23 September 2009 | dougdoepke
The director (Leigh Jason) keeps up the madcap pacing, while the scriptwriter comes up with a clever premise (hiding a body during a morticians convention). Then too, add some very capable performers, Blondell, Barnes, the incomparable Robert Benchley, and an extremely winsome Janet Blair. It looks promising, yet, the results are mixed at best, at least in my little book. It seems to me, a key element of screwball or madcap is flustered frustration. The classics—Bringing Up Baby (1939); Murder, He Says (1945), for example—get laughs from comedic exasperation. Petty annoyances keep thwarting a Grant or a MacMurray as they try to accomplish their goals, whether catching a big cat or escaping a deranged family. We laugh at the way everything seems to work against them, in a light-hearted way, of course. But it's that sense of comedic frustration, mounting over time and petty adversity that carries the momentum.
Now, there's a rich source of frustration here with getting the body out of the hotel. One problem is that the focus switches back and forth too often among the players, so that the crucial sense of comedic exasperation is dissipated among Blondell, Howard, the cleaning ladies and the police chief. Note that the one scene that really works, the poker-playing skit, keeps the focus on Howard and his mounting frustration in trying to get away. In short, the movie suffers because there's no one person (a Grant or a MacMurray) to identify with as he or she encounters the series of petty plot adversities. Thus, a key element of comedic continuity is lost, as, for example, when the cleaning ladies booze it up, an amusing but unconnected event. Add to that, Howard's limitations as a comedic performer and the really unfortunate casting of an inapt Hugh O'Connell as the police chief. In fact, O'Connell's role turns out to be much bigger than expected and really requires the flustered antics of an expert performer, say, a Donald McBride or a James Burke, familiar cop faces from that era.
Anyway, the movie does have its compensations, especially the clever twist ending. I'm just sorry that so many promising elements produce such a generally mild result.