9 September 2002 | kep315
A still-potent political comedy
Before Frank Capra's socially-aware comedy-dramas such as "It's a Wonderful Life," "Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington" and (my favorite) "Meet John Doe" there was "The Cat's Paw." In fact, "The Cat's Paw" and "Meet John Doe" share a similar plot: Corrupt politicians in a pickle find a sap to run for office so that they can use him for their own purposes.
In this case, Harold Lloyd plays a naive missionary just returned from China to his hometown of Stockport. Lloyd's character, Ezekiel Cobb, had planned on catching up with a friend of his, the Rev. Julius P. Withers, who dies unexpectedly. Withers had been running for mayor as the token losing opposition against the long-corrupt incumbent. His planned loss would've insured Withers' party (THE REFORM PARTY, no less! Talk about cynicism!) would continue to be paid off through the mayor's graft. Wouldn't you know it, just as the Reformers are looking for some sap to take Withers' place, in walks Ezekiel. Naturally, Ezekiel wins instead of losing, and turns idealistic political reformer -- much to the dismay of all the town's corrupt politicians and criminal class. Ezekiel's solution to halting the political corruption is both surprising and hilarious.
I found this film on TCM and, much to my surprise, not only kept watching it, but kept laughing -- all the way through. Great performances by Lloyd, transforming from unsophisticated (he doesn't even know how to use a phone!), Chinese-proverb quoting straight-arrow to incorruptible populist mayor; Una Merkle as the tough-girl love interest who convinces Ezekiel to do what's right through canny reverse psychology; and George Barbier as the initially-corrupt Reform Party boss, who comes around to Ezekiel's way of thinking. Also, lots of familiar character-actor faces whom you can't identify though you know you've seen them before.
This film is well worth seeking out. If it's not on VHS or DVD, it should be! It's a forgotten classic!