13 March 2018 | boblipton
Columbia's First English Production is a Harmless Piece of Fluff
When Columbia decided to produce its first film in England, they made their usual canny and economical choices. After casting Leslie Howard in the lead and Cedric Hardwicke as the villain, they enlisted some up-and-coming talent like Binnie Barnes and Nigel Bruce. Gilbert Miller, who would become a distinguished stage producer, directed, and Joe Walker, Capra's favorite camera man was shipped over to Elstree.
The story, as adapted by Guy Bolton, is a bit of fluff: Hardwicke is a stock swindler, whose latest venture has gone bust, and private detective Leslie Howard is recruited to get the investors' money back. His plan is to persuade the villain that he wants to buy a property owned by Hardwicke's wife, Miss Barnes, for an outrageous sum, then kidnap the lady before her signature can be obtained. The ransom set will be the losses of the investors. However, Miss Barnes has a mind and grudges of her own....
Visually it's fine. I credit not only Walker, but set designer Oscar Werndorff. However, there is something off about the performances. Lines are tossed off too fast, as if nothing has any real emotional weight. In a year when Screwball Comedy was beginning to take shape in the United States -- and with the sexual quadrille between Howard, Barnes, Hardwicke and Kendall Lee as Hardwicke's mistress, it was made for screwball -- this is 1920s stage farce without the door slamming, with Howard donning military uniforms and beards and switching Hardwicke's spectacles to confuse him. I'm sure everyone shrugged their shoulders, said it was fine for a first effort and moved on. Miss Barnes and Mr. Bruce got footholds in the US, and everyone continued to work thereafter, usually in better projects.