—It Has It’s Moments—
Your Bogie Film Fix:
Director: Tay Garnett
A by-the-book accountant (Leslie Howard) audits a Hollywood movie studio and is wooed by a former child star (Joan Blondell).
What I Thought
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke describes some of the key symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome as “poor communication skills, obsessive or repetitive routines, an intense interest or fascination with specific topics, and physical clumsiness.” While behavioral science was still decades away from coining the name for the condition, Director Tay Garnett and film star Leslie Howard created a character who so perfectly exhibits the symptoms, it’s like they had a textbook from which to work.
Howard’s Atterbury Dodd is a classic case of Asperger’s if there ever was one.
He is consumed with numbers to the point that he believes all of life can be broken down as if it’s an equation waiting to be solved. He so lacks empathy with others during conversations that he can hardly recognize the chaos he creates around himself – missing obvious social cues and/or revealing unfortunate blunt truths that most people would keep to themselves. He’s also a walking-accident as he fumbles, bumps, falls, gets walked upon, and even gets tossed over the shoulder of the young lady who’s trying to woo him.
So to what does all this lead? A man who’s so obsessed with the numbers in his head that instead of picking up on the flirtations of the young, blonde, former child star in front of him, he judo-throws her over his shoulder and against the wall. Oh, don’t worry, she doesn’t hold it against him – after all, with such a lack of able bodied men in Hollywood, a lady can’t be picky, right?
And therein lies the main problem with this film. The love story at the heart of the plot, which is meant to create the emotional core for the entire story, is just not believable. What in the world does Joan Blondell’s administrative assistant see in Leslie Howard’s oblivious accountant? He’s handsome. Oh, and then there’s . . . well, he’s handsome, I guess.
Howard’s accountant only cares about the studio’s bottom line, never minding for a second the hundreds of employees that make their living from the films that are being made. He ignores anything resembling a compassionate thought, only displaying any desire or emotion whatsoever while making an attempt to court a ditsy Hollywood starlet (Marla Shelton) who’s only playing him for her boss (C. Henry Gordon).
To be fair, I’m being pretty hard on what’s meant to be a harmless romantic comedy. Lots of great character actors are solid in their supporting roles, and Bogart is quite good in a smaller supporting role, but shouldn’t a romantic comedy at least be built upon believable chemistry between its stars?
Not a must see by any means unless you’re a die hard Howard, Blondell, or Bogart fan. All three of them have some good bits sprinkled throughout the film, but the script just doesn’t do enough to support them.
The Bogart Factor
Playing movie producer Doug Quintain, Bogart has probably the most realistic and interesting character in the entire film. An occasionally boozy movie exec with a thing for the leading lady (Marla Shelton) of his current cinematic disaster, Bogart is a reluctant ally to Howard’s intrusive accountant – fully aware that the hopes and dreams manufactured for the silver screen by his studio are being propped up with nothing more than the flimsiest of set dressings.
Quintain is mired up to his shoulders in the silliness of Tinsel Town, but his deep passion and appreciation for the business, and the people who work within it, make him fight until the end to keep the studio afloat.
It’s a solid outing for Bogart, so while the film is probably not a must see for casual fans, those who love Bogie’s comedic side will find some good stuff here.
Leslie Howard plays Atterbury Dodd, the aforementioned math-obsessed accountant. Howard’s good in the role, fussily obsessed with the minutia of Hollywood bookkeeping (And what the heck is the deal with the ashtrays? Such a wonderful quirk for Howard and Director Garnett to add!), but as I stated earlier, all of his chemistry with Joan Blondell suffers because, well, people who don’t feel empathy have a hard time garnering sympathy. It’s hard to understand why Blondell is in love with him. It’s hard to understand why he finally returns the affections for a woman that he cannot identify with.
That said, there are a few really great scenes in the film between Howard and Blondell, and between Howard and Bogart. When Blondell tries to teach Howard judo, we get perhaps the greatest laugh in the film. And when Howard finally teams up with Bogart to save a movie production, it’s the camaraderie that we’ve been waiting for since the beginning of the movie.
Also, the scene at the end where Howard is literally overrun by unemployed studio laborers, only to finally learn how to talk humanely to his fellow man, is handled very well, and it’s one of the few moments of believable character growth that we’re given for his Dodd.
Joan Blondell plays former child star Lester Plum, who spends her days in this film as a stand-in for Marla Shelton and as an administrative assistant to Howard’s accountant. Other than the complete lack of logic behind her attraction for Howard’s character (he tossed her across the room for goodness sakes!), Blondell does a great job as the spunky girl-next-door who sees the humanity behind the Hollywood machine. Blondell is super cute, garners what little pathos the film’s clunky plot can muster, and is able to create laughs even when the script falls flat. Plus, her dictation scene with Howard is hands-down the best moment of the film.
Bogie Film Blog favorite Jack Carson plays the buffoonish publicist Tom Potts. I can’t believe I’m about to write this, but Carson actually achieves a level of obnoxiousness that left me disliking his character. Not that he did a bad job! Actually, I think it’s a credit to his acting skill that he was able to make himself unlovable despite how gosh darn likable he always tends to be in every film! A great showing by a great character actor.
Alan Mowbray does a wonderful job as a thick-accented wannabe auteur, Koslosfski. If anything, the film could have benefited from a few more scenes as good as the one in which he pitches a fit over using artificial flowers on a back lot ski slope film set.
Maria Shelton plays the leading lady in Bogart’s horrible film, Miss Cheri. It’s an uphill battle for Shelton to get any attention here as she’s tasked with acting next to Bogart, Howard, Blondell, and the wonderfully over-the-top Alan Mowbray, so there’s not much room for her to shine here, but she does fine establishing herself as the pampered diva.
Henry Gordon plays Nassau, the businessman who’s trying to swindle his way into getting Howard to sell him the movie studio at a greatly reduced price. Again, not a huge role, but Gordon does well in establishing his character.
Classic Bogie Moment
This look of death says it all, doesn’t it? There’s a desperate madman in there somewhere, always ready to spring out.
The Bottom Line
Worth a watch if it pops up on TCM, but probably not worth going out of your way to find on Amazon for thirty or forty bucks!