sovay: (Cho Hakkai: intelligence)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2018-12-17 03:40 am
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I could never pass for a woman—I don't look masculine enough

This cold has left me feeling like death on toast points, so I won't mince words: William A. Seiter's Peach-O-Reno (1931) is a gem. About five minutes in, [personal profile] spatch said in wonder, "Hays must have had a heart attack when he saw this movie." About five minutes from the end, he corrected himself: "He must've had an apoplexy." Seeing as how the intervening fifty minutes include a price war between quickie divorce lawyers, a respect for the American legal system that rivals Kander and Ebb's Chicago, and the greatest screen drag act until Jack Lemmon's Daphne, I cannot bring myself to disagree.

Unlike some of our previous forays into the whack-a-ding-hoy world of Bert Wheeler and Bob Woolsey, Peach-O-Reno has an actual, trackable plot and it's funny from the premise: after a molehill misunderstanding escalates into a mountainous grudgematch in the middle of their silver anniversary dinner, Joe and Aggie Bruno (Joseph Cawthorn and Cora Witherspoon, respectively as round and choleric and tall and astringent as a misalliance by Mervyn Peake) race one another to Reno to get unshackled while their daughters Prudence and Pansy (Dorothy Lee and Zelma O'Neal, one fair, one dark, both smarter than their parents by miles) race after them to throw a spanner in the divorce by any means necessary; all parties collide at the opulent offices of shysters extraordinaire Wattles and Swift (Wheeler and Woolsey), who run a legal practice by day and a casino by night, because Reno. They even have their own heavily advertised shuttle service to ferry their dual clientele straight from the train station and right under the noses of their competitors, the more reputable, i.e. less successful firm of Jackson, Jackson, Jackson, and Jackson (only the last of these is important; he's played by Sam Hardy). Let no one say their work lacks the personal touch, though—representing both sides of the Bruno divorce, our antiheroes are cheerful to act as their own co-respondents and provide the obligatory grounds. Complicating their efforts is not only burgeoning romance with the young lady Brunos, but the necessity of dodging Ace Crosby (Mitchell Harris), a bad man straight out of a B-Western with the simple heart's desire of shooting the skunk who got his wife her well-deserved divorce. That skunk is Wattles, who's already committed to spending the evening as "the Widow Hanover, Professional Co-Respondent. Graduated head of her class from Co-Respondence School." So what's one more man to vamp? "Don't worry," Wattles assures his partner, adjusting his platinum-blonde marcel wave with one hand as the other snaps open his sequined fan, "I'll fascinate him." She swivels off in a swirl of black satin and silver fox, and does.

The best thing about Wheeler's drag is that it is perfectly convincing right up until the minute his wig catches fire. Neither of his marks is the sharpest spoon in the drawer, but the Widow Hanover succeeds on her own merits of outrageous man-hungry innocence and a voice whose natural femininity is more a matter of inflection than pitch. She has eyes like Clara Bow, a moue like Betty Boop, and she covers any suspicion of inauthenticity with a hip-check that would dislocate the rest of us. "Oh, man, what a woman," Wheeler's Swift whistles, watching her work on the besotted paterfamilias and the swell-headed desperado. Called upon to perform a floor show for the casino, she follows Swift a few courteous turns around the ballroom until the skinny little know-it-all can't heave her off the floor for a lift and, exasperated, she boosts him ballet-style and proceeds to fling him like a ragdoll through some soft-shoe, an Apache dance, a buck-and-wing that turns into a death spiral; I think only not actually being a Muppet saves him from going through the bass drum at the end. She gets two of the deepest-cut gags, too. "Oh, that's our college football pin," she airily tells Pa Bruno when he pokes at the incongruous enameled glint on her bodice, cueing some back-and-forth over whether it's really hers until he finally blurts, "But you can't wear one of these till you make the team—" at which the widow gives him a mercury-vaporizing grin. The wig-scorching that reveals her imposture is lampshaded by Crosby, who sniffs the smoke in the air and growls, in a multiple entendre worthy of Greer Gilman, "I smell punk." And the action promptly converts itself into a scrambling chase with some bulletproof nonsense without a moment lost to gay panic. I appreciate it.

But the whole movie is full of things turning into other things as fast as you can pay for them, which is the American way. At close of business, one of the employees of the law office—which is already furnished like a cross between a department store and a resort hotel, with bellhops and floorwalkers—blows a jazzy reveille and Swift throws the mad science lever marked "Casino Switch" and the big neon sign above the building that's been flashing "Wattles & Swift—Divorce Attorneys" among a mess of hearts and rings blinks back on as "Wattles & Swift—Casino," with dice, cards, and a girl in her scanties doing the high kick. The bellhops strip off to become cigarette girls in the living end of lingerie, bars unfold out of bookcases and desks flip-top into roulette wheels, clerks reemerge as croupiers, waiters, and the house band, "The 10 Alimony Jumpers." This is a movie that's so irreverent about marriage that the love duet between Wheeler and Lee is a merry little shimmy about the ease of divorce nowadays—

From Niagara Falls to Reno
Used to be far away
Niagara Falls to Reno
Is only a step today
Many a peachorino
Made up her mind too soon
Now you can reach old Reno
Fresh from the honeymoon


—in the course of which Lee's Prudence whips off the skirt of her pearly white dress so as to tap more freely, also gams. And it's so committed to the irreverence that the courtroom sequence which caps the film exceeds all previously established expectations for pandemonium, combining the best elements of pro wrestling, a day at the races, a night at the circus, if it's Tuesday it must be Bedlam. I am especially fond of the peanut vendor vying for the jury's attention with the commentator from "Station GIN—the Breath of Reno," obviously a kindred spirit of Hoople's WTWP: "Mr. Wattles is wearing a high-hat herringbone two-pants suit and Mr. Swift's clothes are getting louder and funnier." It runs 63 minutes because RKO cranked out its movies nineteen to the dozen, but I think it ends where it does because once the jury's turned into a jazz band swinging the hot version of Wagner's "Bridal Chorus," where's left to go?

So that's a movie you couldn't re-release in the Code era. I was sorry to read that the wrestling courtship of Swift and Pansy was deleted from existing prints, but the rest of the script by Tim Whelan, Ralph Spence, and Eddie Welch seems to have come down to us with its innuendos and double-talk intact, which is good because otherwise there wouldn't be much of it. I have a lot of context-free affection for the progression of "Mrs. Doubleday-Doubleday . . . Mrs. Two-a-Day . . . Mrs. Two-Timer" and for Wattles' heartfelt sob, "Has anybody got a revolver?" but in terms of establishing jokes, I couldn't help thinking of Mel Brooks as a beautiful client inquired, "Are you looking at these?" as she crossed her elegant calves and Swift objected with dignified precision, "I beg your pardon, ma'am, I'm above that." We watched this mishegos off a library DVD, but there's a not too badly ripped copy on YouTube and I guarantee it won't be morally improving. I wish I knew whether anyone involved in Some Like It Hot (1959) could actually have seen it. This step brought to you by my fresh backers at Patreon.
aurumcalendula: gold, blue, orange, and purple shapes on a black background (Default)

[personal profile] aurumcalendula 2018-12-17 11:22 am (UTC)(link)
This sounds AWESOME! *adds to to-watch list*
moon_custafer: (shot)

[personal profile] moon_custafer 2018-12-17 12:25 pm (UTC)(link)
I wish I knew whether anyone involved in Some Like It Hot (1959) could actually have seen it.

The two are less than thirty years apart, so it’s not impossible; and since the latter is set in the ‘20s, and they hired Barbette as the drag consultant, I’d escalate the chances to “pretty likely.”
genarti: Baby sloth looking over edge of cardboard box, with text "...duuuude." ([misc] duuuuuude)

[personal profile] genarti 2018-12-17 04:13 pm (UTC)(link)
Goodness gracious sakes alive. This sounds like a new definition for madcap, and I'm delighted to hear that it exists.
nineweaving: (Default)

[personal profile] nineweaving 2018-12-17 04:39 pm (UTC)(link)
Fabulous! I am flattered to be associated with that joke. Having just seen The Tempest, I keep thinking of the Professional Co-Respondent as the Widow Dido.

Nine
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)

[personal profile] alatefeline 2018-12-17 04:50 pm (UTC)(link)
That sounds amazing. I've got to watch it!
gwynnega: (Leslie Howard mswyrr)

[personal profile] gwynnega 2018-12-17 09:53 pm (UTC)(link)
That sounds even more fun than Merry Wives of Reno.
alexxkay: (Default)

[personal profile] alexxkay 2018-12-18 05:18 am (UTC)(link)
The best thing about Wheeler's drag is that it is perfectly convincing right up until the minute his wig catches fire.

LOL! And sold!
asakiyume: created by the ninja girl (Default)

[personal profile] asakiyume 2018-12-20 03:12 am (UTC)(link)
Jackson, Jackson, Jackson, and Jackson (only the last of these is important; he's played by Sam Hardy).

We interrupt our reading of this film review to savor this particularly good line, and maybe to chuckle a bit.
Edited (had to remove an errant "f") 2018-12-20 03:12 (UTC)
asakiyume: (definitely definitely)

[personal profile] asakiyume 2018-12-20 03:17 am (UTC)(link)
Neither of his marks is the sharpest spoon in the drawer

Let it be known that this line was Noticed and Appreciated.
asakiyume: (nevermore)

[personal profile] asakiyume 2018-12-20 03:22 am (UTC)(link)
But the whole movie is full of things turning into other things as fast as you can pay for them, which is the American way.

Perfect statement
asakiyume: created by the ninja girl (Default)

[personal profile] asakiyume 2018-12-20 03:27 am (UTC)(link)
"Are you looking at these?" as she crossed her elegant calves and Swift objected with dignified precision, "I beg your pardon, ma'am, I'm above that." --LOL

This was VERY GOOD FUN TO READ--thank you.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)

[personal profile] kathmandu 2018-12-31 02:06 pm (UTC)(link)
Thanks to your review, I have now watched this too; hadn't heard of it before. It was cute and funny.

One thing I noticed with the drag/Mrs. Hanover sequence, is how clear it becomes that many of the stereotypical 'flirtatious' moves, with the fan and the hand gestures, are actually to defuse tension, divert attention from difficult questions, cover awkward gaps... It shed light from a new (or older) angle on all those "But she can't have minded my remarks on her personal hotness: she was smiling!" arguments.
lokifan: black Converse against a black background (Default)

[personal profile] lokifan 2019-02-10 05:40 pm (UTC)(link)
The wig-scorching that reveals her imposture is lampshaded by Crosby, who sniffs the smoke in the air and growls, in a multiple entendre worthy of Greer Gilman, "I smell punk."

*diiiiiies*

This sounds amazing.