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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

JOY OF LIVING (1938)

Exclude Preston Sturges and you barely need all your fingers & a set of toes to count the great Screwball Comedies. Irene Dunne had just starred in one (THE AWFUL TRUTH/’37) when she made this decidedly second-tier effort. She’s a B’way star with a new hit & a dysfunctional family to support when Boston scapegrace Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. sweeps her off her feet (literally) in spite of her protestations and asks her to join him on his island paradise. Is he for real? Is walking away from it all the path to happiness? There’s a lot that’s right about this one: Tay Garnett helms like the pro he was; a willing cast of eccentrics are on hand (Eric Blore, Franklin Pangborn, Billy Gilbert, a young Lucille Ball & a blissed out pair of twin girls); Doug & Irene for a dazzling toothsome twosome; we even get to visit a roller skating rink for ‘crack the whip.’ But the set ups & gags all seem pretty forced, especially after the smash opening reel. DISSOLVE TO OPENING: A B’way Marque; a phalanx of men in tuxedos; a Van Nest Polglase set worthy of Fred Astaire in TOP HAT; Irene Dunne up front, basking in Joseph Walker’s molten monochrome lensing; songs from Jerome Kern & Dorothy Fields (including ‘You Couldn’t Be Sweeter’). But then the meet-cute comes on like a case of criminal stalking, the boozy jokes grow flat as last night’s beer, and the comic repetitions begin to feel like desperation. Oh well, enjoy the tasty bits.

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