Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Piccadilly Jim (1936)

PICCADILLY JIM is a well-written comedy based on a novel by P.G. Wodehouse, starring a marvelous cast.

Robert Montgomery plays the title role; Jim Crocker is an American cartoonist living in London. He falls in love with and attempts to woo beautiful Ann (Madge Evans), while initially unaware that he's been poking fun at her aunt (Cora Witherspoon) and uncle (Grant Mitchell) in a comic strip.

Jim had been getting back at the unpleasant aunt and henpecked uncle because they frowned on Ann's other aunt (Billie Burke) marrying Jim's father (Frank Morgan). Needless to say, Ann's not happy when she finds out Jim's true identity. Through it all Jim's loyal butler Bayliss (Eric Blore) tries to keep up with the goings-on and offers sage advice, culminating in telling the story of Robert the Bruce watching a spider.

The film is a bit slow out of the starting gate, as Jim spends quite a bit of time drinking in the company of his friend Bill (Robert Benchley). However, once Jim falls for Ann he decides the life of a barfly is no longer for him.

The film's other drawback, other than being a bit longish at approximately 96 minutes, is that the chemistry between Jim and Ann is a long time developing. A little more reciprocation on Ann's part, earlier on, would have made it a more interesting and romantic story.

That said, this is a witty film with a great deal to recommend it. Montgomery always excels in this type of part, and he's in fine form. The script has some excellent lines, with many of them going to Eric Blore, who is simply superb as Jim's butler. The translation of the Pett family into cartoon characters is very funny and well done, and the cast in general does an excellent job. I especially enjoyed Billie Burke as sweet, scatterbrained Aunt Eugenia.

All in all, the film is a great example of the glossy MGM romantic comedy of the '30s, with the kind of cast that makes films of the era so remarkable. They really don't make 'em like that anymore.

This was the last of five films starring Robert Montgomery and Madge Evans; the other titles were LOVERS COURAGEOUS (1932), HELL BELOW (1933), MADE ON BROADWAY (1933), and FUGITIVE LOVERS (1934). They're seen at the left during the filming of the final scene, via the LIFE Internet photo archive.

Watch carefully as Jim and Ann dance together shortly after meeting. The nightclub crooner is a young Dennis Morgan, in the very earliest phase of his career at MGM. The supporting cast includes Ralph Forbes, Billy Bevan, and Tommy Bupp.

The film was directed by Robert Z. Leonard.

PICCADILLY JIM isn't available on VHS or DVD. It can be seen from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.

Incidentally, the original Wodehouse novel is in the public domain and is free for Amazon Kindle and Kindle smart phone apps.

April 2016 Update: PICCADILLY JIM is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive. My September 2016 review of the DVD is here.


Blogger Kristina said...

nice review, Laura. I saw this movie just the other day and really enjoyed it, Eric Blore naming off the great caricature artists, the giggles the "Richswitches" get from strangers and the bumpy "short cut" back from the lake teahouse were LOL moments. faithful reader, Kristina (from the Kinema)

3:30 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Kristina! There was definitely a lot to enjoy in this movie. :)

Best wishes,

10:21 AM  

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