28 March 2002 | tashman
Leaves no bitter taste!
Clyde Bruckman did this one, and W.C. Fields' THE MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE in 1935. Fast moving, at times downright wacky, this zippy farce is almost too zippy and too much of a farce, but who cares? It never stops moving, which is SPRING TONIC's saving grace. The cast is engaging, and filled to the brim with some familiar (and welcome) names -- ZaSu Pitts, Walter Brennan, Lew Kelly, Sig Ruman, Henry Kolker, Arthur Housman, George Chandler, and Herbert Mundin among them. If you've been annoyed by the endless physical schtick of Mitchell & Durant, rest assured they are quite funny and well-utilized here. It is also fun to watch Walter Woolf King lampoon a guitar-serenading Latin "lover" type. Tala Birell is a riot as a subtle, dominatrix-style Lion Tamer, but the bulk of the action is centered around leading lady Claire Trevor, who alternates between a frantic frustration and a manic desire to keep the proceedings racing along. Different from other 1930s leads, Trevor's more like the later Anne Baxter -- a character actress strapping on her screwball heroine hat. Perhaps this is why SPRING TONIC is so entertaining, for no matter what is hurled her way (and everything is), Trevor never misses, and keeping the pace is that stalwart leading schlepp, Jack Haley, a consistently engaging spirit seen to advantage in this highly typical 1930s role, chock full o' his trademark cowardly heroics. Driving back in at about the midway point is leading man Lew Ayers, one of the more inconsistent film stars of that era, for in SPRING TONIC, he ain't so good, but he's not so bad, either. He shows up, he's accused of being stodgy, and he loosens up a bit. I've seen him handle similar assignments with much more verve and commitment (MURDER WITH PICTURES), but then again, I've also seen him far worse (IRON MAN). Ayers in no way hinders SPRING TONIC, but it really doesn't matter who was in it or how well they did, for most of the proceedings, and anything else not nailed firmly down to the rickety sets, was stolen from all by that American treasure, ZaSu Pitts. Suffice to say that there is one brief sequence that only involves Pitts and a small shelving unit - I've never seen anything quite so funny as that.