Saturday, April 30, 2011

Four's a Crowd (1938)


“You people don’t want to get married you want to get divorced”

            Four’s a Crowd is one of many fun and enjoyable screwball comedies to come out of the 1930s. The cast is not what you could consider your usual comedy actors with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland who are known for their period films together as the main actors. Rosalind Russell plays newspaper woman Jean Christy. Her whole life is the newspaper and almost falls to pieces when she hears the paper may be shutting down. She runs into her boss’s office asking what is going on. Pat really seems to not care and on top of everything he is late for a date.
            Jean runs to Bob Lansford (Flynn) who is a public relations manager. Bob is very charming and very sly and handsome. That night they crash Pat’s date with a girl named Lorri Dillingwell. (de Havilland). Bob is not on good terms with Lorri’s grandfather who was a client of his; he told Bob if he were to ever see him again he would send his dogs after him. Bob charms the pants off of Lorri even stealing her away and taking her home. Mr. Dillingwell was not kidding around when he said that he would send his dogs after him! Bob gets to the gate and closes it before the dogs could get him. One of the dogs has his tail sticking out of the gate which Bob takes and bites it! Jean pulls up in a cab at this point and all she can do is laugh.
            As a way of getting back at Dillingwell, Bob picks a small article out about the man that does not show the business man in a good light so he takes the small article and blows it out of proportion. Dillingwell is not one of the most hated men in America. The paper the slanted story came from was the one that Jean and Pat work for.
            Bob also sees the smear campaign as a good way to work with Dillingwell to get him good publicity.
            After this I found the plot to be a little complicated and cannot find a way to properly explain the rest.
            The film was not that popular when it was released because the audience wanted to see Errol Flynn with a sword in his hand and de Havilland as his leading lady that was seldom seen. I have been reading a good book called The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger and she explains how because the public only knew both actors together in their period costumes the film did not do so well. They were playing against type. All the studios used to cast their actors in as many roles as possible to see which type of film fit their stars better and just cast them in those roles forever. In today’s Hollywood sometimes actors and actresses are praised for going outside their comfort zone but the audience and critics pretty much have the same attitude on occasion with a star going against type.
            I liked seeing Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland play these different characters. Flynn was so handsome and so good playing comedy. He had that smooth but quick wit and soft touch which is often seen in old comedies. One of Flynn’s scenes I found to be really funny was when he was on two different phones talking to Lorri and Jean. He held one phone away from him so the one woman would not hear the conversation while he talked to the other. The back and forth between the phones and both women was so good. At the end of the conversations Bob looked so flustered. I cannot even begin to tell you how much I loved Olivia de Havilland in this film. She was twenty-one at this time and so damn adorable! She is so girlie and silly as Lorri. The first time I had ever watched de Havilland in a film was Gone with the Wind where she was all serious and in period costume. Since she is always in period costume it is nice to see de Havilland act in a modern setting.  Here she was marvelously silly. A good scene for both de Havilland and Flynn is when Bob stays at Lorri’s house for the night. He goes down to the kitchen with a nightlight and two guards outside think he is a robber. He quickly has to hide so the guards will not arrest him so he ducks into Lorri’s room. He knocks over a table waking Lorri up and she screams and her little dog starts barking. Bob pretty much dive tackles Lorri off her bed onto the floor to tell her to keep quiet. He lies to her telling her he is in her room because he loves her and that quiets her. Between her screams and the dog’s bark the guards and her maid come to her door. Lorri flitters around the room telling everyone she had a nightmare and that is why she was screaming. The part I cracked up with was when Lorri explaining to her maid that she had a nightmare and that was all and she pretends to fall back to sleep as she talks. I enjoyed seeing Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland going against type and playing comedic roles. It is a shame they did not get to do something like this again in their careers.
            Jean Christy is a prelude to Hildy Johnson from His Girl Friday who is perhaps Rosalind Russell’s most famous and well known film character. As soon as Russell said she was a reporter all I could think of was Hildy. Even as Jean, Russell was very feisty and quick and confident. Her scenes with Errol Flynn were fantastic. They were both the charming, over confident characters that were clearly made for each other. Their best scene to me was when Jean grabs Bob’s hair and he takes her hand and bites it.
            Unfortunately I do not know too much about Patric Knowles who played Pat. I did not really find him to be a good character. The film would have been better off if it were called Three’s a Crowd. Apparently Warner Bros. had Knowles under contract as their Errol Flynn replacement. The two actors even look alike at certain times.
            Michael Curtiz directed Four’s a Crowd. The more I find out what Curtiz directed during his career the more I find him very talented and versatile. To me he will always be the director of Casablanca which he did to perfection but his other films that I have seen have impressed me.
            Four’s a Crowd is a very cute and funny film. Unfortunately because it was not well received when it was first released it is not widely known about today. The plot and the script is truly a mess and if it had not been for the cast it would not be remotely known at all.  If you really think about you can see that Four’s a Crowd is a Warner Bros. rip off of Libeled Lady with William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, and Jean Harlow. Even the beginning credits are exactly the same. The only advantage Four's a Crowd has is that the ending is nicely tied up where as in Libeled Lady it feels like the writers did not know how to end it.
            As of right now Four’s a Crowd is available to view on youtbe and it is available on DVD.