Sunday, May 26, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Three Men on a Horse (1936) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Frank McHugh stars as a man with a knack for picking winning horses in the comedy THREE MEN ON A HORSE (1936), newly released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

THREE MEN ON A HORSE was based on a 1935 Broadway play by George Abbott and John Cecil Holm, starring, among others, Garson Kanin, Millard Mitchell, Shirley Booth, and Sam Levene, who reprises his role in this film.

Erwin (McHugh) is suspected of cheating on his dimwitted wife Audrey (Carol Hughes) when she finds a little notebook in his pants with strange scribblings she suspects are code for girlfriends. The truth is that Erwin enjoys picking out winning racehorses "just for fun" and writing them down in the notebook; he always wins but never bets, as he believes it would be foolish on his tight income.

After Audrey's overbearing loudmouth brother (Paul Harvey) berates Erwin one time too many, Erwin goes out and gets good and drunk. A trio of gangsters (Levene, Allen Jenkins, Teddy Hart) in the bar realize Erwin's  talent for picking winning horses and won't let him go home, to the consternation of Audrey as well as Erwin's boss at a greeting card company (Guy Kibbee).

This was the second movie of the weekend starring Joan Blondell, who plays Levene's girlfriend Mabel; I previously saw her in the following year's STAND-IN (1937). Other than Blondell, the cast is comprised of familiar character actors rather than any big names.

I was pleasantly surprised by the film; it's not great, but it's enjoyable, sustaining interest throughout. Certain scenes, especially when Erwin meets the gangsters in a bar, very much feel like a filmed stage play, but it works; it's quite a treat to see Levene, Jenkins, McHugh, and Blondell doing their thing with some pretty good dialogue. I rather liked being able to imagine what it would have been like to see them all doing this show in a theater.

The film does peter out at 86 minutes and feels like it should end earlier, around the time Erwin finally shows up at home; I felt it would have been better if it were a good ten minutes shorter. Additionally, it does get a bit loud and crazy toward the end, especially when Audrey starts crying and whining "Erwin!" over and over. All in all, though, I found it pleasant Sunday afternoon entertainment.

Carol Hughes is quite amusing as Audrey; she more typically played small parts or starred in "B" films; she was the leading lady of Roy Rogers' first big starring film, UNDER WESTERN STARS (1938).

The cast also includes Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Harry Davenport, Edgar Kennedy, Virginia Sale, and Charles Lane, who I found quite funny as a sarcastic dry cleaning deliveryman.

THREE MEN ON A HORSE was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and filmed by Sol Polito.

The Warner Archive DVD is a good print with a solid soundtrack. The disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

You had to review Three Men on a Horse, so I have to tell you this story. While watching the History Channel mention was made of the Desert Fox, Erwin Rommel, and I did my best Carol Hughes impersonation sobbing "Erwin." I think the hubby was impressed or maybe he just wanted me to be quiet or wait until a commercial.

6:26 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hahaha, that's funny! I can just imagine it. The way she sobs that name is very memorable, for sure!!

Thanks for the smile!!

Best wishes,

7:01 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

I was in a production of THREE MEN ON A HORSE in the mid-seventies (as Patsy, Sam Levene's role). When I first read the script, I was certain that it was much too old and worn out to play well, but I was wrong wrong wrong. It played like gangbusters. Howls of laughter. It was a great experience.

Of course, it's sobering to think that back when I thought the play was too old for words, it was actually less than 40 years after its Broadway premiere. Now it's been about 45 years since my production. Old old old.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

What a great story, Rick! Loved hearing of your experience in a production of this show. (And kind of amazing how time flies, isn't it?!) Thanks!

Best wishes,

5:03 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

I just watched this film last night and thoroughly enjoyed it! Your review was really the only one I could find on all of the Internet, which is a shame. Seems this one has slid by all other critics.

Frank McHugh is one of my favorite supporting actors in all of classic film, so when I saw this one available on TCM On Demand with Frank as the lead, I had to give it a shot (Guy Kibbee and Allan Jenkins are two of my other favorites, so it really became a must watch after looking over the rest of the cast).

Also - I was doing the same thing you did while watching; pretending that the bar scene was on a theatre stage and that I was watching these great character actors play it out on that stage. It made it even more enjoyable!

All the best

12:17 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Mike, I really enjoyed your comments. I'm glad this review was there for you to find!

McHugh is really good, isn't he? I especially like Jenkins as well. What fun you were also drawn to imagine it as the stage production.

Thank you for taking the time to leave your thoughts!

Best wishes,

11:37 PM  

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