Class Clowns

College life and the behavior of students and facility alike has been a source of inspiration for countless satires and parodies on the subject from the silent era (Harold Lloyd in The Freshman [1925], Buster Keaton in College [1927]) and early sound period (Laurel & Hardy in A Chump at Oxford [1939]) on up to more contemporary examples such as National Lampoon’s Animal House [1978], Van Wilder [2002] and Accepted [2006]. Certainly one of the funniest and most memorable of all is Horse Feathers (1932), a madcap burlesque of university life starring The Marx Brothers in which the institution of higher education is held up for ridicule and satirized mercilessly.  

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Two of a Kind

A slice of early Americana. A showcase for some of W.C. Fields’ best gags and funny bits of business. The second screen pairing of two comedic actors that audiences loved seeing together. Tillie and Gus (1933) is all of those plus it marks the first major role of that pesky little Baby LeRoy, soon to be a regular tormentor of Fields. It also includes a scene-stealing trained duck and several eccentric character actors who make perfect foils for the title characters such as Clarence Wilson, George Barbier and Edgar Kennedy. Tillie and Gus might not be my favorite Fields’ movie (that’s a toss-up between The Bank Dick and It’s a Gift) but it is a constant delight and well worth seeing or revisiting for any Fields beginner or hard core fan.  Continue reading

Kay Francis as the Notorious ‘Spot White’

Kay Francis has that come-hither look in Mandalay (1934), an often overlooked Pre-Code drama

Kay Francis has that come-hither look in Mandalay (1934), an often overlooked Pre-Code drama

Today her place in film history rates little more than a footnote in the ascendancy of Warner Bros. as a major Hollywood studio, but Kay Francis was their first major female star whom they had lured away from Paramount in 1931. During her peak years for the studio between 1932 and 1935, she specialized in melodramas, soap operas and lightweight comedies which accented her elegance and chic fashion sense but also stereotyped her in increasingly inferior films.

She was dethroned by Bette Davis as Warners’ top star in 1936 and, by 1938, she was labeled “box office poison” in an article by The Hollywood Reporter. Still, there are several essential must-see titles among the more than sixty-five movies that she made (Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise [1932], Jewel Robbery [1932], Wonder Bar [1934], for example) and Mandalay (1934) is one of her best dramatic showcases as well as an enormously entertaining, eyebrow-raising Pre-Code wonder. (It was made before the Code was officially enforced but released after the fact.)    Continue reading