Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Warner Archive: "You Said a Mouthful" (1932)

Directed by: Lloyd Bacon

Writing Credits:
Robert Lord (screenplay)
Bolton Mallory (screenplay)
William B. Dover (based on a story by)

Starring: Joe E. Brown, Ginger Rogers, Preston Foster, Allen 'Farina' Hoskins, Harry Gibbon, Edwin Maxwell.

Released by: First National and Vitaphone Pictures.

It should be noted that I am not a Joe E. Brown fan. I am a Ginger Rogers fan. This is the second Joe E. Brown vehicle I have watched for Miss Rogers- the first being The Tenderfoot (1932)- and I am grateful that it will also be the last. While I didn't dislike this film, I just don't find Brown to be particularly funny. Amusing, yes...but rarely funny. Of course, his performance in Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot (1959) is a notable exception- but it is one in a sea of many.

While I am admittedly not a fan, there's no denying the impact Joe E. Brown had on the film industry in the 1930's. He become a star during the most tentative period in Hollywood history (and when most actors and actresses were losing their star appeal, not gaining it)- the transition to "talkies". For a period, he was one of Hollywood's highest paid stars and also one of the top box office draws (in 1932, Joe E. Brown ranked 10th on the list of top box office stars, alongside Gable, Crawford, Shearer and Garbo). Unfortunately, unlike comedians Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, The Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardy, W.C. Fields, Abbott & Costello etc., his comedy has been unable to stand the test of time.

Joe E. Brown's road to Hollywood stardom was certainly unique. In 1902 (at the age of 9), Joe ran away and joined the circus- oddly enough, with the full consent of his parents! After touring circus arenas and vaudeville theater's for several years with a tumbling act called The Five Marvelous Ashtons, Joe left show business to pursue a professional Baseball career. Despite his considerable talent and a contract on the table from the New York Yankees, Joe decided he preferred the entertainment industry and promptly returned to the circus. In 1920, he made his Broadway debut in the musical comedy revue Jim Jam Jems and, as the years progressed, his popularity began to soar. In 1928, Hollywood came knocking and Joe was quick to answer. While he recieved several supporting roles upon his transition to films, it wasn't until he was signed to a long-term contract with Warner Brothers in 1929 that he began to register with the public.

After starring in a slew of lavish technicolor musical comedies for Warner Brothers in 1930 and 1931, Joe E. Brown became a star in his own right and, accordingly, found his name above the title. He was showcased in a series of films tailored to his specific comedic talents and the audience responded favorably. Films such as Fireman, Save My Child (1932), The Tenderfoot (1932), Elmer, the Great (1933), Son of a Sailor (1933), A Very Honorable Guy (1934) and Alibi Ike (1935) cemented his status as a top-box office draw for Warner Brothers and made him one of their most valuable comedians.

You Said a Mouthful was made in 1932, the year in which Joe E. Brown featured in the list of the top 10 box office perfomers. At the height of his popularity and appeal, this film is a typical showcase of his talents. The film clocks in at 72 minutes and stars Joe E. Brown as Joe Holt, a hapless shipping clerk who heads to Los Angeles after being told he is the sole heir to his Aunt's million dollar fortune. Unfortunately, upon arrival in L.A., he learns he was misinformed as to the size of the fortune and, in fact, has only inherited a handful of well as the young son of his Aunt's faithful maid (portrayed by the extremely talented young actor, Allen Hoskins). After being forced to take up residency on a park bench, Holt unwillingly accepts a minimum wage job as a bus boy on Catalina Island. While waiting to board their ferry (and accept their measly fate), a case of mistaken identity ensues and Holt (with his new son, Sam, in towe) is promptly whisked away by the young, beautiful socialite Alice Brandon (Ginger Rogers). He soon learns that he has been mistaken for a champion marathon swimmer and is expected to compete in a swim from Catalina Island to the mainland in a matter of days. Determined to win Alice's love- and steal her away from the handsome Ed Dover (Preston Foster), who also happens to be a professional swimmer- Holt (with Sam's help) begins to train for the event. There's only one major complication to his otherwise foolproof plan (ha!)- he's terrified of water and can't swim.

To it's credit, You Said a Mouthful makes the absolute most of a less-than-flimsy plot line. Filmed on the beautifully scenic Catalina Island in California, this nonsensical comedy is actually quite enjoyable (as long as you don't think too hard about what's happening). Ginger Rogers is a little shaky (and very high-pitched) in her performance as Alice Brandon- but it's inconsequential to the plot. Ginger is merely an explanation for Joe E. Brown's zany antics and she serves her purpose accordingly. The real highlight, for mine, was Allen Hoskins as Holt's adopted son, Sam. Better known as Farina from the Our Gang series, his performance oozes with self-assured confidence (no doubt a byproduct of his age and encouraged by his considerable talent). He never once allows himself to be outclassed by the more experienced Brown and, in fact, enhances the latter's performance. Unfortunately, as I intimated earlier, Brown's comedy style comes across as rather dated. The film is predominately comprised of sight gags, most of which utilize his considerably large mouth (and, as expected, it gets pretty old, pretty fast). There has been over 80 years of comedy (and comedians) since Joe E. Brown first started in pictures and, unfortunately, his particular brand of comedy is not unique enough (or funny enough) to separate him from the pack and ensure a long-lasting legacy. While I enjoyed this film, I don't think I would ever find myself going back for a repeat viewing.

Print Quality

As with all the recent Warner Archive releases, this film is restored to the highest possible quality. There are still quite a few scratches throughout (which is to be expected), but overall the picture is clear and the frame is soft while still maintaining contrast. The film's gorgeous location shooting is immaculately presented in this print, enhancing the overall movie watching experience.

My Rating

Warner Archive releases can be purchased through their website or through Amazon. This review is in no way affiliated with either website.

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