Monday, August 12, 2013

Mill Creek comedy classics #49: "Too Many Women" (1942)

Commission Gordon has a surplus of dames in Too Many Women.

Bachelorettes #1, 2, 3, and  4:
(top row) June Lang, Joyce Compton
(bottom row) Marlo Dwyer, Barbara Read
The flick: Too Many Women (PRC Pictures, 1942) [buy the set]

Current IMdb rating: 5.3

Director: Bernard B. Ray (Russian-born director and producer of 1930s and '40s "B" westerns)

Actors of note:
  • June Lang (Frank Capra's The Miracle Woman, Laurel & Hardy's Bonnie Scotland; married for two years to mobster Johnny Roselli)
  • Barbara Read (Make Way for Tomorrow)
  • Fred Sherman (Some Like it Hot, The Tall T, Lady in the Lake)
  • Marlo Dwyer (Crossfire, Footlight Parade)
  • Kate MacKenna (Bus Stop, The Lemon Drop Kid)
  • Maurice Cass (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, TV's Rocky Jones, Space Ranger)

The gist of it: Reformed ladies' man Richard Sutton (Hamilton) wants to marry sensible Linda Pearson (Read), his steady girlfriend, but he hasn't saved enough money to build a future for them. Worse yet, two of Richard's old girlfriends, prim Gwen (Lang) and spoiled Barbara (Compton), still think they're in a relationship with him because he can't give them the brush-off... and neither will take the hint when he keeps dodging them. Complicating things further, Richard bluffs his way out of a business proposal from a persistent salesman by saying he's just inherited $3 million from his late uncle in Brazil and doesn't need any more income.

The news of Richard's "windfall" suddenly becomes big news all across town, and Gwen and Barbara are more eager than ever to hook him. In fact, tongue-tied Richard finds himself accidentally engaged to both of them within the span of about a day. Linda, understandably, is furious and leaves him. And Richard's boss fires him, figuring a millionaire doesn't need a job. But Richard can't give up the charade because his grandmother's doctor (Cass) tells him the old woman (MacKenna) would die of shock if she knew he wasn't really a millionaire.

Against the advice of his honest friend Charlie (Sherman), Richard decides to go out on the town, get plastered, and forget his troubles. He wakes up the next morning in a strange apartment, terribly hungover, and has to confront Gwen, Barbara, and a third would-be bride, mobster's daughter Lorraine (Dwyer), all of whom to marry him -- by force if necessary. Richard and Charlie have to think fast to find a way out of this mess. Meanwhile, the last of the money Richard really does have is riding on a 50-to-1-shot horse he bet on while intoxicated.

"Get me Bob Cummings!"
My take: Neil Hamilton is so familiar to TV viewers as stiff, humorless Commissioner Gordon from the '60s Batman series that it's difficult to imagine a time when he was a romantic leading man. He's not exactly the most charismatic of actors, and at first, I thought his innate dullness was going to hamper Too Many Women. Indeed, the film gets off to quite a slow start, and many viewers will probably give up on it after a few minutes. But I'd advise people to stick with this film, especially if they like farce, because once the plot starts percolating, this becomes quite an enjoyable little bon bon of a comedy.

Truth be told, Hamilton is sort of a dreary presence at first, and he only barely manages to rise to the level of adequacy as the film progresses. Frankly, the supporting actors are doing a lot of the heavy lifting, comically speaking. Hamilton does possess a certain wry, understated detachment from the proceedings, but he feels like the understudy for some more magnetic actor. Cary Grant might have knocked this one clean out of the park. While there's no way PRC Pictures could have afforded Grant, they might have gotten Bob Cummings for this. For Too Many Women to work, you have to imagine the babes going crazy over Neil Hamilton... which is kind of a funny idea in itself, now that I think of it. Maybe he got some of Adam West and Burt Ward's leftover groupies.

Is it funny: I am happy to say, yes. For me, the first big laugh comes when Richard tries to escape from a Red Cross bazaar inconspicuously in order to avoid Gwen and Barbara, then immediately (and noisily) collides with a waiter. As I've mentioned in this blog many times, I'm a fan of farce: those comedic stories that build on miscommunications and bad timing and get crazier and crazier as they go along, generally leading to one big climactic scene that draws all (or most) of the characters together in one place.

People use the term "farce" with disdain, but it's a proud comedic tradition that includes I Love Lucy, Seinfeld, Fawlty Towers, A Fish Called Wanda, and Ruthless People, not to mention centuries of stage plays in countries around the world. I genuinely got a kick out watching Richard's life spin rapidly out of control, and since he's kind of a jerk, I didn't mind him getting punched in the face a few times. He had it coming!

My grade: B

P.S. - No stereotypes here, folks. All the more reason to like this movie.