15 July 2007 | ROCKY-19
The original Paris Hilton
Some things never change, and "She Couldn't Take It" proves we'll always have the idle rich stealing the media spotlight with their idiotic antics. Here we have a pleasing '30s comedy with witty characterizations, nifty dialogue and lots of action. And forget about the tendency of screwball romantic comedies to never allow anything truly bad to happen along the way. We are dealing with gangsters here, after all. Dizzy blonde heiress Carol Van Dyke (Joan Bennett) throws her father's money about freely in a string of attention-seeking exploits, engagements and arrests. Give her a Chihuahua, and she'd be Paris Hilton. Her drunken brother is just as bad, and her mother is the worst of the lot. Their ill father Daniel Van Dyke (Walter Connolly) is actually relieved to be sent to prison on tax evasion in order to get some rest. There, he is sought out by former beer runner Ricardi, who is interested in Dan's business skills but disappointed to find the man such a marshmallow for his out-of-hand family. Ricardi freely offers him advice to rein them in, including smacking the wife in the kisser. On his death bed, Dan coaxes Ricardi, who is about to be released, into accepting the position of trustee to put a leash on the family. It is culture shock for Ricardi, who is determined to turn his life around, and his pal Boston (Wallace Ford). And his main problem is getting Carol under his thumb as she goes to drastic measures to get her own way. The cast is spot on across the board. Bennett takes on the bratty blonde persona surprisingly well. Connolly is excellent, taking his trademark flustered executive in a new direction. Billie Burke, as his wife, really does deserve to smacked in the mouth for her coquettish viciousness. Alan Mowbray is ham perfected as Carol's actor fiancé whose conversation is made up entirely of quotations. He even aims "Julius Caesar"'s "I would rather be a dog, and bay the moon, than such a Roman" at Raft. And, amusingly, Raft gets a chance to spoof him. The movie does belong to Raft, who is quite a kick here and rather self-revealing. Much of the script, in fact, seems constructed around him and exaggerating his real background, with Ricardi being cruelly referred to as a West Side criminal and a "cheap Hell's Kitchen butcher." The scenario of a man with a poverty-stricken, shady background being thrust among the upper crust has a real feel to it because of him. There are actual moments of character development here. Director Tay Garnett shows a nice touch for screwball comedy, even when incorporating murder into the mix. He nicely bookends the story with high-speed cop chases. On that score, there is no real respect for law enforcement, with the cops being mainly buffoons, surely a sign of the times.