ship) have nothing whatsoever to do with the novel. Perhaps the fay humour of Marquis was an inspiration....
Odd because La Rocque (always, like Fairbanks, a swashbuckler at second degree) is here taking on Fairbanks not so much in his swashbuckling roles as in his superb zany comedies (The Mystery of the Leaping Fish or When the Clouds Roll By. And in theory it should have all the ingredients f a classic zany comedy - a woman on the run from a man with a sponge who is trying to wash her back takes refuge ("Don't let him wash my back" "Never!") at the home of a man whose house and property is being auctioned around him as he tries to bath and shave, much to the delight of the elderly women at the auction. They chase off to the coast, followed mysteriously wherever they go by a coffin-like box (in fact there are two boxes, one containing the villain and the other a priceless tapestry, but they never manage to work that out).
The woman has a will printed on her back - the question of how quite it got there is never explained - a will which later transfers itself impossibly onto a door.
Meanwhile the robbery of the tapestry, designated a "federal" matter - the FBI had been set up in 1908 but Hoover became director in 1924 and it was during the Prohibition years that it attained its real importance - gets escalated up through an absurd chain of command until army, air force and navy are all mobilised to bomb and bombard the ship where our hero and heroine, quite unaware of the cause for the attack, are trying to get an ancient sea-captain to marry them.
This is really a very heady cocktail and at points it works well but somehow it does not quite make the grade, always lapsing back into more mundane farce (Horne would make his name as a director of shorts for Hal Roach in the first years of the talkies) and it is a little difficult to put one's finger on why. Zany humour is tricky except for those rare beings like Keaton for whom it seemed second nature, and requires the creation of a whole world of counter-reality which here never quite comes off.
I think perhaps the other reviewer is correct in seeing two principals as the main weakness. They make a good job of remaining earnest despite the absurdities but they lack the bravura indifference to reality shown, say, by Keaton and McGuire (one of the best comic duos in the whole of film history) in Crisp's The Navigator and they do not have that touch of the manic that distinguished Max Linder or Dougie Fairbanks or for that matter Alice Howell or the much under-rated Martha Sleeper. Here, veteran comic Jack Ackroyd, who plays the servant Wiggins, has to work hard to keep the adrenaline going. Snitz Edwards as the villain is a bit wasted.
Still such humour is sufficiently rare in the US tradition to be well worthy of notice.