Tuesday, September 4, 2012

155. THE MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE (1935)


And forming the final panel in the W.C. Fields/Kathleen Howard/Tammany Hall triptych is this little number from director Clyde Bruckman, which worries the inconsequential into a most amusing pastime. We open with an extended sketch in which Ambrose Wolfinger (Fields), a mild-mannered sort of the maritally embattled type, ritually removes his socks in preparation for a good night's sleep but is perpetually postponed in this necessity by wrong numbers in search of the maternity ward, his hectoring wife Leona's (Howard's) suspicions about why he should be receiving late night summonses from the maternity ward, and eventually a pair of burglars (Walter Brennan as Legs Garnett, Tammany Young as Willie the Weasel) who break into his basement and, upon discovering there several barrels of applejack free for the sampling, take an extreme turn from a would-be robbery into a nostalgic, caterwauling basement singalong that grows exponentially whenever it's discovered.

The next red-eyed morning, Ambrose, a bookkeeper with a catastrophic filing system only he can understand (it's the shove-it-into-the-rolltop-desk principle), has not taken a day off in a quarter-century and covets the morsel-like opportunity of a front row seat at the upcoming wrestling match between Hookolakah Meshobbab (Harry Ekezian) and Tosoff (Tor Johnson... that's what I said, Tor Johnson). His $15 ticket is stolen by his worthless leach of a brother-in-law Claude Neselrode (Grady Sutton), unassailable in the eyes of his Murray Melvin-lookalike mother Cordelia (Vera Lewis), about whose wished-for death Ambrose lies to his trusting employer to steal an afternoon away for himself. As comedies tend to have it, he gets caught (in the gutter, with a secretary no less), but as sentimental Fieldsian comedies have it, he is also exonerated. Mary Brian co-stars as Hope, the grown daughter of Ambrose's first -- and apparently happier -- marriage, who is her father's only source of sincere love and support.

Bruckman authored several of Buster Keaton's best short vehicles and wrote/directed THE GENERAL (1926 - how's that for a first feature film credit?), as well as one of Fields' funniest shorts, THE FATAL GLASS OF BEER (1933), before shooting himself with Keaton's gun in 1955 at the age of 60. This was his final shot at directing and, while it's perfectly enjoyable fare, it doesn't have quite enough variety of situation, quotability or hyperbole to give it a whole lot of staying power. Of course, I watched this one after IT'S A GIFT and YOU'RE TELLING ME!, which share some key cast members, so they tend to run together with this one, whose title I couldn't explain, even if there was a trapeze in it. And there wasn't.

Viewed via Universal import DVD, but I believe it's available domestically. 



 

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