Friday, June 15, 2012

Three Cornered Moon (1933)

They don’t make comedies like this anymore! Claudet Colbert leads a stellar cast in a slapstick comedy about a wealthy Brooklyn family, the Rimplegars that discovers they lost most their money in the crash of ’29, and have continued to do so, thanks to their mother’s (the delightfully dotty Mary Boland) limited economic know-how (and her four grown-up children needing to order a taxi each).

Though the sudden lack of funds moves the plot ahead, much of the humor results from the family's interaction with each other. The actors portraying the Rimplegars have great chemistry and repartee, especially the brothers, played by Wallace Ford, Tom Brown and William Bakewell. They fight and bicker plenty, but share great fondness and love for each other as well. When the going gets tough, they support each other; and when things come up roses, they celebrate like there’s no tomorrow, in scenes of such unbridled, ridiculous joy that it’s hard not to smile along with them.

That’s not to say there isn’t some sting in this apparent piece of fluff. Colbert’s fiancée/lodger is a struggling intellectual writer, the kind that keeps cubist paintings and continually muses about life’s lack of meaning. The film has no patience for this artistic type; though he is a romantic at heart, his idealism and devotion to his modern novel (whose prose consists of a strange kind of modern spur of thinking innuendo) costs him a chance to get a job and put food on the table. 
The critique of holding art above survival fits well with the contemporary times. After all it was the mother’s lack of understanding of stocks and keeping money that got them into the whole in the first place (her investment into the Three Cornered Moon mine was the beginning of their woe, hence the title). But this is a comedy, and a highly enjoyable one at that. Like Hallelujah I'm a Bum and Sullivan's Travels, it somehow manages to squeeze out laughs from the dark reality of the Great Depression, thanks to wit, heart, and a great cast.

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