28 July 2003 | jayson-4
Antediluvian, yet sprightly
Joe E. Brown is a member of that exclusive club of actors (such as "Singin' in the Rain's" Jean Hagen) who would probably be forgotten but for one role that made them immortal. (You may at one time have been exposed to Brown's "Nobody's perfect.") Before today, I'd have run out of Brown roles after a second (Cap'n Andy in "Showboat").
But TCM, bless its heart, has been running a festival of Brown films from the early sound era, which showcase the young Joe as a superb physical comedian as well as the yowling rubberface we remember so fondly.
"You Said a Mouthful" seems typical of Brown's early films: The naive and good-hearted Joe gets himself caught up in a sticky situation that is ultimately resolved through a display of goofy yet surprisingly impressive physical prowess (reminiscent of, although nowhere nearly as surreal as, Keaton's). And because of the physical nature of the comedy, much of the action takes place outdoors, which makes the films seem fresher and more grounded in reality, in spite of all the old cars and "funny" clothes. Also (even though I've seen nothing I would call vulgar or even risque), the fact that these films were made before the stranglehold of the Production Code seems to allow for a much fresher attitude towards physical expression (including the occasional glimpse of a little harmless flesh) than you'd see in films made just a few years later (and which now seem far more antique).
Is it time for a re-appreciation of Joe E. Brown?