Monday, June 10, 2013

Mill Creek comedy classics #7: "Affairs of Cappy Ricks" (1937)

Walter Brennan in Affairs of Cappy Ricks: Who's up for a threesome? No takers?

The flick: Affairs of Cappy Ricks (Republic, 1937) [buy the set]

Current IMDb rating: 5.9

Director: Ralph Staub (Country Gentlemen)

Actors of note:
  • Walter Brennan (Rio BravoSergeant York, TV's The Real McCoys, three-time Oscar winner)
  • Mary Brian (Brown of Harvard, The Front Page)
  • Lyle Talbot (Plan 9 from Outer Space, Glen or Glenda?)
  • Frank Shields (tennis pro and grandfather of Brooke Shields)

The gist of it: Cantankerous business mogul Cappy Ricks (Brennan) returns to San Francisco after a long sea voyage, only to find his house and his business have changed drastically for the worse in his absence. One of his daughters, Ellen, is unhappily married to Matt, the wimpy, sad-sack son of his late partner, and the son's unbearable, domineering mother, Mrs. Peasley, has moved into and redecorated the Ricks homestead. Worse yet, his other daughter Frankie (Brian) is engaged to the useless Waldo Bottomly, Jr. (Shields), the son of Cappy's business rival, pompous Waldo Bottomly, Sr., whose company manufactures modern "push-button" gadgets Cappy despises.

Aided by his crony -- and Frankie's ex-boyfriend -- Bill Peck (Talbot), Cappy launches an incredible plan to regain control of his life. He gathers Ellen, Matt, Mrs. Peasley, and Frankie on his boat, takes them way out into the ocean ("300 miles off the sea lanes"), and then arranges for them all, Cappy and Bill included, to be marooned on a deserted island so that they'll learn to be self-sufficient and not modernized, sissified "land lubbers."

It should be noted that this was the fifth of six movies about Cappy Ricks (each time he was played by a different actor), a once-popular character whose origins go back to a series of short stories written by Peter B. Kyne. The movie just assumes we know who he is and who the other characters are. For newbies like me, though it gets very confusing very quickly until a news broadcast late in the film sorts a lot of it out. If you want to read a whole book about Cappy's adventures for free, you can do so right here.

Walter Brennan skinny and not-so-skinny.
My take: Was Walter Brennan ever young, or was he born 60 years old? Cappy Ricks was released the year after Come and Get It earned him the first of his three Oscars. He was only 42 when he made this flick, but he appears much, much older. Apparently, he lost most of his teeth in an accident in '32 and played codgers and coots forever after. It worked for him, obviously, as he enjoyed decades of success in television and film. This film was a low-budget quickie, just another paycheck and a few days of filming for Walter.

His character here, both a captain of industry and an actual sea captain, seemed to me to be a bully, a cheat, a liar, and a Luddite. If the movie had thought of him that way, Affairs of Cappy Ricks would be somewhat more successful. But the movie considers him a hero, I think, a Quixote of the Sea, fighting valiantly against modern times and all these newfangled gadgets and ideas of ours. We're supposed to be rooting for him, and I spent the whole movie waiting for someone to sock him in the jaw, which is what he deserves. His plan is not only insane and illegal but cruel and controlling. I am not much of a fan of traveling, because it generally requires one to be confined to a rather limited space for long amounts of time. If I'd been on that boat of his for weeks on end, I'd have probably jumped overboard.

It's also unfair that most of the other characters are so silly and shrill, because it stacks the deck in Cappy's favor. Just because they're wrong doesn't make him right. More problematic is the film's nasty misogynist streak. One persistent theme is that women need macho men to yell at them, boss them around, and overtake them physically. "You have no choice" isn't a line that should be used in a romantic way, but it is here.

Anyway, this thing is strictly routine as far as production values and direction. It's obviously a vehicle for Brennan, who's a little scrawnier than I'm used to seeing him, but there are a couple of mildly interesting people in the cast. I'm probably one of the few people in the world who get excited when Lyle Talbot's name appears in the opening credits of a movie. A bland, somewhat stocky supporting actor, Talbot somehow became part of Ed Wood's repertory company in the 1950s. Stuffy, spoiled Mrs. Peasley should be a fun character, but the actress who plays her, Georgia Caine, is no Margaret Dumont, aka Hollywood's daffy dowager par excellence.

Meanwhile, though, Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans might just be interested to know that one of the smaller roles in the film, a sailor on Waldo Bottomly's ship, is played by the same guy who was the suck-up salesman Jimmy in the short industrial film Hired! (Jam Handy Productions, 1940).

Poopdeck Pappy
Is it funny: Sorry, but I'm going to have to say no. Affairs of Cappy Ricks broke a streak for me in that it was the first film in the collection that didn't make me laugh out loud even once.

Your appreciation for this flick will largely depend on your level of enjoyment of Walter Brennan in the title role. Me, I found him tiresome after a few minutes -- nowhere near as funny as The Simpsons' Captain McAllister. Some of the things that bother Cappy are so mild that I had no idea why he was making such a big deal of them. He comes home to find the place now has a few small knickknacks on the shelves and some modest paintings on the wall, and he rants about all the "trick decorations." The movie backs him up all the way on this, but I didn't see the problem.

The script has a few clever but not quite funny lines, as when Mrs. Peasley complains that she's tired of eating "fish and eggs and eggs and fish," and Ellen, her daughter-in law, reminds her: "You used to like caviar. That's eggs and fish in one!" As a lifelong Popeye fan, I suppose I should mention that Cappy Ricks reminded me a bit of Popeye's irascible father, the somewhat similarly-named Poopdeck Pappy, but E.C. Segar had the good sense to portray Pappy as a scoundrel and not a role model.

My grade: C+ (with regrets)

P.S. No negative Negro stereotypes here, but Mrs. Peasley does make some ill-advised comments about "cannibals."