Saturday, November 07, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Three-Cornered Moon (1933)

THREE-CORNERED MOON is a very early example of the "crazy family" Depression-era screwball comedy, a genre which hit its peak a few years later with MY MAN GODFREY (1936).

Claudette Colbert plays Elizabeth Rimpelgar, who lives with her ditzy mother (Mary Boland) and three brothers in a spacious mansion in Brooklyn. Elizabeth may be the only sane member of the family, but the Depression soon knocks some sense into her siblings when they learn the family fortune has collapsed along with the stock market. Everyone in the family must...gasp!...get jobs. They also take in a boarder, Dr. Alan Stevens (Richard Arlen). And, as it turns out, the Depression might just be the making of the Rimpelgars.

The story is based on a play, and particularly at the outset it seems overly stagy, as the camera follows various Rimpelgars through the house. I found it a bit tiresome at first, between the Rimpelgar brothers acting like overgrown children and Elizabeth's do-nothing novelist boyfriend (Hardie Albright) whining and threatening suicide.

However, the film turned quite interesting once the family sobered up, so to speak, and realized they had to be responsible or they wouldn't eat. Oldest brother Kenneth (Wallace Ford) begins to take being a law clerk and studying for the bar exam seriously. Elizabeth goes to work in a shoe factory and eventually questions why she's supporting her freeloading boyfriend, and the other brothers find employment as well.

The movie reminded me a bit of 1938's THE YOUNG IN HEART, about a family of con artists who discover for the first time the satisfaction of education and hard work. THREE-CORNERED MOON isn't of the same quality as the later film, but it improves as it goes along and builds to a satisfying conclusion. It's a must-see for fans of screwball comedies, who will appreciate its role in helping to create the genre.

Boland does a good job in the type of "addlepated mother" role played in later comedies by actresses such as Billie Burke, Alice Brady, and Spring Byington. Lyda Roberti is also amusing as the Rimpelgars' cook, who doesn't speak English. Roberti appeared with Colbert in TORCH SINGER in 1933; she had a heart condition and sadly died young in 1938.

Colbert and Arlen, playing the sensible young doctor who supplants the novelist in Colbert's affections, are appealing leads. Colbert's younger brothers are played by Tom Brown and William Bakewell. Joan Marsh plays Kitty, the oldest's brother's feckless girlfriend. Clara Blandick (Auntie Em from THE WIZARD OF OZ) has a single scene as a landlady.

THREE-CORNERED MOON was directed by Elliott Nugent. It was filmed in black and white by Leon Shamroy. The movie runs 77 minutes.

THREE-CORNERED MOON is one of the films in the new six-film Claudette Colbert Collection. The print is in very good shape; it's not as pristine as I MET HIM IN PARIS, but looks good considering its age. This set is so interesting, we can only hope there might be a Colbert Vol. 2 someday. (Update: THREE-CORNERED MOON is now available as a single-title DVD release from the Universal Vault Series.)

Claudette Colbert movies previously reviewed here at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: TORCH SINGER (1933), SHE MARRIED HER BOSS (1935), I MET HIM IN PARIS (1937), BLUEBEARD'S EIGHTH WIFE (1938), MIDNIGHT (1939), BOOM TOWN (1940), THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942), NO TIME FOR LOVE (1943), THE SECRET HEART (1946), TOMORROW IS FOREVER (1946), WITHOUT RESERVATIONS (1946), THE EGG AND I (1947), and LET'S MAKE IT LEGAL (1951).


Blogger Dana said...

I haven't heard of this movie before, Laura, but I'll certainly check it out. It immediately brought to mind my favorite screwball of them all, You Can't Take it with You...

12:29 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's a good comparison, Dana. It's very much of the same genre. THREE-CORNERED MOON is now available at Netflix if you have an account. :)

Best wishes,

1:00 PM  
Blogger B woodier said...

I saw this on PBS in NY several years ago and thought it was funny. I couldn't remember the title and always wondered what that film was. Thanks Laura, I will watch again.

11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just seen this film and enjoyed it. As you say, it improves when the family starts acting grown-up!
I'm so used to seeing WALLACE Ford in his later years, I hardly recognise him when he was younger.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Vienna, for sharing your thoughts (and thanks to B. woodier also, I neglected to answer that one some time ago!). Glad you were able to check it out. It's a really nice boxed Colbert set, too, isn't it?

Best wishes,

2:04 PM  

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