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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

'broad minded' DVD: Early Screwball Comedy Featuring Vaudeville Star Joe E. Brown

Broadminded
The Warner Archive DVD release of the 1931 B-movie comedy "broad minded" is nice in that it keeps the parade of rarities from the '30s coming from Archive. It is also interesting to see Bela Lugosi in a role that has him put his accent and menacing manner to good use in an moderately low-key comedy.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the trailer for "broad" wonderfully starts with the hyperbole of promos of that era and goes on to show some of the best scenes in the film. These segments further demonstrate the wonderful early-talkies vibe of the film.

"broad" opens with a scene that seems more compatible with the Roaring 20s then the '30s in which even one-percenters tone things down a little. The action gets rolling with a creepy themed party that has a group of bon vivants dressed as infants and small children while whooping it up. Announcing the engagement of hostess Mabel Robinson to man-child Jack Hackett provides the justification for the festivities.

The next morning finds Jack's biological and sugar daddy upset enough to order his offspring to go off and get his act together. Enforcement of this edict comes in the form of having Jack's seemingly more responsible and mature cousin Ossie Simpson chaperone this trip.

Veteran comedian/vaudeville perform Joe E. Brown provides star power in his role as Ossie. He does a fine job with his expressions, physical humor, and comic delivery but lacks the spark that makes the greats great. Choosing Brown over say the similar Jimmy Stewart or other actors makes what could have been a great film simply good.

In the fine tradition of  "Go West, Young Man,"  our boys leave New York to drive to California. They first encounter (and run afoul of) Lugosi's Pancho Arango en route. One such meeting leaves our heroes stranded and subsequently rescued by the overall delightful Constance Palmer and Penny Packer.

This group soon forms a perfectly respectable foursome as part of the campaign of Jack to woo Constance. In true '30s screwball comedy style, this romantic effort requires overcoming the obstacle presented by Constance's aunt/protector.

The fairly predictable arrival of the jilted Mabel and a frantic chase through the hotel near the end of "broad" provides moderate hilarity in the forms of schemes to deceive and evade.

The mixed success regarding "broad" makes a final evaluation difficult. The film is good (and one hates to ever think ill of the generally spectacular Archive releases). However, this may be a case in which the Warner diamond mine from which Archive obtains its products produces a gem that lacks the quality of the typical find.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "broad" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.