Friday, March 20, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Milky Way (1936) at the UCLA Festival of Preservation

It's been an extraordinarily busy week, getting work out of the way ahead of my time off for the TCM Classic Film Festival!

I've been looking forward to sharing some thoughts on Harold Lloyd's THE MILKY WAY (1936), which I saw on Monday evening at the UCLA Festival of Preservation. THE MILKY WAY was on a double bill with THE BIG BROADCAST (1932), which I reviewed here.

It was a nice surprise that Harold Lloyd's granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, came to introduce the movie, as she hadn't been listed as a guest on the UCLA website. Suzanne is an engaging and interesting speaker who has done phenomenal work preserving her grandfather's legacy. I also saw her introduce WHY WORRY? (1923) at the TCM Classic Film Festival last year with Leonard Maltin.

Suzanne shared that while most of her grandfather's movies were not shown on television -- his preference -- one day when she was young and at home sick from school, she stumbled across THE MILKY WAY on TV and loved it. Suzanne was raised by her grandparents, and she said she particularly loves THE MILKY WAY because there are moments when it closely reflects the real offscreen Harold Lloyd; she said the way he talks to the colt in the movie is the way he would talk to her and their dogs!

I was especially interested in seeing THE MILKY WAY for a couple of reasons: First, I've become a fan of Harold Lloyd and had not yet seen any of his sound films; and second, last fall I reviewed the Danny Kaye musical remake, THE KID FROM BROOKLYN (1946).

THE MILKY WAY was directed by Leo McCarey, who the following year directed the comedy classic THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937); when McCarey fell ill while working on THE MILKY WAY, there was some uncredited direction by Leo's brother, Ray McCarey, as well as by Norman Z. McLeod. McLeod, ironically, directed the remake, THE KID FROM BROOKLYN, a decade later! The movie was filmed in black and white by Alfred Gilks.

Lloyd plays Burleigh Sullivan, a milquetoast milkman whose defense of his sister (Helen Mack) against a couple of mashers leads to the impression that he knocked out a boxing champ (William Gargan). Soon Burleigh is on his way to boxing stardom, thanks to manager Gabby Sloan (Adolphe Menjou), but the truth is Burleigh has no idea what he's doing in the ring. Meanwhile Burleigh's fame dampens his new relationship with sweet Polly Pringle (Dorothy Wilson).

I enjoyed THE MILKY WAY quite well. Though it wasn't on a par with Lloyd's classic silents, it was a solid '30s comedy with a good cast. It was a bit odd at first for me to hear Lloyd's voice, having previously only seen his silents, but then it seemed perfectly normal! Burleigh's fancy footwork couldn't help but remind me a bit of Lloyd's "handshake routine" in THE FRESHMAN (1925).

This was my second Adolphe Menjou film at the festival in a week's time; his BACHELOR'S AFFAIRS (1932) was the highlight of the festival for me. It was fun to see him here playing a looser comic character as the manager.

Menjou's real-life wife, Verree Teasdale, has one of her best-ever parts in this as Gabby's glamorous, sarcastic girlfriend; she's an absolute knockout in a parade of stunning gowns, and she's sharply witty as well. (Her role was played in the remake by Eve Arden.) It was mentioned before the film that Menjou and Teasdale, like director McCarey, both had serious medical issues during the filming, which delayed production.

A great bit of trivia is that Lionel Stander, who plays trainer Spider Schultz, played the same role in the remake! The cast also includes George Barbier, Charles Lane, and Marjorie Gateson, who plays the society matron which Fay Bainter played a decade later.

Of course, comparisons between the two versions are inevitable; I found them roughly equal in terms of enjoyment. I really liked THE KID FROM BROOKLYN, particularly for its great color and the presence of Virginia Mayo, Steve Cochran, and Vera-Ellen, who I found more interesting than their '36 counterparts, but that later version does run on the long side, clocking in at 113 minutes. THE MILKY WAY runs 89 minutes, which was just right, and I especially enjoyed Menjou and Teasdale in the older version.

THE MILKY WAY is available on DVD in multiple editions, including the excellent Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection, Vol. I from New Line.

Amazon Prime members can stream the movie at no extra charge.


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