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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

CAIRO (1942)

The dark early days of WWII sparked some of the lighter wartime comedies, like this farcical spy yarn that tosses an American greenhorn into international intrigue. Naturally, the sap confuses his mystery ‘contact’ with the Nazi spy (and vice versa). Hilarity (and eventual romance) ensues. Or would four months later @ Paramount in Bob Hope’s MY FAVORITE BLONDE/’42.* Alas, we’re billeted @ stuffy M-G-M, our newsman/spy is blandly pleasant Robert Young (without a decent comic hook as the small town reporter on special assignment), and the lady who ain’t a spy is singing star Jeanette MacDonald, game but overloaded with talkie exposition in place of a character. It’s harmless, but story & dialogue are too lazy (or dumb) to be much fun, while ‘Woody’ (One-Take) Van Dyke megs flatly, pausing here & there for self-referential film yucks. (The only good gag in here has Young deciphering Jeanette’s coloratura into Morse Code.) Mona Barrie makes a decent impression as the real Nazi spy, but the sole cause for rejoicing is the chance to see Ethel Waters in a rare screen appearance. She’s MacDonald’s maid (natch) and performing partner! (Hope she’s paid overtime for her two songs.) Unexpectedly, these gals show some real rapport. As a bonus, you get a shot at seeing Waters & Dooley Wilson (her B’way spouse on CABIN IN THE SKY) duet & work a cute little scene. Wilson would segue to Warners for Sam in CASABLANCA/’42 while Waters would get Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson, a bigger ‘colored’ star, as hubby in the superb film version of CABIN IN THE SKY/’43.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: *As mentioned, Hope & Madeleine Carroll in MY FAVORITE BLONDE/’42. OR: For a straighter, if not exactly serious thriller on the same naive American reporter/international espionage idea, Hitchcock’s prescient FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT/’40.

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