29 July 2005 | drednm
My Favorite Joe E. Brown Film
Brown was a big comedy star of the 1930s, not as well remembered today as he should be. His career slowed down after WW II and he's best remembered now for his co-starring role in Some Like It Hot. But in the 30s he was big. Too bad he made all those sports comedies like Alibi Ike and Polo Joe. They all blur together because of their sameness.
Bright Lights (1935) is perhaps Brown's most physical comedy. The former circus player uses his great acrobatic skills (even at age 43) in this movie about the heartbreaks of show business. He plays a small-time burlesque player teamed with his wife (Ann Dvorak) who gets discovered because of a runaway heiress (Patricia Ellis). They get into a big Broadway show but at the last minuted Dvorak is out and Ellis (big headlines) is in. Familiar plot.
But what is so special about Bright Lights is that Brown is just plain excellent. The burlesque routine is hilarious and extremely well acted and directed (Busby Berkley), even to the point that the audiences are good. Their reactions are great. Brown's likable persona is used well in this film. The acrobat sequence with the Maxellos is so spontaneous and funny you'd never think it was ever rehearsed! Along with Brown, Dvorak and Ellis also turn is nice performances. Ellis was a minor leading lady who never got anything to do in Hollywood. Here she is bright and funny and a good singer (she also looks great); Dvorak is remembered as a B drama queen, but she started in the chorus (Free and Easy with Buster Keaton) and gets to sing and dance here. Dvorak should have been a bigger star. The chemistry between Dvorak and Brown is great.
Good supporting cast includes William Gargan as the press agent, Henry O'Neill as the verbose director, Joseph Cawthorne as the burlesque director, Clarence Wilson as the ticket seller, Grace Hayle as the plane passenger, Arthur Treacher as the valet, Gordon Westcott as the pill, and William Demarest in a real bit part as the detective.
Lots of fun, good performances, plus the song "The Acrobat's Daughter."