Classic Comedy [2 Discs] [Tin Case] [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

His Girl Friday
The second screen version of the Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur play The Front Page, His Girl Friday changed hard-driving newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson from a man to a woman, transforming the story into a scintillating battle of the sexes. Rosalind Russell plays Hildy, about to foresake journalism for marriage to cloddish Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). Cary Grant plays Walter Burns, Hildy's editor and ex-husband, who feigns happiness about her impending marriage as a ploy to win her back. The ace up Walter's sleeve is a late-breaking news story concerning the impending execution of anarchist Earl Williams (John Qualen), a blatant example of political chicanery that Hildy can't pass up. The story gets hotter when Williams escapes and is hidden from the cops by Hildy and Walter--right in the prison pressroom. His Girl Friday may well be the fastest comedy of the 1930s, with kaleidoscope action, instantaneous plot twists, and overlapping dialogue. And if you listen closely, you'll hear a couple of "in" jokes, one concerning Cary Grant's real name (Archie Leach), and another poking fun at Ralph Bellamy's patented "poor sap" screen image. Subsequent versions of The Front Page included Billy Wilder's 1974 adaptation, which restored Hildy Johnson's manhood in the form of Jack Lemmon, and 1988's Switching Channels, which cast Burt Reynolds in the Walter Burns role and Kathleen Turner as the Hildy Johnson counterpart. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Amazing Adventure
Amazing Quest was the original British release title of the 1937 comedy Romance and Riches (aka Riches and Romance). Making a rare return trip to England, Cary Grant plays the heir to a huge fortune. Alas, Grant is miserable, because he's never worked for his money. Determined to prove his worth, Grant makes a wager than he can earn his keep for a full year without ever touching the family millions. He loses his bet when he must draw upon his money to wed poverty-stricken Mary Brian, the better to save her from an unhappy marriage of convenience. Still, his experiences among the working classes have left an indelible impression; turning his back on his "equals," Grant invites all of his newly acquired lowborn friends to his wedding reception. Like His Girl Friday, Penny Serenade, and Charade, Amazing Quest is one on the ever-growing list of Cary Grant films that have lapsed into public domain, and thus are more readily available than when first released. Amazing Quest was based on a novel by E. Phillips Oppenheim. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Charade
Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn star in this stylish comedy-thriller directed by Stanley Donen, very much in a Hitchcock vein. Grant plays Peter Joshua, who meets Reggie Lampert (Hepburn) in Paris and later offers to help her when she discovers that her husband has been murdered. After the funeral, Reggie is summoned to the embassy and warned by agent/friend Bartholemew (Walter Matthau) that her late husband helped steal 250,000 dollars during the war and that the rest of the gang is after the money as well. When three of the men who attended her husband's funeral begin to harass her, Reggie goes to Joshua for help, at which time Joshua confesses that his name is actually Alexander Dyle, the brother of a fourth accomplice in the gold theft. The three men from the funeral are revealed to be the three other accomplices in the crime, and though she knows next to nothing of the heist, Reggie is caught in a ring of suspense as she is followed by the shadowy trio, all after the money. Apparently, the only person she can trust is Joshua/Dyle -- until Bartholomew tells Reggie that the fourth accomplice had no brother, and Joshua/Dyle reveals that he is, in fact, a crook named Adam Canfield. Now Reggie doesn't know where to turn. The musical score by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini was nominated for an Academy Award. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi

My Dear Secretary
Produced by comedy specialist Harry M. Popkin and his brother Leo Popkin, My Dear Secretary stars Kirk Douglas as Owen Waterbury, a best-selling novelist with an eye for the ladies. When aspiring writer Stephanie Gaylord (Laraine Day) signs on as his secretary, Waterbury assumes that he's lined up another sexual conquest. But Stephanie is not so easily won over, and the rest of the film finds Waterbury striving to come up to her standards. Whenever the film's pace lags, one can count on the farcical expertise of Keenan Wynn, borrowed from MGM to play Douglas' sardonic confidante, to save the day. Along with Strange Love of Martha Ivers, My Dear Secretary is one of the most accessible of Kirk Douglas' early films thanks to its public-domain status. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Nothing Sacred
"This is New York, Skyscraper Champion of the World...Where the Slickers and Know-It-Alls peddle gold bricks to each other...And where Truth, crushed to earth, rises again more phony than a glass eye..." With this jaundiced opening title, scripter Ben Hecht introduces his classic comedy Nothing Sacred. Fredric March plays Wally Cook, a hotshot reporter condemned to writing obituaries because of his unwitting complicity in a fraud. Anxious to get back in the good graces of his editor Oliver Stone (Walter Connolly), Cook pounces on the story of New England girl Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard), who is reportedly dying from radiation poisoning. Actually, Hazel isn't dying at all; she's been misdiagnosed by Moscow's eternally drunk doctor (Charles Winninger). But when Cook offers to take her on an all-expenses-paid trip to New York in exchange for her exclusive story, it's too good an offer to pass up. Once in the Big Apple, Hazel is feted as a heroine by the novelty-seeking populac; she enjoys the adulation at first, but soon (and with the help of gallons of alcoholic beverages) suffers the pangs of conscience. She confesses her deception to Cook, who by now has fallen in love with her. Cook and Stone conspire to keep the public from discovering the truth, eventually dreaming up a phony suicide. Travelling incognito to avoid arrest, Wally and Hazel marry and go on a honeymoon, secure in the knowledge that New York City has forgotten all about her and moved on to their next fad. Brimming with witty, acerbic dialogue and hilarious bits of physical business, Nothing Sacred is among the best "screwball" comedies of the 1930s. The musical score by Oscar Levant both mocks and celebrates the George Gershwinesque musical style then in vogue. As an added bonus, the film is lensed in Technicolor (avoid those two-color reissue prints), allowing modern viewers to see what New York City looked liked back in 1937. Nothing Sacred was later adapted into a Broadway musical, Hazel Flagg, which in turn was filmed by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis as Living It Up (1954), with Lewis in the Carole Lombard role. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

My Man Godfrey
One of the landmark "screwball" comedies of the 1930s, My Man Godfrey offers the radiant Carole Lombard in her definitive performance as flighty young heiress Irene Bullock, who on a society scavenger hunt stumbles on Godfrey (William Powell), an erudite hobo residing in the city dump. Godfrey becomes the family's butler, much to the dismay of Irene's father Alexander (Eugene Pallette), who thinks his household is crazy enough without another apparent lunatic under his roof. Halfway through the film, we discover that Godfrey isn't a penniless bum at all, but the scion of a wealthy Boston family. Having been burned by an unhappy romance, Godfrey dropped out of life, taking up residence in the dump. Here his faith in humanity was restored by his fellow indigents, who managed to survive and remain optimistic despite the worst deprivations. Meanwhile, however, he wants to straighten out the Bullock family, who he feels are a basically decent bunch beneath all their pretensions and eccentricities -- and along the way, of course, Irene determines that Godfrey will be her husband. While Godfrey's ultimate "solution" to the exigencies of the Depression seems more of a placebo, My Man Godfrey is all in all a totally satisfying jolt of 1930s-style wish fulfillment. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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