Saturday, June 15, 2013

Mill Creek comedy classics #10: "Here Comes Trouble" (1948)

The poster promises "gay new Cinecolor," but Mill Creek's print of  Here Comes Trouble is strictly black-and-white.

The flick: Here Comes Trouble (United Artists, 1948) [buy the set]

Current IMDb rating: 5.6

Director: Fred Guiol (Hay Foot, Why Girls Love Sailors, 45 Minutes from Hollywood)

Actors of note:
  • William Tracy (Hay Foot, The Phantom of the Opera, Alfred Hitchcock's Mr. and Mrs. Smith)
  • Joe Sawyer (Hay Foot, Gilda, How the West Was Won)
  • Emory Parnell (The Maltese Falcon, The Andromeda Strain, and so much more)
  • Betty Compson (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, A Slight Case of Murder)
  • Joan Woodbury (The Bride of Frankenstein, The Ten Commandments)

The gist of it: Officious yet gullible Dorian "Dodo" Doubleday (Tracy), returning to civilian life after a stint in the Army, picks up his old life where he left it, i.e. working as a newspaper copy boy at the Tribune and romancing his boss' lovely brunette daughter, Penny. Penny's father, irritable newspaper editor "Windy" Blake (Parnell), despises Doubleday and thus promotes him to the dangerous job of police reporter, hoping that the local gangsters -- angered by the newspaper's anti-mob crusade -- will kill him. On his new beat, Doubleday runs into his old Army buddy, Ames (Sawyer), a big palooka who's recently joined the police force and is so desperate to make good that he's arresting everyone in sight. Despite their total ineptitude at virtually everything, Doubleday and Ames find themselves at the center of a major news story involving organized crime, a shady burlesque theater, a sexy dancer named Bubbles La Rue (Woodbury), blackmail, bribery, and a diary which could bring down the city's crime boss.

A more serious approach.
My take: A kind of goofball, funhouse-mirror version of The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Here Comes Trouble focuses on the plight of veterans returning home from World War II and trying to reestablish themselves in America. Like the characters in that Oscar-winning film, Doubleday and Ames have to contend with personal and professional strife, but here it's played for lighthearted slapstick rather than pathos. Exploding cigars, sneezing clowns, and accidental judo flips are the order of the day here.

Despite the wholesomeness of Doubleday, the ultimate goody-two-shoes, Here Comes Trouble has a surprising undercurrent of sex and violence. It's strongly implied, for instance, that Mr. Blake cheated on his insufferable wife (Compson) with Bubbles at a convention in Chicago and will do anything to keep this information a secret. And Blake's total nonchalance at sending Doubleday to be murdered by thugs is, to say the least, eye-opening for what is supposed to be a carefree romp.

Far from being patriotic or reassuring, Here Comes Trouble presents America as a place where the police are incompetent, the so-called "crusading" newspaper editor is actually kind of a dirtbag (his reporters seem like pretty slimy guys, too), and a city's real business is conducted in hushed tones behind closed doors.

You have to wonder how Mr. Blake made enough money to afford the seemingly palatial mansion where he and his family live. The Tribune's motto, written in a very stylish art deco font on the wall of the bullpen, goes: "Is it news? Is it interesting? Is it fit to read?" Compare that to the more-direct motto of the small-town paper in Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole (1951): "Tell the truth."

The cops, meanwhile, are seemingly impotent against an organized crime ring which has permeated the town, even its legitimate businesses, and everyone -- Penny included -- is all too quick to believe that the totally-innocent Doubleday is a murderer.

In short, it's a pretty rotten country we've provided for our returning GIs. On the plus side, Mr. Blake has a very nice private bathroom adjoining his office, complete with a shower. In its glory days, print journalism was quite a racket.

One last thought here: Is the fate of Bubbles La Rue meant to be some kind of moral judgment on her character and, if so, what does that say about gender roles and sexual politics in the 1940s?

Is it funny: For the most part, yes. Certain sequences in Here Comes Trouble, particularly a scene with Doubleday and Bubbles winding up together in Mr. Blake's bathroom while the oblivious Mrs. Blake visits her nervous husband's office, had me laughing out loud. Others, like a scene in which Doubleday's fellow reporters haze him by ruining his new clothes and smearing his face with black ink, just didn't work for me.

The ending of Here Comes Trouble is almost exactly the same as that of All Over Town: A murderer runs around a theater trying to evade capture while the cops and all the other characters stumble all over each other in a madcap pursuit, and the (onscreen) audience just thinks it's being treated to a great show. This final sequence goes on too long and deflates the comedy just a bit in the home stretch, but I have to admit I chuckled when Doubleday managed to lose his trousers and end up in his striped boxer shorts for the last five minutes of the flick. Underwear is always comedy gold.

My grade: B+

P.S. - Yes, there is one stereotypical Negro in a menial role here. This time, it's an elevator operator who reacts with wide-eyed astonishment at Doubleday, who is blissfully unaware that his coworkers have made him look like a bearded hobo.