Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Walking on Air (1936)

WALKING ON AIR is a charming confection featuring a delightful cast, hummable tunes, and a gorgeous Art Deco setting.

Wealthy Kit (Ann Sothern) wants to marry no-good Fred (Alan Curtis), to the dismay of her father (Henry Stephenson) and aunt (Jessie Ralph). Kit hires Pete (Gene Raymond) to pose as a phony fortune-hunting Count, thinking when she tells her family she wants to marry the obnoxious Count, they'll be relieved to agree that she marry Fred instead.

The plot is, well, lighter than air, and good fun. Gene Raymond has never held particular appeal for me, but the overall components of the film work so well that that doesn't really matter. He does a fine job, especially in the scenes where he deliberately insults Kit's family, and he has a pleasant voice, soloing or dueting with Sothern on three pretty Kalmar-Ruby songs, "Cabin on the Hilltop," "Let's Make a Wish," and "My Heart Wants to Dance." Sothern, Stephenson and Ralph are all very funny, and they are ably supported by Charles Coleman as their butler and Patricia Wilder as a radio station receptionist.

RKO movies of this era were exceptionally stylish, thanks in large part to the art direction of Van Nest Polglase and his team. The Streamline Moderne radio station and nightclub sets are works of art. I particularly admired the use of seahorses and portholes in the nightclub decor.

The New York Times gave WALKING ON AIR an excellent review, saying it had an "adroitly contrived screen play" which was "directed with considerable finesse" and "engagingly performed...a gay, frothy comedy with a sprinkling of tuneful songs."

Sothern and Raymond were frequent costars in the mid-'30s; the same year WALKING ON AIR was released they appeared in SMARTEST GIRL IN TOWN. They were also teamed in HOORAY FOR LOVE (1935), THERE GOES MY GIRL (1937), and SHE'S GOT EVERYTHING (1937). Raymond married Jeanette MacDonald in 1937, and they were married until her death nearly 28 years later.

Charles Coleman has become one of my favorite movie butlers. He has a priceless series of scenes early in the film dealing with Kit's "strike" over not being able to marry Fred, culminating in a wonderful visual punchline. Coleman has turned up as the butler in a number of movies seen in recent months, including FIRST LOVE, THE RAGE OF PARIS, and TWO GUYS FROM MILWAUKEE.

WALKING ON AIR was directed by Joseph Santley. It was shot in black and white and runs 70 minutes.

WALKING ON AIR is not available on DVD or video, but can be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

WALKING ON AIR is a small hidden gem which provides a lovely evening's entertainment.


Blogger Moira Finnie said...

As a die-hard Ann Sothern fan, I went out of my way to see this recently too. I must confess that Gene Raymond, who usually sets my teeth on edge, was quite amusing when being obnoxious to Ann's family. I wondered if Sothern's relaxed charm had a good effect on his acting?

I think that the insurmountable problem with this movie was the resolution of the premise in the script. It just missed being antic enough and funny enough, though, as you pointed out, the 1936 celebration of all things streamlined was enough most of the time. Just wish they'd "wasted" a bit more time on the plot.

Is it possible that Gene Raymond wasn't as terrible an actor as we have thought in the past? Maybe Jeanette MacDonald saw something we (and the camera) didn't catch very often! ;-)

4:49 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

So glad you got to see this too, Moira. It was one of those lovely unexpected surprises I'd never heard of until recently but thoroughly enjoyed.

I agree they could have revved up the ending even more than they did...but on the whole there was *so* much in this film I enjoyed.

I've now seen two of the Sothern-Raymond collaborations and have one more on tape which will be interesting to check out.

Always so nice to hear from you!

Best wishes,

8:27 AM  

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