16 September 2004 | albertsanders
This is a lost gem
Henry Morgan (the lead) was a radio comedian in the 30s. He had a daily show on which he did a monologue of his own whimsical and sardonic observations--better than most stand up comedians. I remember a "weather report" in which he predicted "snow, followed by little boys on sleds".
He made very few films. In this one, he is a salesman in a two-employee cigar store in Indianapolis, bullied by the owner who is always complaining that business has never been so bad. Henry's wife has just inherited some money and has decided to use it to move to New York City (at least temporarily) and "make a big splash" so that her younger sister can marry a rich man more suitable than her present beau who is a small-town butcher's helper. Henry is certain no good will come of this so he accompanies them on the train, making his trademark sarcastic wisecracks and keeping a record to the penny (without being requested) of everything they spend. Arriving at the station in New York, they ask a cab driver to take them to a hotel. He replies sullenly, semi-literately, in a heavy New York accent, something like "Where duh yuh wanna go?". A subtitle appears, "Where may I take you, sir?"
The direction is altogether superb. There is a device used that I have never seen used that way again. Today, on TV, it would be called a freeze frame, but the way it is used makes all the difference. It brings out, and emphasizes, character and prepares the audience for the action to follow. For example, in the dining car on the train, a con man (the audience knows this because he looks exactly like a movie con man of the 30s-- sort of good looking, dandyish dress, pencil mustache, slicked-back greasy hair, big- city villainous, elaborate speech, yet a blow hard) tries to pick up the younger sister. The foolish wife is immediately deceived (though not Henry). As the scene is playing, one particular frame is frozen; one that shows him at his absolute worst, artificial, phony, slimy. It propels the action forward. It is completely different from the meaningless modern TV freeze of the last frame in a scene. (Though I'll bet they all copied it from this movie.)
It is cynical, sophisticated comedy, though completely accessible. Not to be missed.