16 September 2002 | mark.waltz
Joe E. Brown-John Wayne he ain't.
My summary is not meant to put Joe E. Brown down; The point of this film is that Brown plays a Hollywood cowboy hero who isn't what he appears to be on screen. After four years of making some pretty dismal films at Columbia, the screen veteran moved over to Republic for several cheapie comedys which are actually better than most of the ones he made at Columbia. Republic, best known for Gene Autry/Roy Rogers/John Wayne westerns (and later as the studio where Vera Hruba Ralston was the queen of the lot), spoofs the type of films they were best known for: the western. Sent on location to shoot a film, Brown gets some bad publicity when he can't control a horse and ends up getting humiliated thanks to the yodeling local Judy Canova. She ends up as his leading lady, and in take after take, can't get the simple line "My lover-he's been shot"-quite to the director's expectations. Of course, Brown ends up having to do take after take and ends up exhausted as a result.
They end up becoming engaged for some silly reason (probably because two big mouths are better than one), and Brown has to show up (yet again) in drag, this time as his own ma, which of course, he isn't. In one of the funniest sequences in a Joe E. Brown film, there are two duplicates of Brown's ma (Brown himself and studio executive Gus Schilling, one of the forgotten dandys of the silver screen), and they both have to take turns pretending to be the old lady Canova expects to be her mother-in-law. Ripping off the Marxx Brothers, Brown and Schilling do a pretty good job with the "mirror scene", which has a hysterical payoff. Of course, in typical Republic fashion, the whole sequence does nothing to move the action along, just provide gags, then ends up being ruined when the whole incident gets shoved aside plotwise.
This leads to another rip-off of classic comedy when Brown and Canova find themselves in a cabin about to be blown off the mountain (shades of Chaplin's "The Gold Rush"), which would be funny if it wasn't used to resolve the plot without actually resolving it. "Chatterbox" thus ends up being a film filled with funny sequences which just doesn't go anywhere, like an old musical where the songs do nothing to add to the plot. Speaking of which, there are several such musical sequences added with Judy Canova singing which do exactly that-take the plot nowhere.
Judy Canova was a fan favorite with the rural trade, and along side Brown, is added to his realm of big-mouthed leading ladies which include Winnie Lightner, Martha Raye, and later Jack Lemmon. Usually, however, Brown was paired with quieter ingenues such as Joan Bennett, Ginger Rogers, Olivia DeHavilland, Joan Blondell, Susan Hayward, and Jane Wyman, all of whom went onto stardom after appearing with him. I for one would have liked to have seen Brown with Paramount's Cass Daley, but alas, that never happened. Canova is very funny, unlike some of the actresses Brown was paired with in his lean years, and appeared with him in two films. (The other was "Joan of Ozark", which I have not seen). She managed to be the only Republic actress to last as long as Vera Hruba, and actually remains fresh, unlike her more dramatic Republic leading lady. "Chatterbox" is an entertaining film with some very funny sequences ripped off from other movies, but its speedy ending prevents it from having a satisfying conclusion.