Sunday, September 2, 2012

154. YOU'RE TELLING ME! (1934)

Directed by Erle C. Kenton two years after ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, and featuring ex-manimal Larry "Buster" Crabbe in its male ingenue role, YOU'RE TELLING ME! is a solid W.C. Fields vehicle -- parts of it are every bit as funny as IT'S A GIFT (made three films later in his bumper crop year of 1934), but it also allows itself some seriousness and sentimentality, being more grounded in story than routines.

This was the film that introduced the great Kathleen Howard to Fields' universe, but here she plays Mrs. Murchison, the judgmental socialite mother of Crabbe, a handsome suitor who wants to marry Pauline (Joan Marsh), the ever-supportive daughter of would-be inventor and town drunkard Samuel Bisbee (Fields, loathed by his wife Bessie, played by a woebegone Louise Carter) but is forbidden to do so, as the Bisbees are (shudder) "from the other side of the tracks." Sam, upset at having ruined Pauline's shot at happiness, opts to commit suicide with some spoonfuls of iodine while aboard a train; his attempt fails, and when he sees a bottle of iodine on the table of a fellow passenger -- unbeknownst to him, Princess Lescaboura (Adrienne Ames, pictured) -- he presumes her to be on the same path and intervenes with a "life-saving" pep talk, which charms the traveling royal into visiting his home town and setting all his troubles to rights with a little reflected glory.

In an unusual twist to what one might expect, Fields' insane inventions (like the puncture-proof tire) actually work but bizarre shifts of circumstance prevent them from being recognized as anything but crackpottery... until the happy ending. As the princess, Adrienne Ames is remarkably beautiful and charming in a role that seems like it may have been written with the hope of casting Greta Garbo (how amazing would that have been?); this film would turn out to be the zenith of a short-lived screen career that ended, three marriages later (one of them to Bruce Cabot), with her tragic 1947 death from cancer at the age of only 39.

Viewed via Universal import DVD.

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