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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

'No time for comedy:' Answers 'Will Success Spoil Jimmy Stewart?'

No Time for Comedy
Warner Archive concurrently releasing the 1940 Jimmy Stewart/Rosalind Russell film "No time for comedy" and the 1938 Jimmy Stewart/Ginger Rogers film "Vivacious Lady," which Unreal TV recently reviewed, on DVD partially illustrates Stewart's range that shows that he "can play anything." It also gives cinephiles another reason to get on our knees in front of Archive and chant "we are not worthy."

One reason that 'comedy' has an above-average live theatrical vibe even for films of that era is because it is based on a stage play of the same name. Laurence Olivier stars in that version.

The opening scenes in "comedy" are typical of the great Stewart comedies that many of us grew up watching on UHF channels and later gleefully rediscovered on TCM. Small-town Minnesota boy Gaylord Esterbrook has just arrived in New York to polish up the comedic play that he written that is a few days from opening on Broadway.

The first bout of hilarity ensues when the clearly unsophisticated Esterbrook cleverly and amusingly proves that he is the author of the play. This leads to an even more amusing chance encounter with leading lady Linda Paige, played by Rosalind Russell. Esterbrook going along with Paige's mistaken impression is genuinely adorable.

Esterbrook then expressing his adorkable awe regarding his first trip to Manhattan and the other "comedy" cast members responding perfectly in character to that amazement keeps the awesomeness coming. Among other things, Esterbrook is an even bigger booster of the New York YMCA than the Village People albeit for vastly different reasons despite Esterbrook's first name.
 
The show-within-a-show then goes on despite a serious obstacle; this leads to Paige and Esterbrook marrying. This marriage leads to Esterbrook becoming both a successful comedic playwright and the type of high society person about which he first wrote in Minnesota despite never having met that type of individual.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, is a great example of the wonderful on-screen chemistry between Russell and Stewart.


This transition leads to a series of strains; things come to a head at a society party in which Mr. and Mrs. Esterbrook meet Mr. and Mrs. Swift. Amanda Swift is the final (and perfect) role for character actress Genevieve Tobin.

Amanda herself is small-town girl who barely allows landing Philo Swift, a successful Wall Street banker, to slow down her dating life. Philo, played by the incredibly prolific Charles Ruggles, is very accepting of his wife's extra-marital activities.

The scenes between one or both Esterbrook and one or both Swift are particularly well written and acted. Reasons for this include the simple fact that they are funny because they are true. One of the best of this lot has Philo and Linda discussing the relative value of checks and spouses as forms of currency in the manner that many of us compare the merits of children and pets as offspring.

The meeting between Gay and Amanda leads to a collaboration of which a director with a couple of ulterior motives maliciously informs Linda. Her confrontation of the couple leads to a typical (but amusing) threat to the Esterbrook marriage.

The final scene is a little predictable in its execution but is charming in that it shows that you can take the boy out of the country, but you cannot fully take the country out of the boy.

The bottom line is that yous should make time for "comedy." It wonderfully utilizes Stewart's talents while showing a particularly deep dark side that his more classic roles do not demonstrate. "comedy" also explores several interesting themes related to marriage, success, and personal happiness that will provide hours of discussion over martinis and caviar.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "comedy" is welcome to email me. You can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.