Gentleman Jim (1942)

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A Boxer and a Gentleman

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

There’s something about Gentleman Jim which makes the film uplifting, it has a real aura of celebration to it. There’s nothing better than hearing Auld Lang Sang during the opening credits of a piece of classic Hollywood filmmaking. Compare this to the many bleak biopics which portray historical figures going through unprecedented amounts of suffering, Gentleman Jim really stands out with its combination of comedy and drama which never takes itself too seriously to create something unique; historical accuracy be dammed!

Errol Flynn and Jack Carson make for a fun duo as a pair of part time con-men. Flynn’s reaction at the film’s beginning to the pickpocket currently in the act of robbing him, just a quick “get outta there” and a slap on the wrist as he continues himself to con other people, it’s so brief you would almost miss it and if it doesn’t show what a great actor he is then I don’t know what will; such sly confidence.

Gentleman Jim is a movie full of blink-and-you-miss-them moments of subtle comedy. One of my favourite of these is the moment in which a child asks his mother during a fight “why doesn’t daddy look that like in his underwear” and her response of “shh, he did once”. I love the child’s reaction with his eye’s rolling up as if he’s saying “oh, I totally get it”. The movie does also have its more overt moments of humour in the form of Corbett’s entertaining family of screwballs led by a scenery chewing Alan Hale. Yet even Hale’s chewing of the scenery is outdone by Ward Bond as the over the top, manly force of nature that is John L. Sullivan.

Gentleman Jim differs from most boxing film partially due to its time period setting. The film acts as a piece of 1890’s nostalgia when there would still have been people alive in 1942 to remember this period. It is easily apparent the filmmakers put great strides into recreating the time period with its lush sets and great attention to detail. However the other aspect which makes the movie stand out amongst boxing pictures is its presentation of boxing as a real gentleman’s sport, making the movie really live up to its title. This isn’t a story with Rocky Balboas nor does it take place in sweaty, gritty inner city gyms. I guess somewhere along the way the sport of boxing became less sophisticated and more middle to lower class.

Classic Hollywood films are generally not known for their realistic boxing scenes with their use of sped up footage and not very convincing punches. Gentleman Jim does a better job than other boxing films of the era. Flynn learned to box for the role and no body doubles where used while the fights for the most part do come off as convincing.

The meeting between Corbett and Sullivan after their fight is the film’s real tearjerker moment: what true gentlemen. An acceptance that your time has come to an end and that it will happen to all of us eventually.

Larceny Inc. (1942)

Under Pressure

How can you resist a film like Larceny Inc once you’ve heard the plot? It’s one of those quirky film concepts I just love. A cocky criminal and his two buffoons buy a luggage store to they can dig their way into the bank next door. Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is how it plays out like a live action cartoon. Nothing ever goes beyond the scene in the moment; for example in one scene a set of oil pipes are burst during the digging process and the basement from which they are digging from is drenched in oil and yet this is never mentioned again. Even as one character who is not involved in the ban heist comes across the two drenched in the oil he bizarrely does not comment on their appearance; that’s the twisted cartoon world Larceny Inc incorporates. I’ve always thought actors from the 1930’s resembled cartoon characters with their exaggerated facial features and distinctive accents; very true with this cast including Edward G. Robinson, Jack Carson and even a young Jackie Gleason; all live action caricatures.  Actors who emerged after the war generally didn’t have this and instead were actually more lifelike. You really get a sense of the world the movie takes place in with a street populated with such memorable and mostly ethnic characters giving the movie that Shop Around the Corner edge to it.

Maxwell aka Pressure’s gift wrapping has to be the comedic highlight of Robinson’s career; a comedy moment which couldn’t be timed more perfectly. His uttering of “$9:75”  is funny enough as it is but his pathetic attempt at gifting wrapping which follows had me in stitches. I also love Jack Carson’s attempt at hitting on Jane Wyman. This scene has nothing to do with the rest of the movie but has got to be the ultimate “skipping the pleasantries” monologue I’ve ever heard.

There are so many layers within Larceny Inc. Is the movie a celebration or an indictment on capitalism? The gangsters involvement in legitimate business is what makes them renounce their past ways but only after they’ve essentially been seduced and consumed by the capitalist system. Larceny Inc was released in 1942 just months after the US got involved in the war but the film’s production began prior to that with its themes of business and consumerism are completely counterproductive to the war effort, something I’ve noticed with many films released in 1942. There is also the irony that the gangster is the one who brings the community together and the authority figures in the movie are played as fools.

Larceny Inc can also join films like Rocky IV and Die Hard as Christmas movies which aren’t about Christmas; and Edward G Robinson dressed as Santa Claus? Sold!

The Major and the Minor (1942)

Su, Su, You’re a Knockout!

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

The Major and the Minor is the film that me fall in love with Ginger Rogers, turning me into the obsessive fan I am now. Miss Rogers is Susan “Susu” Applegate, who transforms her 30 year old body into that of a 12 year old and does so completely convincingly and in my view gives the finest performance of her career. I question how many actresses would have the ability to do such a feat. Being a super fan I would say that she should have won an Oscar for this acting marvel but I doubt the Academy would pay much attention to a weird little irrational comedy like this.

Oh yes, weird, that is our key word here. If the premise of a 30 year old disguise as a 12 year old in order to get half fare on a train ticket doesn’t have you raising an eyebrow then how about throwing her into a military academy with 300 male pre teen cadets. The whole family can enjoy The Major and the Minor, the kids can enjoy the smart alecky humor and the adults can enjoy the sexual innuendo….centered around children. That’s one of the things that makes this movie great, it’s so wrong on many levels (yet feels so right, or something like that) but contains that kind of innocence and naivety that only classic Hollywood can pull off. The British Board of Film Classification gives the film a current rating of “U” with the description, “contains very mild sex references”, although I believe that’s a gross understatement. Imagine if Lolita was a screwball comedy, you would have a result somewhere along the lines of The Major and the Minor.

Ray Milland is an excellent leading man, well a leading man to a character whom he thinks is a child (yes this movie becomes more wrong the further I analyse it). I wonder how must have felt delivering such lines as “You like boys Susu?, 300 of them, all they’re all yours”. The ending of The Major and the Minor itself is disturbing on a number of levels. When Major Kirby discovers Susu is actually an adult and they presumably now fall in love as seen in the final scene, is he going to fantasize that he’s going out with the 12 year old Susu? My other favourite cast member here is Diana Lynn as an intellectual child planning to become a scientist. This kid is so bad ass, I’m actually quote jealous of her. Normally kids in movies tend to get on my nerves, but not when they’re able to outwit the adults, as seen here.

The Major and the Minor was Billy Wilder’s American directorial debut and already he has made the first in a long line of masterpieces. Exploring his films (including those he has written) I feel has been a journey for me through the annals of classic Hollywood and for helping to shape my sense of humour. The Major and the Minor marks another milestone in that journey.