COLLEEN is a mixed bag of a movie, with the pleasures of the ever-charming Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler struggling to push aside the leaden goofball antics of Hugh Herbert and Jack Oakie. For the most part Dick and Ruby succeed, which makes the movie worth watching, even if it has more than its share of groaner moments.
In their seventh and final teaming, Dick is the responsible nephew of a crazed millionaire (Herbert), while Ruby is the poor, honest bookkeeper working at a struggling dress shop the uncle purchases on a whim. Dick plans to shut down the shop and chalk it up as one more of his uncle's irresponsible mistakes, but before he can close it, Ruby is turned loose to run the shop and it becomes a success. Dick and Ruby fall in love, have a misunderstanding, and he proposes. The End. (You don't really consider that a spoiler, do you? Don't Dick and Ruby always end up together?!)
This time around the Warren-Dubin score didn't introduce any songs which became lasting hits, but Dick Powell's crooning of "I Don't Have to Dream Again" and "An Evening With You" is pleasant. Ruby has two very enjoyable dances with Paul Draper which I liked as much as any of Ruby's past work; her movements are very fluid and she doesn't do the tapping hunched over and looking at her feet as she sometimes did in earlier films. I've always found Ruby endearing, and I love watching her teamed with Powell, who's one of my favorites.
One of the film's delightfully ersatz moments is when the struggling dress shop puts on a fashion show...and suddenly the shop has a gigantic stage and dozens of models performing a Busby Berkeley style dance number! Even better, bookkeeper Ruby, who has just invited Dick to watch the fashion show with her, is suddenly the dancing star of the show. She does a marvelous tap number with Paul Draper depicting a courtship and marriage. And when it's over, she's back in her bookkeeper wardrobe without a hair mussed or a drop of sweat; you'd never know she'd just been tapping her heart out! Draper and Bobby Connolly created the dances.
Another of the really fun things about the film is watching the faces that float by. There's Charles Coleman, the perennial butler...Mary Treen as Hugh Herbert's secretary/baby-sitter...the tall second process server turns out to be Ward Bond...and if you watch verrrrry closely, Dennis O'Keefe is an extra who dances right behind Dick and Ruby on the ship.
Other highlights include the gorgeous art deco ship, Joan Blondell as a "candy topper," and risque bits of dialogue and song lyrics which almost seem as though they belong in a film of the pre-Code era, which had ended a couple years before COLLEEN was released.
Then there's the down side, which I alluded to earlier. I believe it was Ivan of the blog Thrilling Days of Yesteryear who described Hugh Herbert as the equivalent of a "cinematic toothache" a couple of years ago, and the description was certainly apt. I have a hard time finding any humor at all in a man who is so imbecilic that he can't string a sentence together and comes across as a serious mental case. I like my humor to spring from smart people saying witty things, not idiots in need of round-the-clock observation.
A couple years ago John of Greenbriar Picture Shows, who otherwise enjoyed the movie, wrote "Maybe if Warners told you enough times that Hugh Herbert’s funny, you’d eventually wear down and agree he was... Suppose folks actually found him amusing? What does that say about our forebears?"
Jack Oakie isn't much better, although at least he's capable of talking coherently. By all accounts he was a lovely, popular gentleman off the screen, not to mention a generous contributor to the USC School of Cinematic Arts. But I just didn't find him fun to watch in this.
This movie was directed by Alfred E. Green. It runs 89 minutes. The supporting cast includes Marie Wilson, Louise Fazenda, Luis Alberni, J.M. Kerrigan, and Hobart Cavanaugh.
COLLEEN is available on DVD-R from the Warner Archive. The sound struck me as slightly muffled early on, but the print was otherwise acceptable. The disc includes a trailer.
This film can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is on the TCM website; it's pretty cute.
Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler movies previously reviewed here at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933), FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933), 42ND STREET (1933), FLIRTATION WALK (1934), and DAMES (1934). When I catch up with SHIPMATES FOREVER (1935), I'll have completed seeing all seven Powell-Keeler films.