Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Korda brothers, 1932

Last month TCM highlighted the films of the Korda brothers which was an especially big treat for me. Not only were some of my favorite films shown (That Hamilton Woman, Fire Over England and The Private Life of Henry the VIII) but I got to find see several films I'd never seen before. The excellent Vacation from Marriage, which I've already discussed and the almost equally excellent Wedding Rehearsal and Service for Ladies .

If you are half as fond as I am of Jeeves and Wooster or the world of PJ Woodhouse, you will probably enjoy Wedding Rehearsal . Imagine Jeeves and Wooster where Jeeves is a woman and she winds up marrying Wooster and you'll just about have it right. Roland Young gives an energetic and sparkling performance as Reggie, a gadabout playboy who enjoys his freedom and his bachelor lifestyle (complete with an affair with married woman) so much that when his granny presents him with a list of seven eligible women in England for him to marry he sets about making matches with his friends for all of them. The list is carefully prepared by his gran's companion, Hutchy, (Merle Oberon) who admires Reggie from afar given her status as little better than servant to his family. As in the world of Woodhouse, Reggie's friends are a lot of silly public school men who have names like "Toodles" and "Bimbo" and the women are flighty, rich and spoiled. The first names on his list are the Roxbury Twins, whom it is difficult to tell apart, excpet that one is a dog fancier and the other fancies cats. When the cats and dogs inevitably get together it constitutes a servant crisis as the poor retainers try to extricate the howling, scratching beasts. This is all very funny and since one of the dogs is a wire haired terrier like Asta, I couldn't help but feel shades of screwball comedy.

Reggie manages to get the Roxbury twins engaged to Toodles and Bimbo and it's one of the films best gags that Lord Roxbury refuses to get their nicknames right calling them "Boodles" and "Timbo" most of the time. When all upper crust society gathers for the wedding rehearsal Reggie is given an ultimatum, "get engaged this week-end or start over with next season's debutantes." Unable to face the prospect of more flighty, rich spoiled young women, Reggie does the sensible thing and falls in love with Hutchy. Merle Oberon is adorable looking though underused in her role. I think she can manage the Joan Fontaine routine quite well and it's a shame she didn't get more of these type of roles. She was a fairly able comedian and I've always liked her in the Divorce of Lady X with Laurence Olivier. I can't help but wish she was given just a bit more to do even though Roland Young very ably carries the bulk of the film with his hijinks. Lady Tree is particularly good as the Roxbury the twins' sweet, but dimwitted mother. So lets see you have barking dogs, a ditsy mom, an on again off again wedding, a rich man marrying his gal friday...Are you sure this isn't Columbia Pictures 1937? Nope it's London Films circa 1932 and the wonderful Korda brothers.

As part of my quest to begin to appreciate Leslie Howard I can safely say that I quite enjoyed him in Service For Ladies. I didn't exactly love him, but what can you do? I'm trying here, people. I should like Leslie Howard. He fits into that type I regularly go daffy for: English, stage-trained, handsome, and having the air of a man who is hiding a great deal of something interesting under his cool exterior. I think I've figured out that it boils down to his hair. When he lets his hair get messy he's great, (yay! Pygmalion) otherwise forget it. In Service for Ladies he plays a head waiter who is mistaken for royalty when he goes on vacation at a "winter sports hotel" in Austria. He falls in love with a well to do young American woman (Elizabeth Allan) and perceived class differences on both acounts keep them apart. The movie teases us with plenty of opportunities to mess up Howard's hair, but it never happens. He never goes skiing or ice skating or gets in a snowball fight. It's just not fair, how, long would it really have taken Korda brothers? Is this too much to ask? I think the answer to that lies in the fact that Service for Ladies was the Hungarian autheurs first film for an American company and was made on a total shoestring. Obviously Vincent Korda blew the entire budget for the picture filling every room in the "winter sports hotel" with dead animal heads and had no money left over to do a rear projection skiing sequence or to make a fake ice rink. Darn.

The story is further complicated when the Countess Ricardi (Benita Hume) shows up. It's heavily implied that she and Howard had an affair in the past but that he broke it off. The second half of the film turns into a fun bedroom farce with ladies popping in and out of Howard's room alternately kissing and slapping him. Eventually Howard's status as a head waiter comes out and the couple are sweetly reunited thanks to the good intentions of Howard's restaurant patrons who want nothing more than happiness for their favorite head waiter. So let's see you have a slightly naughty bedroom comedy, a slyly satirical knock at the upper classes, and a grand case of mistaken identity...Are you sure this isn't an Ernest Lubitsch film? Nope, again Korda brothers, 1932!


Lolita of the Classics said...

Wonderfully entertaining post! More Korda for me.

kda0121 said...

I really enjoyed Wedding Rehearsal and Service for Ladies. It's so interesting seeing Roland Young in the "handsome leading man" role. I thought Leslie Howard was quite good in his part in Service also. He really illustrated the difficulties of class difference in England at the time. Both are nice little movies.

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