Thursday, November 21, 2013

Men Are Such Fools - 1938

"Men Are Such Fools" - 1938
Dir. by Busby Berkeley - 1 hr. 9 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

"Men Are Such Fools" is exactly the kind of movie that I watch only because of the people involved.  It's a Humphrey Bogart film I hadn't seen, and it turned out that it was directed by Busby Berkeley, which I'm largely unfamiliar with other than by reputation (and most of that reputation was formed by the dream-sequence homage from "The Big Lebowski"), but at least I'd heard of him.  On the whole, the film hasn't aged particularly well (and by that, I mean watching a 1930's idea of flirting is kind of rough), but it was short, which was nice.

A mentally-challenged control freak with an explosive temper, Linda Lawrence (Priscilla Lane), works at an advertising agency, but has eyes on a larger role with her company, and writes some copy for something called "Fruit Tea," which she hopes will be her ticket to the top.  She finagles a dinner meeting with her weird boss, Mr. Bates (yes, really - played by Hugh Herbert), who is possibly supposed to be gay (he's kind of flamboyant, but otherwise asexual, unlike everyone else in the movie), but definitely has a speech impediment.  Her dim-witted stalker, Jimmy (Wayne Morris), horns in on the meeting, gets her drunk, and she mistakes her hangover for having fallen in love with him.  Despite this, Linda's manipulative side comes out, and she continues to use other men to make Jimmy jealous with ex-footballer rage.  Another suitor, Harry Galleon (Bogart), makes a play for her, which enrages Jimmy into knocking him out.  That's not the last hurdle for their relationship, though, and Jimmy must overcome both his drinking and general stupidity AND Linda's crazed need for control, incessant game-playing, and emotional unavailability to find happiness.

Maybe that's an uncharitable way to look at the plot, but when your main character always has to be right, and is completely incapable of compromise, and would rather play games with people than just be honest about what she wants, you'd probably have to admit that Linda is either literally a toddler, or merely has the intellectual capability of one.  This collection of traits isn't nearly as charming as anyone involved in the making of this film would hope, but at least Linda is systematically tortured by her choice in men.  Somehow, she falls for being publicly stalked by a dolt who proclaims his love for her nearly immediately (c'mon, she has to have heard that line before), proposes marriage to her by stalling his car on the train tracks in front of an oncoming train deliberately, and reacts to Harry's flirting by dragging her into a pool and repeatedly dunking her head under water.  In a train-wreck sort of way, these two are made for one another.  I can't help but think that if they'd just push those twin beds together every now and then (and yes, this was one of those movies where a married couple each have separate beds), both of them might not respond to adversity quite as explosively.

So look, if you've got any kind of feminist leaning, you're probably going to hate something in this film.  Heck, I even couldn't stand Jimmy, and found myself disappointed in Linda for falling for abuse.  But then again, I'm not really down with romance movies in general.  Rarely, one will click and be entertaining, but I just don't watch that many of them to begin with.  But then again, I watched this movie because Humphrey Bogart was in it, so it's hard to hold the romance plot again it.  Bogart doesn't have a starring role here, he's in perhaps ten or fifteen minutes of the film, which is one of the larger roles.  There are hints of what would come for him (this was three years before the release of "The Maltese Falcon"), particularly in his reluctant, weary proposal to Linda.  It's brief, but you could see from it how it might occur to someone to build an entire film around that tone and a doomed romance, which is a repeated theme in Bogart's best films.  Also, with Busby Berkeley's involvement, I wondered if there was going to be one of those ornate chorus girl sequences that's literally the only thing that I know about his work.  There wasn't, although there was a pool party (Bogart in a swimsuit!) and a couple of dancing scenes (not very choreographed, though).  In general, there just was a lot of soft-focus and fast-talking, so I don't think that I've got a good grasp yet on what exactly constitutes a "Busby Berkeley film."

"Men Are Such Fools" is not a great, or probably even a good movie.  It's like cotton candy, though, in that it's fluffy and inconsequential (if you discount the time you're going to have to spend on a treadmill burning off all that sugar), and kind of silly.  I watched it because Bogart's in it, and I got some Bogart, so no hard feelings.  If you never got around to watching this one, I don't think I could build a case that you were missing out on anything big.  It's possible that, if you're a fan of Priscilla Lane, you'd want to track this down (or if you were a Berkeley completist), but hey, no pressure.  We've all got a lot of things to do, and a lot of movies to watch, and if you're in the right mood to see a dim-witted stalker court a woman with the intelligence of a toddler, this might hit the spot.

2 / 5 - TV

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