Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Colleen (1936)

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.


Blogger Cliff Aliperti said...

Groaner moments for sure, but I always get a kick out of this one too! From what I recall it seems like Paul Draper just kind of comes out of nowhere like some sort of Dick Powell stand-in leaving me to imagine Powell winking at us with thoughts of, "Hey man, I do the singing, can't do it all!" Hmm, the seeming utter disdain for Hugh Herbert has me thinking of writing something in his defense. He always gives me a bit of a chuckle, but he wears on me too if he sticks around too long. Enjoyed him toned down some while recently watching The Sin Ship and She Had to Say Yes (he's a real pig in that one!). Actually Louise Fazenda bugged me more here for all reasons attributed to poor Hugh. Boy that Alfred E. Green sure ends up being involved in a lot of my 30's favorites! Great write-up, Laura, good movie!

7:50 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Cliff, you're right, it's almost like Draper is Powell's dance stand-in! I was unfamiliar with him and enjoyed doing a little reading up on him after seeing this movie.

Yes, after a number of movies I guess "disdain" pretty much captures my feelings on Hugh Herbert (grin). But if you write something up you can bet I'll read it all!

Aren't all the guys pigs in SHE HAD TO SAY YES? LOL. That was one of the "pre-Code-iest" pre-Codes I've ever seen. Absolutely jaw-dropping at times. A real must-see.

Thanks for your comments, Cliff!

Best wishes,

8:38 PM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

Count me as a something of a Hugh Herbert fan. What can I say? I think he's hilarious in "Dames" and particularly "Gold Diggers of 1935" and his obsession with snuff boxes.

I can easily see why he would grate on people, but I've always welcomed him.

I think "Colleen" is the only Powell/Keeler musical I've never seen, so I need to check it out. That fashion show number sounds marvelous.

7:15 AM  
Blogger VP81955 said...

I can see where Hugh Herbert (and I'm not meaning to sound picky, but a few times in the piece, you refer to him as "Hugh Hubert," which at least is more euphonious!) can grate on people -- he's one of those love-him-or-hate-him types, sort of Warners' equivalent to El Brendel, minus the faux Swedish accent; a little of him can go a long way. But apparently he was a prolific writer for the stage and vaudeville before going into films; in small doses, he can add to a film, such as in the aforementioned "Gold Diggers Of 1935" (he was also in the '32 farce "Million Dollar Legs" with W.C. Fields and the luscious Lyda Roberti). And he may have a pop culture legacy; according to IMDb, "his 'hoo-hoo-hoo' routine was the inspiration for Daffy Duck."

5:34 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Kevin, it's fun to see Hugh Herbert has his defenders! I think you'd enjoy COLLEEN. :)

Vince, thank you *so* much for pointing out the persistent typo with the spelling of Hugh Herbert's name. And me a proofreader!! I've now fixed that throughout the post and am glad that mistake won't be there for those who may read it in the future.

It's interesting to learn that Hugh Herbert was a writer for the stage and vaudeville, because, as you may already know, there was also a screenwriter named F. Hugh Herbert who coincidentally worked on the screenplay for COLLEEN, but they're two different people. Thanks for adding that interesting background on the previous work of Hugh Herbert the actor. We have a good discussion going on Mr. Herbert! :)

Best wishes,

8:29 AM  
Blogger Biograph Consulting said...

Hi Laura! I admire your reasonable loving looks at so many of the fascinating films from Hollywood's most fascinating studio era, and laugh when you jump-started commentary on Hugh Herbert; a little bit of fussiness can go a long way, as those fans of S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall can testify--it's amazing how many golden age films he managed to befuddle, both comedies and heavier fare--one seldom remembers him as a key element in Casablanca. One could start a great thread on character actors that drive us from the room: I might start with Herbert, adding Billy De Wolfe, and certainly five seconds of El Brendel is enough.
On the other hand--so many favorites; when I was a kid if Eve Arden was listed as part of the cast, that was enough for me. I was in my seat, waiting. Or John Carradine--or John Qualen, for that matter. And then one can spend hours playing "Spot Bess Flowers!" in dozens of films.

1:38 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you so much for your kind words and adding your thoughts. You're right, there are so many more great character faces we love to see compared to those we don't...if I see Henry Stephenson's name in the credits it's an automatic smile, to give just one example. And I do love watching for Bess Flowers!

Best wishes,

2:59 PM  

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