Monday, December 31, 2018
Mr. Bean's Holiday (2007)
Mr. Bean has just won a local raffle, receiving a prize of a trip to Cannes, France, a movie camera, and some spending money. He begins his journey but it quickly becomes fraught with difficulty when he accidentally separates a father and son. Intent on reuniting them, Bean decides to take the boy with him to Cannes, where his father will be. Along the way they get into all sorts of scrapes, win money, lose money, and meet up with a young actress named Sabine, who's also headed for Cannes to see what she hopes will be her first big role on the big screen...
The character of Mr. Bean isn't a stranger to the cinema world, having been in a very American iteration in 1997. It took a full 10 years for a follow-up to finally come out, but it's worth the wait. More of a return to form than the previous entry, Mr. Bean's Holiday is light on English dialogue, and focuses a lot on silent comedy antics, apparently reminiscent of a few famous French comedians I can't recall.
The film is full of fun setpieces, such as Bean trying (and failing) to eat oysters and lobsters in a fancy restaurant, casually walking into peak Parisian traffic, busking for money with an amateur opera piece, messing up a film shoot, trying to keep himself awake through increasingly painful ways while on a late night drive, etc.
I really enjoyed the ending too, with its cast recital of La Mer on a sunny beach, but I'm not quite sure how I feel about the comedy walk Mr. Bean does to get there. It feels a bit too fantastical even for a silly comedy, although that might well be the point. He might've just been daydreaming. If nothing else, it's still really creative and well-shot!
The characters are quite good. The boy and his dilemma (all Bean's fault) provides some good heart to the film as well as another reason for them to head for Cannes (and an obstacle when the authorities come to believe Mr. Bean has kidnapped him).
I really liked Sabine, though she takes a bit too long to properly show up. She's in just about every single scene once she appears, but it takes almost an hour before that happens. The up himself director is amusing, even if I do wonder what he's doing in the middle of a commercial shoot right before a big screening in Cannes he's appearing at.
The movie that plays at the festival that the aforementioned director created is hilariously pretentious, although goes on a bit too long, in two ways. The joke kinda goes on a little long for the audience in reality, but I also feel the dull snoozefest goes on too long for the audience in the film too for them to suddenly appreciate it when Bean starts tinkering. I'm probably not making much sense, but if you see the movie you'll know what I mean.
The acting here is all good. Rowan Atkinson is a natural fit for the role, of course, and handles all of the physical humour well. Maxim Baldry is likewise pretty decent as the kid. He isn't Russian, but I presume the fact that his Russian dialogue (or indeed most dialogue period) is fairly limited doesn't make that fact too obvious. Emma de Caunes is perky and upbeat as Sabine, and I wish she was around for longer. And finally, Willem Defoe perfectly gets across his character.
There's some nice music on display here as well as a few licensed tracks, like Mr. Bombastic. One notable track is one that plays in full at about the midway point, and feels stunningly out-of-place in how American it is. Not bad for what it is though and it does still kinda fit the action (in tone if not lyrically).
Finally, the locale of this film is very good! We really get a sense of the scale of France, and there are many beautiful and varied locations. It really does feel like a holiday!
Mr. Bean's Holiday is a very amusing little movie. Not perfect, but definitely a fine sendoff to this iconic character...
The 12 Days of Mantan Moreland: Conclusion
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all! I hope you had a wonderful year, and will have an equally good 2019...
Like 2016 when I did the '12 Days of Regis Toomey', I intended to do the 12 Days of Mantan Moreland last year, but I got a bit busy, so halfway through my marathon I decided to take it easy and leave it for the following December. As it turns out, this December was even busier than the last, but oh well, Mantan Moreland waits for nobody!
Mantan Moreland was predominately a supporting actor in countless Hollywood productions, usually playing beleaguered manservants, but inhabiting the roles with such life that they moved beyond the stereotypical nature of such roles. Even when he was only in minor parts, he often stole the show. Beyond that, he also got many lead roles in race films (those with an all African American cast and crew), and had a very popular career outside of the film industry as a comedian. Such was his reputation that he very nearly became a new member of the Three Stooges.
One beloved section of his career are the eight films Moreland made together with Frankie Darro. While I personally didn't care for them, they're still very popular among his fanbase. One really nice comment I saw on youtube that sums up their films together was "Frankie Darrow/Mantan Moreland-What a team! Love Mantan's common-sense attitude combined with a perpetual state of confusion when unwillingly becoming involved in Frankie's schemes.".
Another chunk of Moreland's filmography is his role of Birmingham Brown in the Charlie Chan series. Adding an extra bit of diversity to an already plentiful series (besides the main lead, but we'll get to that another day). As one of Chan's chauffeurs, he provided some comic relief to a lot of the later entries, and I think even took up some of the slack when lead actor Sydney Toler's health started to fail. I've yet to see these movies, but only because I want to see the Charlie Chan films from the start. I'm sure they'll be a great time, and an example of what Classic American cinema could be like when it said nuts to racism!
By some accounts Moreland was discontented with the sometimes stereotypical nature his roles took on. This interview was in the 1950s though, and I imagine the bitterness from the flack towards the Civil Rights movement and the amount of media jobs (among other industries) it stripped away would've been fresh in his mind. He lived for almost another two decades, so I'm sure his viewpoint would've improved as time went on, and as his movies kept on being enjoyed by a whole new generation as his vast catalogue of movies saw plentiful TV syndication. And of course he never stopped acting, even if it was in a much reduced capacity, and one of his final roles was warmly typical of those he so often portrayed, in the kooky horror extravaganza Spider Baby. What a career high note to just about end on, right?
Mantan Moreland died in 1973, having lived a long and productive life as one of the most popular and beloved African-American comedians of the early 20th century...
Monday, December 24, 2018
The 12 Days of Mantan Moreland/A Very Mantan Moreland Christmas: Lucky Ghost (1942)
Travelling transits Washington and Jefferson have just come into a new town, where after a few tricks of the trade they soon come into a large amount of money. Since their unlucky opponents were on their way to a local gambling den, the two decide to head there themselves. Running the establishment is the gruff and temperamental Brutus Blake, who doesn't take kindly to Washington and his interactions with his number 1 girl. After a tense showdown of wits and strength, the duo end up taking control of the entire business, but they soon have to contend with the angry spirits who reside in the area, who don't take too kindly to the den of inequity...
Lucky Ghost is the kind of Mantan Moreland movie I wanted to be watching for this marathon, in that it's an all-black movie, with nary a whitefolk in sight! And not only that, but a legitimate starring role for the guy. So many of these movies fell under the radar just because their stars weren't caucasian, and that's so not fair. Even more frustrating is when some people try and decry them as racist, which is really disrespectful towards African-American cinema history, and belittles the struggles it must've taken to get even stuff like this made.
The plot to Lucky Ghost is pretty normal at first. With a title like that, and a set of opening credits that specifically credit the ghosts (which one would hope isn't spoiling whether or not there's a Scooby Doo twist), you'd think this would be about the supernatural. It is, but it takes a while! More than half the movie is devoted to the two leads bumming around, showing their misadventures as they stumble into a new town, come into a bunch of money, and end up in a gambling den. It's only at the halfway point when the restless spirits come out of their graves. Given how they play into events, it makes sense for them to start getting involved later on, but I wish we would've gotten a few extra scenes with them earlier, just to establish that they're part of the plot.
We don't really know much about the two heroes, but that's ok, as their dialogue informs their characters well enough. They share many great moments together, and the banter flies so fast it's sometimes hard to hear what they're saying! This is either good or bad, depending on how you look at it.
The comedy in Lucky Ghost doesn't land all the time, but when it does, it does! It's downright hilarious at times. So funny I had to pause the movie a couple of moments!
Present is that typical African-American dialect of the time. It was probably really spoken by many people (still might be), but seeing it in movies can often run the risk of being awkward and potentially offensive (if written by someone without the right know-how, that is), or at the least overused. It's done in moderation here, and I'm not going to cry racism that the all-black production spoke how they want, especially when they deliver such lines as "Is we is or is we ain't out of gas?". Other characters are more well-spoken, too, using words fancy enough that many people might be scratching their heads over the meaning.
The acting's pretty good. Mantan is great fun. Being the straight man of the duo, F.E. Miller isn't quite as distinctive as Moreland. He's still fine, but not the one who steals the show. Florence O'Brien is a pain as the gambling den's hostess. When it comes to romantic foils/female buddies for Mantan Moreland, I prefer Marguerite Whitten myself, seeing as how she can actually act. I haven't seen it but I'll also hazard a guess she can sing, too.
The effects here is ok to decent. The ghosts look good, and the invisible manipulations we see look neat, even if it it obvious how some of them were achieved. The skeletons at the end look silly and unconvincing, but lively all the same.
Lucky Ghost is a very funny little comedy. A quick and easy watch, it's worth seeing, for sure. If nothing else, it was an occasion where a bunch of African-American actors got to have an easy break, with roles consisting of just relaxing at a ritzy dinner party with catering, jazzy music, and dancing, and that's actually more sweet than the movie itself!
The 12 Days of Mantan Moreland: Gang Smashers (1938)
Gangster kingpin Gat Dalton is enacting a ruthless protection racket, aided by a new right hand man, but it seems his enemy has come from the place he least expected...
Gang Smashers (or Gun Moll as it's also known) opens up with a respectful speech of gratitude to the myriad 'coloured' officers of the law, men and women, who provide an invaluable level of help to the fight against crime. I'd quote it here or screenshot it if not for the fact that it's quite lengthy.
This is a wonderfully progressive movie, not only showcasing strong heroes of colour, and strong women (in a position of society (that being police officer) they weren't often seen in), but both together!
At first I wasn't sure who to root for, but then the movie threw a curveball and revealed the gangster's moll to be a secret undercover cop, and suddenly the film had itself a protagonist! Once this is revealed, her likeability increased tenfold, and I enjoyed watching her plot and scheme her way around these crooks. She does lose a few points when she makes a secret phone call to the police when in the criminal headquarters, getting herself discovered in the process. Dopey dame! I guess that had to have her foul up in some way, otherwise this short movie would be/have been even shorter!
The villains are an ok bunch. Not that developed, but they carry some weight. There's a twist close to the end which is a surprise, and is a bit silly, even if it doesn't outright stretch credulity. I came to appreciate it though.
Moreland plays a low-level thug named Gloomy. He appears in almost every scene, but not in a major capacity. He does get his moments though, like his jivin' dance!
At 56 minutes, Gangs Smashers is a pretty brief affair, not overstaying its welcome, although a couple of parts aren't as well paced as others. The midsection kinda drags on with its variety show act. I liked the songs, but the dance in-between wasn't that great to me, and needlessly extended things.
The songs here are quite good! One is a little reminiscent of Stormy Weather, while another kinda sounds like All That Meat and No Potatoes.
The acting is pretty good all-round. A couple of line readings are a bit off, but otherwise everyone convinces in their roles, with Nina Mae McKinney being the standout, and Laurence Criner making for an alright villain. One little thing I liked about is the realistic phone call! You know how phone calls in movies can be like, what with all the clunky exposition and repeating what the other end of the line is saying for the audience's benefit.
Gang Smashers is a pretty good time to be had, and a reminder that the film industry of the 1930s wasn't a trudge for black people all the time...
The 12 Days of Mantan Moreland: The Strange Case of Doctor RX (1942)
A mysterious killer is striking against recently acquitted criminals, and famed/noted detective Jerry Church is dragged out from his retirement to crack the case. He's aided by his trusty manservant Horation B Fitz Washington, and on-off girlfriend Kit. The Mysterious Doctor RX however always seems to be one step ahead in the game...
The Strange Case of Doctor RX is a very enjoyable picture! It balances genres very well, with a spooky mystery, hilarious comedy moments, and genuinely emotional scenes.
What I found to be a little on the weaker side is the mystery itself. It doesn't go poorly, but there's not a whole lot of progress made as the movie goes on. Few clues found, not really any motives since that's clear from the get-go (in a good way), not a large amount of suspects either, and the climax only comes to pass because Doctor Rx kidnaps the hero, not because Church found him. These are minor criticisms of what's otherwise a fine enough plot though.
The climax/conclusion manages to be very thrilling despite the peak absurdity that occurs, with mad scientists and human-to-gorilla brain transplants out of nowhere. If you can believe it, things get weirder after that point! It's a strange conclusion, but despite everything I just said it doesn't jump the shark and it all makes sense, even managing to throw in a big surprise too!
Jerry Church is a charismatic and intelligent hero not sexist, though sometimes gets amusing lines like "You sweet little thing, you'll figure it out". Such lines feel knowing, and all part of the banter. While the men in Rx are either heroic or dopey and somewhat useless, the women are quite domineering women. Church is also a hero who doesn't take misogyny lying down. There's one great scene where a gangster's moll is manhandled by a goon, and Church responds by getting up and promptly decking him. Nice to see, dude!
Kit is a mostly likeable character, but gets her sour moments, like her bad attitude to Church whenever she wants him to either do this or do that.
The film uses Lionel Atwill sparingly. He's a lurking presence throughout in the first couple of acts, before coming to the forefront in the ending. Moreland meanwhile gets a fair bit of screentime, even if there are a few long-ish gaps. He's not an important character to the story until the climax, but he does provide a lot of the humour. He gets many funny moments such as his his memory tests, haggling a police officer who's wanting for for booze, and the hilarious ending.
Other hilarious moments include some golden dialogue like:
Jerry: "Why I oughta break your neck"-Kit: "Why?"-Jerry: "Oh there are a thousand reasons"-Kit: "Just give me one-Jerry: "Well, that silly guy from Bermuda who fed pretzels to the fish in the aquarium"-"-Kit: "I was only studying him"-Jerry"Yeah, in night school"-Kit: "Well you were taking a correspondent's course with that redhead."-Jerry "Oh, that was business. A legitimate suspect"
Dude: "Church? Any relation?"-Jerry: "Only by Marriage"-Dude: "Oh, isn't that rather sudden?"-Kit "Everything that's happened to me since I've met Jerry has been rather sudden...and usually violent."
"The names Church. Jerry Church. I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage"-Lady: "That's the way to have any man!"
There's more snappy dialogue where that came for, and I shan't spoil it all. It's a hoot to watch!
There's good acting all-round from everybody. There's a surprising and kinda weird small role from Shemp Howard of all people! It's actually not as shocking when you realise Mantan was considered to be a new member of the Three Stooges after Curly Howard's death. As for my thoughts on that, it would've been interesting for sure, and great for the Stooges to have a black member as well as a new 'character' rather than continuously trying to impersonate their dead members, but on the other hand I'm glad Moreland's career was wholly his own.
The direction here is really good, especially coupled with the set design. This looks like a movie with love and care behind its looks rather than a cheap done-in-one shot over a couple of plywood walls masquerading as a wall.
The Strange Case of Doctor RX may only be an hour long but it feels longer, in a good way, which is the mark of an attention grabbing film! It's an entertaining mystery-comedy, and certainly deserves the title of strange!...
The 12 Days of Mantan Moreland: Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher (1943)
A wave of crime has swept the city and it seems like the police are powerless to stop it. One night, the body of a gangster is discovered by psychology student Cosmo Jones, who fancies himself an amateur criminologist. Determined to help the police and bring a stop to these foul deeds, he enlists the help of local janitor Eustace to help. Meanwhile, heiress Phyllis Blake is kidnapped, and it seems only the one and only Cosmo Jones can rescue her...
Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher doesn't get off to a great start, as it takes forever for its protagonist to be introduced. Almost 10 minutes! For all that time I was wondering if any of the characters we'd met so far were the titular Cosmo Jones, but nope, he just takes his sweet time showing up. The same goes for Eustace too, who's a main character as well, with a sizeable role, yet doesn't show up until the 20 minute mark! This is only an hour long film, mind you!
While Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher feels like a total character jumble at first, it actually ends up being quite well realised. Once you get to know the barrage of people introduced, they're the ones who stick around. The young cop Flanagan, his grumpy boss Murphy, kooky investigator Cosmo, janitor turned crimefighter Eustace, and the three or so villains. It's a surprisingly manageable cast once you get your head around them!
The story here is quite a fun one, with a few twists and turns, and a good climax, with a few tense moments and clever ploys.
Onto the characters. With a sobriquet like Crime Smasher I guess I was expecting someone a little more burly and less weedy. Cosmo Jones is a little annoying at first, and comes across as the kind of know-it-all you just wanna slap. He ends up improving as a character once he's got Eustace to talk to. I guess because he's a more willing ear and more impressed, whereas the police are obviously about as interested in a PI getting all up in their affairs as a rash of appendicitis, with Cosmo's book smarts and lack of real experience rubbing these officers' and their street smarts up the wrong way! Ultimately, Cosmo Jones is an endearing and entertaining protagonist, and it would've been fun seeing him get further adventures.
An aforementioned issue is the amount of time it takes for this hero to show up. There are even times where he seems superfluous in the face of the police protagonists, like when he goes to convince Miss Blake to vindicate Flanagan, and the very next scene has Blake visiting Flanagan herself to tell the truth. This actually is because of Cosmo, which is a plus, but means a not insignificant scene played out entirely offscreen!
Moreland's character doesn't feel subservient at all (he's even referred to as Sir by the protagonist in their first meeting!), and him holding a menial job doesn't play into how anyone treats him because his capacity in the film is as an investigator, and people treat him as such. It's very refreshing to have a black character in an older film treated with utmost respect. He also plays a big role at the end in helping stop the bad guys, taking out a couple himself! Evildoers beware of Mantan Moreland, for he will strike you with his giant hammer of justice!
The long suffering Captain Murphy is portrayed well by genre stalwart Edgar Kennedy, who plays the role with his usual amount of bluster, entertaining thoroughly. The remainder of the cast are pretty fleshed out, save for the villains, who are fine antagonists, but not terribly developed.
Flaws aside, Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher is a really enjoyable watch, and well worth checking out!...
The 12 Days of Mantan Moreland: Chasing Trouble (1940)
Jimmy 'Cupid' O'Brien and his coworker and friend Jefferson work for a flower company, and the young graphology aficionado is deadset on setting up his friend Susie with a good boyfriend. He kills two birds with one stone by getting her a new job at the flower place and finding her a prospective new date with a regular customer. It turns out however that the company is a front for a sinister scheme to destabilise the country...
Chasing Trouble is alright. The spy plot is fun enough, though it kinda feels like it's stepping on the feet of what was going to be the story, i.e. a silly matchmaking story. I also feel it's pretty lazy to anchor the inciting (and indeed only) clue of an entire film to something as psuedoscientific and wildly misleading as Graphology.
Darro continues his trend of playing entitled little shits, this time around being obsessed with graphology. When reading Susie's romantic correspondences (dude, not cool!), he's convinced her suitor isn't the right sort because of the 'womanish' way he writes his words, and for that reason she shouldn't marry him. It of course ends up being Susie herself who wrote the letters out of boredom, so Jimmy has to backpedal to avoid a kick in the teeth. Afterwards, he doesn't improve, like when he calls his mother a murderer to her face because of how her handwriting looks. Just about the only endearing thing about him is how he never pursues Susie for himself. It's refreshing to see a man and woman in a movie just being friends, and helping each-other's romantic endeavours with no jealousy entailed.
It's a bit annoying how Jimmy constantly calls himself a Graphologist when he's not even that! He's just a schmuch who read a book on the subject. His attitude isn't much better, saying stuff to women superior to him like "Don't argue with me" in a really patronising tone, He chides Jeff for being late, yet he's often the cause of their lateness, and when Jeff points this out, Jimmy just says Jeff should be ashamed of himself for 'not caring about Susie'. Ughhh! Susie is much better. She loses points for not slapping Jimmy upside the head, but she certainly does have her moments. I quite liked the police highway officer Cassidy too, who makes for a pretty endearing and useful comic relief character.
While he doesn't get a great deal to do (though he saves the day in the climax through a judicious disposing of a bomb), Jeff is still plenty of fun, and enlivens the movie. He gets some snark too.
Jimmy-"Is that all?"- Jeff: "That's enough!".
Jimmy: "Well, according to this, Morgan isn't a G-Man."-Jeff "How can you tell?"- Jimmy: "Well this claims he's a liar!"-Jeff: "How does that prove he ain't no G-Man?".
The acting here is pretty good. Marjorie Reynolds is once again a welcome presence, and Alex Callam plays a decently charismatic villain, who you can believe as a manipulator. Moreland gets quite consistent screentime here. Even when he's not in the forefront, he's usually at least present, since he and Jimmy's jobs depends on the two working together. The rest of the acting is pretty mediocre, with some quite bad phonetic line readings in a couple of scenes.
For the last Frankie Darro vehicle I'm looking at this year, I'm glad this one ended up as being at least somewhat of a high note. It's about on par with Irish Luck, with an equal amount of stupidity but more positivity overall...
The 12 Days of Mantan Moreland: Irish Luck (1939)
Y'know, I'm beginning to get the distinct impression that all these Darro-Moreland vehicles are exactly the bloody same
Buzzy O'Brien is a young hotel bellhop and a crime enthusiast, much to the chagrin of the local policeman and friend of the family Lanahan. His bad habit of playing detective leads him to discovering a dead body. He discovers a woman fleeing the scene of the crime, and due to her Irish surname, Buzzy decides to help her evade the police, all while trying to find the murderer...
I found Irish Luck to be quite a pleasant surprise. Out of all the Darro vehicles/films I've seen so far, this felt the 'best', since the murder actually takes front-and-centre stage, rather than feeling tacked on, or like an afterthought.
The ending is a bit of a downer though. Not only have Kitty and her brother completely vanished, but upon finding the killer and busting the bond smuggling operation wide open, we surprisingly don't get a scene where Lanahan shows a newfound admiration for Frankie's abilities, congratulating him on a case well done. Instead he just goes off on him the way he always does, things seem to loop, and there's a weak gag to close us out.
The film's opening is weird in how it feels at first like we've started midway through the film. It's also odd that the entire city grinds to a halt, with hundreds of cops and press, all because of a single 'person' attempting suicide from a rooftop. Once this prologue is out of the way it doesn't feel like a half-bad way of establishing the characters, despite the confusion.
The characters aren't that great. Buzzy is a dick to his friend, lying to and manipulating him. He's also really quick to help a perfect stranger who may well be a murderer. The explanation is slowly revealed as the movie goes on, and it's a tolerable yet shakey reason. He's helping her this much because she has an Irish name. That's it. His mother is skeptical about helping the girl out, but as soon as she hears her name is Monahan, she's suddenly all for it. It kinda smacks of elitism (does no-one else matter if they're of other nationalities?), and besides the Brits, the Irish have historically hated no-one else on Earth more than they do the Irish! I'm sure kinship in a fix among strangers does exist to an extent, but I doubt it extends to harbouring murder suspects you've literally never met before.
Moreland really gets the shaft here. His character feels less like a friend to Frankie and more like a gullible underling, at best. The direction he's given is pretty poor too, seeming pretty demeaning. Especially frustrating is how the authorities are always yelling at his character, no matter what, even though he never does anything wrong. Even when he gets to save the day in the end, they've still got nothing nice to say.
Lillian Elliot, the same actress to play Darro's mother in On the Spot returns in the same role here, and she's alright. Dick Purcell is also present, and a lot angrier than he usually is. The villain, meanwhile, is rather obvious, as once again there's literally only one character it could be.
Irish Luck is overall a pretty mediocre movie, and it'd pale if you compared it to an A-picture, but compared to previous Frankie Darro outings, it's a breath of fresh air, lacking many of the problems those movies had. I still don't recommend it, but it's the best of a pretty bad bunch, so if you wanna watch any of the Darro-Moreland films, Irish Luck should be your first selection...
The 12 Days of Mantan Moreland: On the Spot (1940)
Pharmacy soda boy Frankie and hotel porter Jeff are chatting away when they're suddenly accosted by a mystery man, who makes a phone call to an underworld associate asking them to come over to town, and that he'll entrust the information he needs to know with these two kids, as he knows he's not much longer for the world. Once that the call finishes, he says "Tell him that...that..." then proceeds to ungratefully die mid-sentence, leaving the two boys in one heck of a jam, when neither the gangsters nor the police believe it really happened that way, convinced they know more than they're letting on...
On the Spot is a dull little affair. The story feels too laidback for its own good. Early on, I briefly thought the movie might get a little clever and reveal oncoming crook Smiling Bill to be the female reporter. I figured she wouldn't be a love interest since the pharmacist's daughter already fills that role, and that leaves literally only one other possibility for her in a film like this-A femme fatale. Unfortunately Smiling Bill is just some random guy. The reporter lady does pretty much nothing, as if the writers genuinely didn't know how to write for a female character who wasn't a doe-eyed love interest, or a figurative-moustache twirling villain. She gets a couple of tiny scenes that are somewhat ok, but a 1940s cheapie film isn't gonna go much in for genuine three-dimensional characters. On that note, the love interest gets pretty screwed over for screentime too. Goddammit, I wanna watch a movie about these two women. They're way more likeable than Frankie Darro!
Just when the film was beginning to bore me, it threw a curveball and got my attention again, only to promptly squander it once more. It's only in the final 19 minutes when the leads finally bother investigating the case themselves The identity of the murderer is kinda obvious, given there's only one person it could be ('Gee, I wonder who the killer is? Could it perhaps be the high falutin' asshole who's literally the only suspect?', I thought). There's a pretty tense climax, but it spoils itself by letting the killer get away unidentified, and the film meanders along for another 10 minutes before the actual conclusion. This second climax does at least let the lead do something clever and in keeping with his character, so that's appreciated.
On the Spot isn't really racist, but isn't that progressive. The 'Mr. Frankie-Jeff' problem crops up again, and is akin to if Costello always called his partner Mr. Abbott. Making it worse is the fact that Frankie Darro is a 3 foot tall gnat who has no business not calling anyone Mr. or Mrs. There's one irritating moment when the police detective is asking the two for testimony, yet only tolerates hearing it from Frankie, telling Jeff to shut up when he offers his side of the story.
The acting's ok. Darro is almost annoying, Moreland comes close to stealing the show, while Mary Kornman and Maxine Leslie are good but underused. Interestingly, the guy playing the sheriff has a John Carradine style voice!
On the Spot is mediocre, but a tolerable watch...
The 12 Days of Mantan Moreland: Up in the Air (1940)
Young page Frankie spends his time at work holding auditions for new secretaries like Anne Mason, masquerading as a high up employee. Lucky to have not yet been fired, he's reprimanded, and the bosses' attention is focused squarely on Rita Wilson, the radio station's troublemaking starlet. Soon after, she's shot to death during a broadcast rehearsal, and Frankie sets out to find the killer...
Up in the Air is a pretty mediocre flick. The story takes a very unexpected turn 16 minutes in, changing from a typical Sing Hostess style movie of a talented young singer working a menial desk job triumphing over a bitchy and conceited starlet, to a murder mystery! As much as I love whodunnits, I was actually preferring where the movie was previously headed, especially since the mystery plotline is a disappointment. We get no clues, and the characters don't even find any until the last ten or so minutes. As for the reveal, my reaction on finding out the killer's identity was '...Who?', which says it all.
The lead character of Frankie has all the sex appeal you'd expect from someone whose vocabulary includes the phrase "I won't take no for an answer". Upon Rita Wilson's murder, he's more concerned with trying to groom Anne Mason as a replacement (with a grin on his face, too), all with the express purpose of getting laid rather than out of altruism to a friend. To top all that off, he's possessive when other men deign to talk to her, and he becomes furious when she gets popular, but he's not. What a vile little prick! He eventually becomes bearable, but there's only like 15-20 minutes left of the movie at that point.
Jeff is a likeable presence, not adding much to the story, but appreciated by me all the same. Meanwhile, Anne is the best character in the movie. I especially loved how she calls Frankie 'Page' for almost the entire film. Also neat is that while you assume it'll happen offscreen after the movie ends, the two never actually get together! Yay!
You probably weren't wondering if this movie has any blackface. The answer is yes, by the way. I can only imagine Mantan slapped either Darro upside the head, or whoever else thought this was even a remotely good idea. The biggest crime besides that is the skit itself is actually pretty funny, but its ruined by Darro's offensive make-up and delivery. Also, who wears blackface (or any kind of make-up for that matter) for a radio show?! Who I tell you? To be fair though, there is a reason for that, and it does lead to a funny line from Jeff!
Also questionable is how Moreland's character always calls Darro's Mr. Frankie, but he always just says Jeff in return. Some friend you are, you casually racist bastard!
Coming to the acting, Frankie Darro didn't impress, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt just this once and assume he was let down by a lacklustre script. Marjorie Reynolds is pretty fun, and she can sing well, too. I wasn't crazy about her Conga number at the end, but was otherwise decently impressed. Moreland is playing his pretty stock standard role, but does so well. Everyone else does ok jobs.
Up in the Air is not very good, but not entirely a waste of time, and has its mildly, mildly entertaining moments...
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