Just when I think I’ve seen all there is to see from the accepted opinion of 1939 being Hollywood’s peak year comes this comedy gem from Garson Kanin. Time for the Mad Movie Challenge when Kristina over at everyone’s favorite Speakeasy assigns me a film I haven’t seen before and of course I give her a title to catch up on as well. Click here for previous assignments.
This time around it’s a slapstick farce that all begins with a classic comedy of errors setup featuring Ginger Rogers at the center of mishaps. After Ginger is let go from her job working in a department store that is owned by Charles Coburn and his playboy son David Niven she finds herself stumbling across a baby left on a step in front of an orphanage. She innocently picks the child up as the door opens. She carries the child in and attempts to hand it over to the caretakers. Naturally they believe she is an unwed Mother giving up her child and attempt to talk her out of it. Ginger is having none of it and walks out the door. Not before she had innocently answered a few questions before realizing where the conversation was heading.
The orphanage caretaker goes to the office of David Niven and explains that a recently let go Ginger Rogers has given up and abandoned her child. Convinced he can help, Niven calls her into his office and reinstates her with a substantial raise. Upon her arrival back at her apartment she’s handed her child back. So the screwball comedy is set in place. Looking dapper as was his customary appearance, Niven takes a personal interest in seeing that Ginger is getting along with her son who she dubs John when put on the spot. Niven supplies her with a book based on the latest scientific procedures at raising a child. This turns into another setup for comedy relief.
I don’t think I’ll be spoiling anything here by pointing out that Niven and Rogers will be heading for romance but it’s that David Niven charm that offers us some genuine laughs. Perhaps none bigger than when bragging about the seven month old baby to another couple who can’t stop bragging on their own he points out that “his” child can talk. “He can recite the first line from Gunga Din.” For the record the line spoken by Victor McLaglen is “Now in India’s sunny climb where I used to spend my time.” The comedy escalates when scene stealer Charles Coburn becomes convinced that Niven has given him a grand son and kept it all a big secret. “I’d know that chin anywhere!” he states matter of factly when he gets a good look at the baby. No matter what Niven tells his tycoon father, Coburn isn’t budging from his beliefs and more comedy mix ups ensue when would be fathers begin turning up claiming the son as their own.
The original story by Felix Jackson received an Oscar nomination during the big year of ’39. It was adapted into a screenplay by Norman Krasna. While the director was Kanin I noticed way down the credit list was apprenticing Robert Wise serving as the films editor. Wise worked on many films as an editor before moving into a long and successful career in the director’s chair. While this was not a Disney film it is worth mentioning that Donald Duck is listed in the credits. The reason being that Ginger’s job at the department store is selling toy Donald Ducks. This leads to a wonderful comedy bit where Niven tries to have a damaged toy duck exchanged for another. Not as simple as he thought it should be in his own family store.
This RKO feature runs at a fast clip of 82 minutes and tries it’s best to cram as much comedy into the proceedings as possible. Keeping in mind that Ginger was the famous partner of Fred Astaire she gets a chance to join in on a dance competition with Frank Albertson as her swinging partner. All the while Niven is trying to get her to accept responsibility for her abandoned child with his butler E.E. Clive in tow carrying the child on the sidelines.
To be perfectly honest I enjoyed this film more for the fact that David Niven was in it and bang on. Ginger Rogers was fine but I much prefer Jean Arthur when it comes to the madcap plot that this attempts to put across. To be fair perhaps that’s because I think she made such a great match for a couple of films where Jean starred opposite Mr. Coburn. Having said that it’s still a perfectly enjoyable way to spend less than an hour and a half when featured on TCM.
Now it’s time to head over to see what Kristina has to say about a war film featuring an actor that Quentin Tarantino paid tribute to by naming Brad Pitt’s character after him in the WW2 film Inglorious Basterds.
That’s interesting casting, to put Jean Arthur here, would have been fun. This is a cute one, I like the pairing of the leads, stuffy but great Niven, Coburn is always fun, and it proves Rogers was an actress, not just a dancer.
Niven is one of those guys who really never changed. He knew where his talent lay on camera and worked it wonderfully. Was there ever an actor who wore as many tuxedo’s and bow ties as David?
I know, he is the definition of elegant. And legendary wit, as his Oscar streaker ad lib proved 🙂 Love that Gunga Din line
I still replay that Oscar clip on youtube once in a while. Hilarious. His books on Hollywood are wonderful too.