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Sunday, December 5, 2010

CALL IT A DAY (1937)

Dodie Smith, best known for ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS/'61, wrote this Spring Fever comedy about One Crazy Day* in the life of the Hiltons, an unexpectedly randy upperclass British family. Not that anyone acts on their urges. Heavens! Dad’s secretary has a crush on him, but he’s too busy getting vamped by a glamorous actress/client to notice. Mom is also the target of a persistent suitor, and she’s flattered by the attention. Their eldest boy all but falls out the window to meet the blond next door and his two sisters extravagantly pine for a happily married portrait painter and the Rossetti sketch he owns. Only the servants (three for a family of five!) seem immune to the change in the weather. (Ain’t that a switch!) The director, Archie Mayo, normally a bit of a duffer for Warners, encourages a manic atmosphere that drives the play’s modest charms far too hard. Olivia De Havilland all but bounces off the wall as a lovesick teen, and the nice enough cast (Ian Hunter, Anita Louise, Bonita Granville, Walter Woolf King, Roland Young) all speak in the insufferably cultivated manner of British drawing room theatre. (You can still hear it weekday nights when Diane Sawyer delivers the news on ABC.) Only Una O’Connor, as a misanthropic housekeeper, cuts thru the tony murk with a voice like a serrated knife. Less than three decades later, Joe Orton would grab that knife and show how to use it on this sort of thing.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: *Mozart's THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO is actually subtitled 'One Crazy Day,' and it too is about a big horny household. Even the servants . . . especially the servants! Opera on DVD isn't for everyone, but try to find the wonderful old Decca recording under Josef Krips on CD or get the new, zippy René Jacobs led perf on Harmonia Mundi. Instead of a WATCH THIS alternative of great cinema, have a LISTEN TO THIS alternative of great art. WARNING: Dodie Smith & Archie Mayo are hardly a fair fight against Mozart & De Ponte! This could keep you off DVDs for weeks.

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