Trying to make full use of my Criterion Channel subscription (the best streaming option out there if you like classic and arthouse films), I’ve been spending most of my moviewatching time lately letting Criterion be my guide. Usually they add two or three new programming blocks each month with different focuses – this month they’re Screwball Comedies, Snow Westerns, and Sight & Sound’s Greatest Films. Those features are available for a couple of months and then they cycle off. It’s great for catching up on lesser-known films or picking up some blind spots.
At a different stage of my life I might be devouring the Sight & Sound collection, but I find that right now, all I really want are Hollywood classics – reverting to my childhood upbringing? Perhaps. Anyway. This means I’ve been bingeing the few remaining Screwball classics I hadn’t already seen (and to be honest I may rewatch some old favorites before the month is out!) and I also plan to check out several of the Snow Westerns. I figured I’d post about what I’ve been watching.
This is an almost ridiculously great set of movies here, filled out with some absolute obscurities, which is the best kind of programming the Criterion Channel does. Fill in must-see gaps, rewatch old favorites, and check out something I’ve never heard of? Sign me up.
If you’re new to the world of screwball comedies, just know this – they are madcap comedies usually featuring a battle of the sexes, with some of the wittiest dialogue, zaniest plots, and most interesting characters (especially women characters) in the classic era. There are some absolute must-sees in this programming, like It Happened One Night (1934), The Awful Truth (1937), His Girl Friday (1940), The Lady Eve (1941), Ball of Fire (1941), Sullivan’s Travels (1941), and To Be or Not to Be (1943). Second tier perhaps but still great if you love screwballs: Twentieth Century (1934), Theodora Goes Wild (1936), Easy Living (1937), Holiday (1938), Midnight (1939), The Palm Beach Story (1942), The More the Merrier (1943), Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944), and Hail the Conquering Hero (1944). Of course fans will argue with my placement there, and I might argue with myself.
But for me, I’m going for the obscurities – so the past couple of weeks I’ve already watched three that I hadn’t even heard of before now, and I enjoyed all three!
Love is News (1937)
In this Tay Garnett-directed comedy, Tyrone Power is a hotshot reporter whose failing paper was just taken over by his former friend current antagonist Don Ameche – they have an ongoing love-hate relationship throughout the film. The screwball comes in when Ty attempts to nail the story of an heiress ditching her titled fiancé. The heiress (played by Loretta Young) is tired of newspapermen hounding her, and especially tired of Ty personally, as he’s misrepresented her before in published interviews. She takes the unlikely step of telling all the OTHER newspapermen that she’s engaged to Ty, which puts him in the limelight and gives him a taste of his own medicine. This leads to lots of sparring and also obviously them falling in love for real. Some fun people show up in supporting roles, notably a disgruntled George Sanders as the dumped fiancé, who is kind of a heel. There are elements of Libeled Lady (1936), His Girl Friday (1940), and It Happened One Night (1934) in here – it’s not as good as any of those, but it’s plenty of fun.
Murder, He Says (1945)
So it’s kind of like Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) crossed with The Cat and the Canary (1929) except instead of kindly old Aunts in Brooklyn, it’s ornery hillbillies in the Ozarks. Fred MacMurray is the hapless guy here, a pollster looking for a colleague who disappeared a few weeks back, only to find himself stuck in the backwoods with a family who’ll do anything they can to get their hands on the fortune stolen and hidden by cousin Bonnie, currently away in state prison. The family becomes convinced MacMurray is Bonnie’s boyfriend, which becomes more convoluted when Bonnie shows up, except it ain’t Bonnie, it’s a sweet young girl who needs to find the money to exonerate her father, an innocent implicated in the robbery. Yes, the plot is complicated, and it’s a pretty black comedy at times, but it ultimately does build in hilarity as the real Bonnie turns up and everything escalates beyond belief. Honestly, I had such a great time with this, I have no idea why I’d never heard of it before. Deserves more of an audience!
You Never Can Tell (1951)
Okay, as soon as I read Criterion’s plot description of this thing I knew I had to watch it. Here’s the short version. A millionaire leaves his fortune to his dog King when he dies, an odd but not particularly unheard of occurrence. But then King is poisoned. And then he goes to Beastatory – like Purgatory for animals. King requests to return to earth to solve his murder, and the leader of Beastatory (a lion, of course), agrees that he can return for three days as a human private detective (played by Dick Powell!) to give it a try. Actually, sorry, he’s a “humanimal.” He’s accompanied by a horse who returns as one of those pert private eye secretary types but she wears a hat with horse ears, carries a purse shaped like a feedbag, and can outrun buses. The detective, Rex Shepherd (King is a German Shepherd) also snacks on kibble. It’s seriously bizarre. Beastatory is depicted in the weirdest golden bass relief visuals; it’s seriously kind of terrifying. I have no idea who this movie is FOR. It’s silly enough to be for kids, but also too bizarre and sometimes scary. That said, I…quite enjoyed it. So apparently it’s a movie for me. People who like bizarre and ridiculous things. So yeah.