23 April 2017 | lugonian
HAVING WONDERFUL TIME (RKO Radio, 1938), directed by Alfred Santell, is a Ginger Rogers starring comedy produced towards the end to her great popularity years (1933-1939) of those nine song and dance musicals produced by RKO opposite her most famous screen partner of all time, Fred Astaire. Although reportedly a comedy adapted from the 1937 stage success by Arthur Kober, that success didn't seem to be repeated on screen due to changes and alterations, thus, resulting to a somewhat disappointing production made plausible mostly by Ginger Rogers and her STAGE DOOR (RKO Radio, 1937) co-stars of Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Jack Carson, Grady Sutton making return engagements. There's also a very young comic named Richard Skelton, better known as "Red" Skelton, making his motion picture debut.
Following a visual view of New York City, the story introduces Teddy Shaw (Ginger Rogers), a stenographer working in a crowded office surrounded by other girl, over-viewed by a strict supervisor (Elsie Cavanna). It's also her last day at work before her trip to the Catskills mountains where she's to vacation for the next two weeks at Camp Kare-Free to "relax in the peace and quiet of the pines." Following a subway ride to her apartment in the Bronx where she's surrounded by family members consisting of her parents (Harlan Briggs and Leona Roberts), sister (Inez Courtney), her brother-in-law (Dean Jagger) and their daughter (Juanita Quigley), Teddy, the only single girl in the family, resents the annoyance of her nagging family to marry Emil Beatty (Jack Carson), a successful but obnoxious businessman whom she does not love. Upon her train arrival to the mountains, Teddy's vacation comes to a bad start leading to constant quarrels with Chick Kirkland (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), a young man whose ambition to become a lawyer by earning extra money as both waiter and bus driver. Chick resents the ill treatment from customers who feel they are always right, while Teddy resents Chick's temperamental treatment towards her. Eventually Teddy and Chick come to terms until a misunderstanding and rumors of Teddy spending the entire night in a cabin with Miriam's (Lucille Ball) beau, "Buzzy" Armbruster (Lee Bowman), puts further friction in their brief relationship. Other members of the large list of cast credits include: Peggy Conklin (Fay Coleman, Teddy's friend); Eve Arden (Henrietta); Dorothea Kent (Maxine); Donald Meek (P.U. Rogers, manager of the resort); Allan Lane ("Mac"); Clarence Wilson, among others.
Red Skelton, who would later win fame and popularity in musical-comedies for MGM in the 1940s, and later on his television variety show, plays a comical social director who manages to throw in some of his comic routines for good measure, ranging from his method of dunking donuts to climbing up and down the stairs. Although funny to the guests and workers at the resort, Skelton's routines just don't appear to register well as they formerly did to contemporary viewers. Future television personalities as Lucille Ball and Eve Arden are almost unidentifiable, especially when speaking in strong Bronx accents, and Eve wearing horn-rim glasses.
For a Ginger Rogers solo effort, which are usually clocked anywhere between 80 to 90 minutes, HAVING WONDERFUL TIME is relatively short (70 minutes), playing more like a second feature presentation rather than a major "A" comedy. Its a wonder how much was deleted considering the fact that actress/dancer Ann Miller's name comes after Red Skelton's in some theatrical lobby cards, yet her character role of Vivian doesn't appear to be seen anywhere in the finished product. There are songs, including "My First Impression of You" (sung by Betty Jane Rhodes) and "Nighty Night" by Charles Tobias, Sammy Stept and Bill Livingston, which are easily forgettable. Considering the locale of Camp Kare- Free, it's a wonder how this production might have turned out had it been a Fred and Ginger musical/comedy instead, retaining its CAREFREE title already used for their other 1938 musical consisting an entirely different plot altogether.
As much as Rogers worked so well with Astaire, and other leading men of her day, including Dick Powell, James Stewart or George Brent, for some reason, she doesn't register well with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., who seems out of place here. Possibly newer RKO Radio performers as James Ellison or Lee Bowman might have been better suited, although their names were hardly those to draw a large theater crowds. The major weakness to HAVING WONDERFUL TIME is the revised treatment by its author probably due to certain scenes that couldn't be used for the screen version due to the production code. The story starts off well, but once it set at Camp Karefree, it becomes weak, especially the typically love-hate relationship between Rogers and Fairbanks, followed by Rogers endlessly playing backgammon as the guests in another cabin are heard repeatedly singing "Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho," that grows tiresome after awhile.
Formerly available on video cassette in the 1980s accompanied by a second Ginger Rogers feature, CARNIVAL BOAT (1932) on the same tape, HAVING WONDERFIL TIME did show up regularly on American Movie Classics prior to 2001, and occasionally turns up from time to time on Turner Classic Movies. As much as the movie fails to have its wonderful time with its quota of big laughs, the casting of future TV personalities as Lucille Ball, Eve Arden or Red Skelton early in their careers would be sole reasons for viewing this light comedy today. (**1/2)