Three Cornered Moon (1933)
Light comedy director Elliott Nugent, who had just started his career with 1932’s The Mouthpiece, helmed this early screwball comedy with Claudette Colbert taking center stage in black and white under the Paramount label. Nugent would go on to direct a number of Bob Hope comedies in the coming years among other light hearted titles.
I’m not sure when the practice of introducing actors to the movie paying public ended but many of the features released in the early years of talkies would allow the main characters to have a title card so we could put a name to the face. This film does just that introducing us to the Rimplegar family and friends conveniently paraded in front of the camera. We have Claudette, Richard Arlen, Mary Boland, Wallace Ford, Tom Brown, Joan Marsh, Lyda Roberti, Hardy Albright, William Bakewell and though he didn’t get a title card, I do believe I saw Cambridge, Ontario’s own Joe Sawyer during the proceedings of this 77 minute B.P. Shulberg production.
Mary Boland stars as the flighty mother of the wealthy Rimplegar clan. The crash of ’29 has left them untouched by the realities of the great depression. For the time being. Claudette is the lone daughter and engaged to Albright though the family doctor played by Richard Arlen of Wings fame is quite smitten with Miss Colbert but does the gentlemanly thing by not intruding upon her current romance. The sons of the family are fairly self centered. The youngest son, Tom Brown is off school for the summer, Wally Ford who would eventually round into a superb character actor is the son with romance problems in the form of Joan Marsh who in fine pre-code fashion wears her fashion designer clothes a little low cut in the front. The third son, Bakewell, seems to be bound for a career as an actor if he can just land a part that gives him more than one line on stage.
There’s even a Rouben Mamoulian reference that aside from classic film fans would surely be lost on today’s audiences.
The family is about to be grounded in reality when it’s discovered that Boland’s investments have amounted to a total loss of the family fortune. Destitute, the adult aged “children” are going to have to pound the payment in search of jobs. Their privileged lifestyle has now come to an end. Shoe factories, lifeguard duties and bit part acting will have to help the family make due through the tough times. Arlen sees this as an opportunity to help the family and maybe even himself. As they own a large home, he moves in and rents a room to help out while at the same time, stays close to Colbert who is soon to realize that her betrothed, Albright, has no intention of working. He’d much rather let Colbert bring him the cash while he continues to be a struggling writer. One who refuses a good paying job against everyone else’s wishes.
I found this one to be a pretty lame attempt at the screwball genre. A blossoming genre that would slowly work itself to perfection. Colbert would of course star in the classic It Happened One Night the following year, winning an Oscar and scoring a bullseye for the genre over at the low rent Columbia studios opposite Gable. Still to come were winners like Midnight and The Palm Beach Story for the box office star. I say lame mainly because I felt the comedy was stretched for much of the short running time making the film seem far too long. That’s in part because I found the “children” far too old to be playing childish roles. Boland is a hoot though and comes off best with her worry free thoughts and wearing her feathery boa in the kitchen while attempting to cook breakfast with her non English speaking maid, Roberti.
A fun quote from Colbert’s character would be in remembering when she turned 18, “That was when I was at my zenith.” At the age of thirty when she filmed this one, I guess it was all downhill.
As for the odd title Three Cornered Moon? That’s the investment stock that Boland lost the family fortune too. Where to find this rather forgotten film of Claudette’s career? It’s part of a Universal release box set of early titles that I’ve had sitting on the shelf here for far too long. I guess I was overdue in checking it out.