July 14, 2008
The film opens with Patricia Blemont mooning on the first class deck of a luxury liner. She’s rich, privileged but “missing something and I don’t know what it is.”
It’s fun. And fun, in this 1934 film, is personified by Bill Smith, aka Charles Starrett. He does impressions, speaks in verse when the mood strikes him, drinks beer, throws expensive purses over board, competes in hog-calling duels, wears disguises, plays piano with one hand, etc etc.
Back home, Patricia’s fiance, Barrington Thorne, explains that marriage is a business contract. But she’s caught the foolish bug from Bill. She’s “never know complete happiness before”. She loves Bill because “he lives and he laughs.”
Her father calls it the “fascination with the bourgeois” and convinces her to break it off. She throws one big absurd party first.
Then she breaks Bill’s heart. But it turns out he’s not just fun, he’s tenacious. He breaks into her room the night before the wedding, gets beat with a poker, gets arrested, but he gets the gal.
In fact, he gets Sally Blaine again later in the year as his co-star in “Silver Streak.”
There’s one image from this film that sticks with me. It’s Charley tossing a ball with his friends on the lower deck of the ship. He’s laughing and shouting as if it’s the funnest activity in the world. There’s a certain quality of simplicity to Charley. He can play otherwise – worldly, outraged, aloof – but he retains this basic element. It’s part of his appeal.
And it served him well. He did 17 years with Columbia, making 135 films. Over the years, the budgets got smaller and smaller, and the shooting schedules got shorter and shorter. He wasn’t shooting on the Lot with the A-list stars – no, he was off in exotic locations like Chatsworth and Victorville. He took a pay-cut just to get the job.
And he made it all look fun. Tenaciously.