Joining me once again in our monthly challenge is Kristina of Speakeasy. It’s when we assign each other a film that the other has yet to see. Click here for the previous films. This month she’s given me a wonderful title with one of my favorite character players and sometime leading man Claude Rains. It’s long overdue and about time I caught up with this delicious comedy.
Robert Montgomery plays a boxer who is well on his way to winning the world championship with James Gleason as his trainer. He’s known as The Flying Pug due to his love of piloting his own plane. His life is about to take an unexpected turn when he crashes and finds himself walking above the clouds alongside Edward Everett Horton. Not far in the distance they see men boarding an airliner in this eye catching set piece.
Standing guard at the planes entrance is Mr. Rains as our title character. It quickly becomes evident that these otherworldly men have a serious problem to contend with. It seems that boxer Montgomery has been called to his maker fifty years too soon. When Horton whisks him away to allow the spirit to reclaim the body they find that Gleason had it cremated. Montgomery wants action and demands that Rains find him a new body. One that is refined and in fighting shape.
This dreamy plot winds up having Rains taking Montgomery into the home of Rita Johnson who along with her consort John Emery has just murdered her husband. Then again maybe not. When Rains smoothly convinces Montgomery to take over the dead man’s body the plot is set in motion. Montgomery finds himself in a stock market scam that the dead man had initiated. When he discovers that lovely Evelyn Keyes and her father have been made to suffer due to the shady business dealings he sets out to right the wrongs.
Much of the films comedy comes from James Gleason who shows up at the all new Montgomery’s door and after some convincing realizes that his fighter has returned in the form of another man’s body. To see him being introduced to the invisible Rains and attempt to carry on a conversation with the unseen spirit secured this long time character player a supporting Oscar nomination.
Eventually Rains will have to intervene to direct Montgomery on his way to both love and happiness and allow him to find his true identity and destiny before the films fade out featuring a madcap boxing match, murder and more hijinks with Gleason.
For me the pure pleasure of this film comes from Claude Rains. Rains was such a joy to watch on screen during the forties when he really hit his stride at Warner Brothers opposite Bette Davis and so many other stars of the era. Truly a scene stealer. His soothing tones warm the heart as does his compassion and fatherly advice towards the Montgomery character. “So long champ.”
There is plenty of trivia to dwell on with this film directed by Alexander Hall from the play by Harry Segall, It was remade to great success by Warren Beatty with James Mason in the Rains role. Fittingly Mason’s voice has that same uniqueness that Rains gave us throughout his career.
The fact that Rains is invisible to all the those on earth should recall the fact that he was indeed the screen’s first Invisible Man in the 1933 James Whale film.
I had half expected that the other characters in the film would see Montgomery in a different guise or another actors body. We the viewer see Montgomery the actor and he the character sees himself. Since he’s taking the bodies of others I thought it might have added some slapstick to see him through the eyes of the other characters. Who knows. Just imagine Gleason turning up to see the new Montgomery stock broker in the body of someone like Sydney Greenstreet telling Gleason he plans to continue his boxing career. Perhaps too much slapstick in that direction changing the tone of the film?
Other Oscar nominations were secured by director Hall and the film itself was nominated for Best Picture but lost out to How Green Was My Valley and John Ford. It did however win two Oscars in the writing category. Original Story and Screenplay.
A good film that featured gowns by Edith Head, an early appearance by Lloyd Bridges and an actor that always seemed to be playing a butler, Halliwell Hobbes. Truthfully I had to look his name up. He’s one of those faces I know and always associate with a role as the hired help.
A wonderful cast of character players in this feature from Harry Cohn’s Columbia studios with the superb Claude Rains leading the way.
Now please head over to Speakeasy and read about a Paul Newman film that Kristina has been challenged to watch. It’s from Paul’s early years and directed by a first timer who would go on to a lengthy and successful career.