Tomorrow on TCM: A Joe E. Brown Junket
Tomorrow is the birthday of Joe E. Brown . What will you do to celebrate? Will you open your mouth really wide and make a really strange noise? I will, but I do that every morning upon arising! But it may be more special to watch TCM’s Joe E. Brown marathon. Believe it or not, the ten films they’re showing are just a small part of his output; for better or worse, they cranked out a lot of Joe E. Brown comedies in the ’30s. I happen to really love this comedian, even when his vehicles are weaker than they might have been. Of the ones they will be showing only You Said a Mouthful will be new to me — DVR set!
6:30am: Eleven Men and a Girl (1930)
Joe E. Brown plays the only decent player on his college football team. They lose every game and the coach is about to get fired. Joe essentially prostitutes the coach’s beautiful daughter (Joan Bennett), getting her to flirt with top candidates to recruit from other teams. Each seduction scene is a comic opportunity for Brown. In one he does his drunk routine. In another he wrestles with a bear. Of course they wind up with a great team, every member of which is in love with the same girl. But the night before the big game they figure it out. They all pretend to fight for her until she starts to cry and they call her on it. She tells them the truth and is contrite. They forgive her and go on to win the big game, which is played pretty straight.
7:45am: Sally (1930)
Sally had been a smash Broadway vehicle for its star Marilyn Miller, produced by Florenz Ziegfeld, a decade earlier. (It ran from 1920 to 1922. ) Its smash hit tune was “Look For the Silver Lining”, forever associated with Miller thereafter. The movie version of Sally was the third all-talking, all-COLOR film. Once again, Brown is not the star, but he is third-billed as an exiled Grand Duke who helps young Sally rise from her status as lowly dishwasher to…a somebody. The cast also includes Pert Kelton, Ford Sterling and Jack Duffy.
9:30am: Top Speed (1930)
Written by Kalmar and Ruby and directed by Mervyn Leroy, this is one of the better Joe E. Brown vehicles, full of great jokes, songs and musical numbers. One of Kalmar and Ruby’s more conventional vehicles, not as crazy as many of them, but still better than many of B rown’s other films. It co-stars Jack Whiting (best known as the second husband of Mrs. Douglas Fairbanks). The pair play a couple of brokers’ clerks on vacation, who end up at a swanky resort and masquerade as rich playboys. The boys rescue a couple of girls from a car wreck, and romance them. Joe’s girlfriend is played by Laura Lee, a hilarious and cute comedienne, whose career was far too short for my tastes. At any rate, the boys can only stay one day. They get involved in the big speedboat race….(ha! A plot later used by Elvis!) It so happens that Whiting’s character is an expert on speedboats (his grandfather built them, how convenient). Billy Bletcher has a bit part as a chauffeur. Lots of resort business, reminiscent of Cocoanuts or Animal Crackers. (This feeling is enhanced by the presence of character actor Edmund Breese, from the former film). Lot’s of melodrama and farce about throwing the big boat race, not throwing the big boat race, and then winning the big boat race (in front of bad process shots, of course). And best of all — an excellent Pre-Code gratuitous lady undressing scene!
10:45am: Broadminded (1931)
Insane! Another really good one, again directed by Mervyn Leroy and written by Kalmar and Ruby, this time in their full-on crazy vein. It opens on a party at a mansion where everyone is dressed like a baby. The party is raided by the cops. Its clear Brown is a wild party hound. The next day his uncle assigns him to take care of his cousin Jack (played by William Collier Jr. ) and keep him out of trouble! Their instructions are to get out of New York and no gambling, carousing or women. They head to California, driving cross country and become embroiled in a feud with Bela Lugosi at a diner. He steals their car and becomes their bitter enemy. Two girls in a car pick them up and bring them the rest of the way. They also run into Thelma Todd, an actress he knew in New York. It turns out with she’s with Lugosi. Then the girl Jack left in NY shows up. So now both guys are juggling two girls. Todd pretends to be the other girl so he can get some letters from the jilted bride. Then they are caught by their girls and Lugosi . They are in hot water awhile but then it gets sorted out and they wind up with the new girls. Hey, what the hell — one’s just as good as another, I guess?
12:00pm: Going Wild (1931)
This one is set at a resort that is struggling for guests. Brown and his traveling companion are kicked off a train for lacking tickets. Brown is mistaken for a famous aviator who’s had a nervous breakdown. He enjoys all the attention and affects a posh accent but hasn’t grappled with the fact that he will have to actually fly in an airplane race. A big boastful speech. A challenge. Preparations, contraptions. He’s supposed to be going up with an expert pilot, who will work the controls for him. But his girl Laura Lee, who desperately wants to fly, replaces the expert at the last minute. Now Brown wins the race but he doesn’t know how to land! SPOILER ALERT: They parachute out and become a couple.
1:15pm: Local Boy Makes Good (1931)
Brown plays a four-eyed college nerd, a botanist who has a knack for running really fast. He writes bragging letters to the most popular girl in school, never intending to mail them, bragging about his prowess as a fraternity brother and track star. His maid mails a letter so now he must masquerade. He joins the track team, and the coach is impressed with his skill. In time he and another girl (Dorothy Lee) who loves him for himself fall in love. The fancy girl is a psych major, she helps him out (Pre-Code sex analysis). In the end of course, Brown wins the big race (after a drink of alcohol gives him enough confidence).
2:30pm: Sit Tight (1931)
Brown teams up with Winnie Lightner again. She runs a gym. Brown works there. Excellent, hilariously gratuitous Pre-Code bathing scenes! The two are always bickering. He professes love. She had been married to a wrestler. Meanwhile a young man comes their way (a young businessman who had been slated to marry a client at the gym) and he is a natural wrestler. Brown becomes his coach. He of course gets stuck elsewhere so Brown has to wrestle on his behalf until the real wrestler can get there. Quite funny.
3:45pm: The Tenderfoot (1932)
Brown plays a no-nonsense but nonetheless funny cowpoke who comes to New York with $20,000 in his satchel to invest in business. At first he seems like the kind of guy who can’t be taken, but then he falls for a spiel by some Broadway producers and gives them all his cash. Ginger Rogers is a Capraesque heroine who goes along with the scam against her conscience but then join forces with Brown. Eventually his crazy choices turn the show around and make it a hit. Furthermore he rescues the girl from a bunch of gangsters, chasing their car on horseback, firing his six guns all the way. In the end he brings her back to his Texas hometown and marries her. The final shot, of three baby Joe E. Browns, is priceless
5:00pm: You Said a Mouthful (1932)
6:15pm: Six Day Bike Rider (1934)
A bespectacled Brown in another of his small town hick roles: he sings bass in the church choir and is the station agent at the local depot. The lad is engaged to a girl and becomes jealous when a big shot bike racer comes to town and stays at her boarding house and performs bike tricks at the local vaudeville house. Trying to best the rider, Brown heckles him during the vaudeville show and gets onstage and rides blindfolded. The rider takes the opportunity to walk off with his girl. Brown gets the whole town to form a posse and chase them, but it turns out the guy just brought her home, so Brown looks bad in front of the whole town. His girl throws him over for the other guy. He blows town and coincidentally joins a team which will be racing in a big 6 day bike race (a fad of the time, similar to marathon dancing). Brown winds up in jail for calling the police on the rider yet again (he thinks the girl is in his hotel room for immoral purposes). His time in the jug is preventing him from getting to the big race in time. The girl relents (the other guy is a cad), and springs him from jail. Brown must first ride to the race on a bike to get there on time, a scene full of crazy stunts. He of course arrives just under the wire and wins the race and the girl. Over use of stock footage and process shots prevent this comedy from being as effective as it ought to be. But at least it has Joe E. Brown making yelling noises!